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Understanding and Exploiting LAGs

exploit poker lags

What is a LAG?

LAG stands for “Loose-Aggressive”. These players have a tendency to play a wide range of hands preflop (significantly wider than a TAG – tight aggressive). LAGs will follow up this preflop wild aggression with even more postflop aggression.

To properly assess a LAG player, we can use the following statistics to analyse their tendencies.

VPIP – Voluntarily Put in Pot – This stat tells us which percentage of all hands a player decides to play preflop. The majority of LAGs have a VPIP ranging between 25% and 35%. A player who plays 25% VPIP is essentially a rather loose TAG, while a player who plays 35% is verging on being a “maniac” (one step above LAG).

PFR – Preflop Raiser – This statistic records what percentage of all hands are played aggressively preflop. The value of PFR will always be lower than (or at most, equal to) the value of VPIP. This is because it’s impossible to play a hand aggressively without voluntarily putting money into the pot.

Seeing as LAGs prefer to have the betting lead, there will rarely be a difference of more than 5% between a LAG’s VPIP and PFR. If the difference is greater than this we are often dealing with a “loose-passive” as opposed to a “loose-aggressive”.

Therefore, a player with a PFR of 20% is considered to be a loose TAG, while a player with a PFR of over 30% is verging on being considered a “maniac” as opposed to a LAG.

The Fundamental Weakness of LAGs

The LAG style is frequently stronger than the TAG style. However, it’s not the style of choice for most beginning players because it requires a larger degree of skill than TAG style poker.

We know that aggression makes a lot of money in poker, and this is exactly why LAGs do so well. However, it’s possible for us to use a LAG’s aggression against them.

In most cases, LAGs do very well against TAGs. If you’ve seen the article on exploiting TAGs, you will recall that the way we beat a TAG is to start playing very aggressively in situations where it appears they are uninterested in the pot. If we are a TAG player and we find a LAG using this type of strategy against us, what must we do in order to defend?

The trick here is to resort to a tighter more passive style and set many traps for our loose-aggressive opponent. Rather than immediately betting for value when we are strong, as is typically the case with tight-aggressive strategy, we want to do our absolute best to appear weak and induce bluffs from our opponent.

Another adjustment we can make is to slightly tighten up our hand-selection preflop. It’s useful to understand that, with 100bb stacks, this is not strictly necessary, but it can make the game a lot easier without any real drawbacks.

Understanding the Type of LAG

Before we go any further, it’s important for us to understand that there are different types of LAGs. There is the type of LAGs that gives respect to aggression and will be capable of laying down hands (good LAGs). And, then there are the types of LAGs who are overly aggressive but are at the same calling-stations, incapable of folding to aggression.

Type 1 – Good LAGs will fold vs aggression
Type 2 – Bad LAGs, verging on maniacs, won’t find the fold button

Against the second type, we have no option but to tighten up and repeatedly set traps for our aggressive opponent to fall into. However, raising for value often ends up being a good option also since we don’t need to worry about our opponent folding too much.

Against the first type of opponent, we don’t always need to tighten up that much. We can fight fire with fire by playing back aggressively and generating folds. That said, against this type of opponent we must continue to play passively with our value-hands after we set a trap. Raising can potentially mean that we miss value because they will correctly identify that we are strong, and make the fold.

Let’s put our counter-strategy together and take a look at some examples.

Counter-Strategy 1 – Setting a Trap

Below is an example of how we can exploit a LAG by setting a trap. This particular LAG will fire 3 streets aggressively as a bluff after we check the flop. They sense weakness and correctly pounce. It’s going to be a big mistake for them, in this example, because we will pre-empt their approach.

lag poker strategy 1

6 handed, NLHE

UTG (100bb)
MP (100bb)
CO (100bb) Hero
BTN (100bb) LAG
SB (100bb)
BB (100bb)

Hero is dealt 9c 9h

UTG folds, MP folds, Hero opens to 3bb, BTN cold-calls 3bb, SB folds, BB folds.

Flop (7.5bb)

9s 5h 2c

Hero Checks

Against an average recreational player, this would be a pretty bad decision. We can easily extract 3 streets of value with our top set. It is the stone cold nuts on the flop and will usually still be pretty strong by the river.

However, the problem with firing this hand against a LAG (especially if we have a tight image), is that they will get out of the way. If we signal we are weak by checking, they are going to pounce on us, trying to force us to fold. If you’ve read the article on Exploiting TAGs, you will know that this is the correct strategy to use against a tight opponent. We can counter this by not being so obvious regarding the type of hand we hold. If we are genuinely strong, we need to employ deception and make it look like we are weak.

The best strategy in this particular hand would be to check/call flop, check/call turn, and check/raise river (or call, provided we are not already facing an all-in bet).

Counter-Strategy 2 – Adjusting Preflop Ranges

lag poker strategy 2

6 handed, NLHE

UTG (100bb)
MP (100bb)
CO (100bb)
BTN (100bb) Hero
SB (100bb)
BB (100bb) LAG

Hero is dealt Kc 8s

UTG folds, MP folds, CO Folds Hero opens to 3bb, SB folds, BB 3bets to 10bb.

We have been opening on the BTN and getting 3bet all day by an aggressive player in the BB.

What should we do?

The first step is to understand that it is acceptable to slightly tighten up our opening range. Something like K8o should be one of the weaker hands that we are routinely opening on the button. It’s okay to simply fold this.

Our opening range will become stronger and 3betting will be a lot less profitable for our opponent in the BB as we wake up with a premium hand much more often. Keep in mind, that it is not theoretically necessary to tighten up our opening range when facing a 100bb LAG, but it can make the game so much easier, without damaging our winrate.

Something else we can try is to experiment by seeing if our opponent is capable of folding that wide 3bet range to a re-raise (4bet).

lag poker strategy 3

6 handed, NLHE

UTG (100bb)
MP (100bb)
CO (100bb)
BTN (100bb) Hero
SB (100bb)
BB (100bb) LAG

Hero is dealt Kc 8c

UTG folds, MP folds, CO Folds Hero opens to 3bb, SB folds, BB 3bets to 10bb, Hero 4bets to 23bb, BB folds.

Notice in this scenario we have a slightly better holding, our K8 is now suited. This is typically a good hand to 4bet bluff because:

  1. It still has some playability when called.
  2. The King serves as a blocker

A blocker is a card that is favourable for us because it “blocks” certain hands our opponent might hold. For example, in this scenario, we are typically worried that our opponent might 5bet us with a hand like KK or AK. This is made less likely by the fact that we already hold one of the Kings.

Not all LAGs will fold to 4bets. However, many will fold more frequently since their 3bet range is so wide.

Counter-Strategy 3 – Playing back against good LAGs

The key to defeating a good LAG is understanding and pre-empting the spots they are likely to play aggressively, and then utilising their own aggression against them.

For example:

lag poker strategy 4

6 handed, NLHE

UTG (100bb)
MP (100bb)
CO (100bb)
BTN (100bb)
SB (100bb) Hero
BB (100bb) LAG

Hero is dealt Ad Qd

UTG folds, MP folds, CO Folds, BTN folds, Hero opens to 3bb, BB calls 3bb.

Flop (6bb)

Td 7d 2s

Hero checks, BB bets 4bb, Hero check/raises to 12bb.

Note that we could have simply fired a cbet in this hand and it would have been very profitable. This is the standard option in most cases, simply to semi-bluff. But, against a LAG, it might be even more profitable to check/raise.

If we cbet, they will continue mostly with hands that have connected in some way with the board, even if only marginally. However, if we check there is a chance they will perceive this as weakness and bet the flop with 100% frequency. In other words, by checking, we allow them to put more money into the pot with a much wider and weaker range of hands before attacking.

We could extend this principle even further:

6 handed, NLHE

UTG (100bb)
MP (100bb)
CO (100bb)
BTN (100bb)
SB (100bb) Hero
BB (100bb) LAG

Hero is dealt Ad Qd

UTG folds, MP folds, CO Folds, BTN folds, Hero opens to 3bb, BB calls 3bb.

Flop (6bb)

Td 7d 2s

Hero checks, BB bets 4bb, Hero check/calls 4bb.

Turn (14bb)

Jc  

Hero checks, Villain bets 10bb, Hero raises to 27bb

Most LAGs just won’t see this coming. As soon as we checked the flop, they assumed that we had a very weak range and would not be capable of check/raising them. This caused the LAG to over-extend, putting money into the pot with a range that is so wide, it can’t be defended.

On the turn, there is a decent chance that we get a fold, but even if we don’t, we are in reasonable shape to spike a draw on the river. Assuming we get called, we have also set up roughly a pot-sized bet for the river, which we can either use to bluff with or value-bet with, depending on the river card.

Putting it Together

The way we defeat a LAG is by tightening up our ranges and by setting traps. In most cases we know that aggression makes money, but when facing a LAG playing passively can easily make the most money.

We also need to consider which type of LAG we are playing against. Some LAGs are bluffable, some aren’t. Versus the non-bluffable LAGs, we are essentially resorting to playing a very tight strategy for value. We let them win a bunch of the smaller pots and then win big when we have a decent value-hand.

 

Understanding and Exploiting TAGs

exploit poker tags

What is a TAG?

TAG stands for “Tight-Aggressive”. These players have a tendency to select only strong hands preflop. They prefer to have the betting lead (initiative) and are, therefore, more likely to be the preflop open-raiser, or 3-bettor, as opposed to the preflop cold-caller.

Before we get into the technical stuff, how exactly can we identify any TAG opponents sitting at our tables? These are the guys that typically fly below the radar. We may not even notice them that much at first, because most of their hands are going into the muck preflop.

When they do decide to play a holding preflop, they are very often going to continue their aggression postflop because they have a strong hand. Assuming they get to showdown, we are unlikely to see uncoordinated preflop holdings such as J6o. They will usually end up having some sort of pocket-pair, Broadway holding, or premium suited-connector.

Now, let’s look at some technical details regarding TAGs. Feel free to skip to the next subheading if you are not interested in the nitty-gritty.

It’s common to use the following statistics to analyse the tendencies of online players. It’s good to be familiar with the terms since we will see other poker players referring to them a lot.

VPIP – Voluntarily Put In Pot – Essentially this tells which percentage of all hands this player decides to play. The exact VPIP a TAG has will depend on whether they are playing 6-max of full-ring variants of poker.

The majority of 6-max TAGs play between 16% and 25% of hands. A player who plays 25% VPIP is often considered a “loose” TAG, while a player who plays 16% of hands is often considered a “nitty” TAG.

The majority of full-ring TAGS play between 10% and 18% of hands. 18% is on the looser side while 10% is on the nittier side.

PFR – Preflop Raiser – This statistic records the percentage of hands which are played aggressively preflop. Naturally the value of PFR will always be lower than (or possibly equal to) the value of VPIP. This is because it’s impossible to play a hand aggressively without voluntarily putting money into the pot.

Seeing as TAGs prefer to have the betting lead there will rarely be a difference of more than 5% between a TAG’s VIP and PFR. If the difference becomes more than this, we are potentially no longer dealing with a tight-aggressive opponent but a tight-passive opponent.

For 6-max games, a player who plays 20% PFR is often considered a “loose” TAG, while a player who plays 12% PFR is often considered a “nitty” tag. For full-ring games, a player who plays more than 15% PFR is on the looser side while a PFR of less than 8% is on the nittier side.

The Fundamental Weakness of TAG’s

TAG is a great style to play, especially for beginners. It’s recommended that, if we are first starting out at poker, we try and adopt a tight-aggressive approach. This way we can make the most money with the shallowest learning curve. However, the majority of strategies in this game have a counter-strategy, and TAG strategy is no exception.

The truth is that the majority of TAGs are not prone to taking risks. If they were, they would often end up being LAG (loose-aggressive) players instead. TAGs do not like to play big pots with marginal hands.

Therefore, the way we defeat TAGs is to put pressure on them when they are unlikely to have a strong hand. However, we should tend towards folding when they are betting into us on multiple streets. Let’s see how we can apply this information in a selection of different situations.

Counter-Strategy 1 – Preflop adjustments

TAG players often give a large amount of respect to preflop 3bets. This is partly because they 3bet such a tight range themselves, and assume that other players are following a similar type of logic.

Since TAGs are not prone to taking risks, they will be reluctant to call 3bets or 4bet bluff overly aggressively. We should look to exert maximum pressure preflop with decent bluffing hands.

On the other hand, if a TAG decides to 3bet when we open, we should often treat this with a little more caution than usual. The chances of our opponent holding a decent value hand are significantly higher than when we face a 3bet from a loose-aggressive opponent. TAGs will typically 3bet about 4-5% of hands preflop whereas the average LAG will 3bet anywhere between 7-10%.

tag poker strategy 1

6 handed, NLHE

UTG (100bb) TAG
MP (100bb)
CO (100bb)
BTN (100bb) Hero
SB (100bb)
BB (100bb)

Hero is dealt Ac 4c

UTG open-raises to 3bb. MP folds. CO folds. Hero?

Typically, we can’t call in this situation, especially given that our opponent is a TAG; the hand simply won’t be strong enough. We are also aware that their opening range from UTG is a lot stronger than average. Surely, it would be a better idea to attack their later position opens with 3bets.

This can be true to an extent, but here’s the thing: given they look strong, we potentially look even stronger if we 3bet. We would be 3betting despite the fact that they are opening from early position. This kind of situation can play up on a TAG’s tendency to avoid marginal situations. They have a strong hand that they don’t want to give up on preflop. But, by the same token they won’t be inclined to take the risk with extra chips when they know there is a huge chance we have AA/KK.

If a TAG ever 4bets in this spot, we will be absolutely crushed and can find an easy fold. They likely won’t even 4bet AK, preferring just to flat-call out-of-position.

Given the average TAG open-raises 13% of hands and continues with around 3.5% of hands when facing a 3bet, it typically means they can fold over 70% of the time in this spot. This fact allows us to generate profit without even seeing a flop.

Naturally, we are not saying that we shouldn’t 3bet bluff against late position opens; this can also be very profitable against a TAG. When we 3bet bluff against a late position open, we are perceived as weaker, in general, but the openers range is also a lot weaker. That can work in our favour.

Let’s now consider a situation where we are the one facing a 3bet.

tag poker strategy 2

6 handed, NLHE

UTG (100bb) Hero
MP (100bb)
CO (100bb)
BTN (100bb) TAG
SB (100bb)
BB (100bb)

Hero open-raises to 3bb. MP folds. CO folds. BTN 3bets to 10bb, SB folds, BB folds, Hero?

We’ve talked about how this is a great spot to represent a lot of strength. However, just because it’s a good bluff opportunity does not mean that a TAG will be understanding or utilising this fact. Remember that TAGs are often somewhat risk-adverse and will be scared about 3betting against an opening range they consider strong. As such, in this situation, the TAG really will have a premium holding the majority of the time. This is not the right situation to be making a move – we should be folding much more often than not.

Counter-Strategy 2 – Respect Postflop Aggression

We’d be foolish to assume that all TAGs play an identical style. The truth is that some will bluff a lot more than others. A good TAG should bluff somewhat frequently since it’s easier to represent value-hands with a tight image.

However, the majority of TAGs do not bluff that much and are mainly playing for value postflop. So, if a TAG starts betting into us, especially over multiple streets, we should be able to make some pretty big laydowns.

tag poker strategy 3

6 handed, NLHE

UTG (100bb)
MP (100bb)
CO (100bb) TAG
BTN (100bb) Hero
SB (100bb)
BB (100bb)

Hero is dealt Jh Th

UTG folds, MP folds, CO opens to 3bb, Hero cold-calls 3bb, SB folds, BB folds.

Flop (7.5bb)

Jc 5s 2h

CO bets 5bb, Hero calls 5bb

Turn (17.5bb)

3c  

CO bets 12bb, Hero calls 12bb

River (41.5bb)

9d  

CO bets 30bb, Hero?

It’s certainly true that we still hold top pair, and there is a chance we might have the best hand. However, if we think about the types of hand our opponent will be value-betting for 3 streets, there are literally no worse hands. Something like J8 (the next worse hand), is simply not strong enough to fire for value like this.

So, the only time we win in this situation is if our opponent is bluffing. How likely is this? The likelihood of a bluff really depends on the type of opponent we are facing, and in this scenario we are facing a TAG, the type of player who is often risk averse. The chances of him firing 3 streets on a bluff are reduced dramatically.

Our top pair is basically garbage here, and a very easy fold against an average TAG.

Counter-Strategy 3 Attack Weakness!

Given that a TAG generally plays their made hands aggressively, it can be a huge giveaway when they start checking. In the majority of cases, a check from a TAG indicates weakness. Note that this mainly applies to situations where the TAG is the preflop-aggressor, as will be the case most of the time.

6 handed, NLHE

UTG (100bb)
MP (100bb)
CO (100bb) TAG
BTN (100bb) Hero
SB (100bb)
BB (100bb)

Hero is dealt Jh 9h

UTG folds, MP folds, CO opens to 3bb, Hero cold-calls 3bb, SB folds, BB folds.

Flop (7.5bb)

Tc 7s 2h

CO bets 5bb, Hero calls 5bb

Turn (17.5bb)

3c  

CO checks, Hero?

The first part of this hand is somewhat standard. We have a hand that is clearly strong enough to cold-call and we flop a gutshot and backdoor flush-draw, which means it would incorrect to consider folding on the flop.

However, rather than firing the second barrel, our TAG opponent decides to check. At this point, alarm bells should immediately start ringing in our head. Why? Our opponent is almost never strong here – most TAGs would continue to barrel with any set, overpair, 2pair, or top-pair combo. Most of the time they are going to have a hand that they planned to cbet with and then give up.

Some players would mistakenly check back here, reasoning that they have a gutshot. They don’t want to get blown off their hand in the unlikely scenario that our TAG opponent decides to check/raise. However, this will happen so infrequently, and our opponent will fold so often if we bet, that betting will nearly always be the stronger choice. There is a secondary advantage in that we build a pot, meaning we can get a bigger payout on the river if we hit our gutshot.

Putting it Together

The way we defeat a TAG is by attacking all the small pots that they are not interested in. When they start putting a large amount of money in the middle, they nearly always have it. We should be able to make some big laydowns. When we fold a strong hand in a situation where a TAG has an even stronger hand, we are exploiting them in a big way.

 

Ten Steps to Beating Freerolls

1. Slow start

With many inexperienced players and nothing to lose, the first few minutes sees a large chunk of the field go out with crazy hands and all-in preflop action. So sit tight initially. That doesn’t mean you can wait too long – we said ‘first few minutes’ not ‘first few levels’. The all-in craziness isn’t defined by blind levels, but by a lot of players in small freerolls who are looking to accumulate a big stack early or just go out. Don’t bother trying to play ‘real poker’ in the first few minutes; just fold everything bar big pairs, and spring into action when things calm down.

2. No fear!

Aggressive poker is, of course, winning poker, and a big part of this approach involves having the ability to separate chips from their real money value, so that you become willing to lose them if you have to. But in a freeroll your chips don’t cost a penny, so there’s no reason to be worried about giving them away. With the pressure of financial loss removed, it leaves you free to play as fearlessly as you’ve always wanted to, with raises and re-raises galore. Try not to go overboard though – freeroll or no freeroll, 5-2 offsuit isn’t a hand to shove all-in with.

3. No-shows

One thing you’ll often notice about a lot of lower-value freerolls is that there are heaps of players in the early stages sitting out, seemingly forgetting (or just not caring) that they ever registered for the tourney in the first place. While this is annoying at first – if there are more than two of these players at your table it essentially makes the game short-handed – it can also provide an easy way for the more astute player to surreptitiously build their stack. If every player still to act after you is ‘sitting out’, and everyone before you has folded, you can raise with any two cards and take down the blinds.

4. See cheap flops

In any game of poker, it’s worthwhile trying to limp in or pay a small amount to see a flop in a multi-way pot holding small pocket pairs, with your objective being to hit a well-disguised set. If you flop that beautiful third card in a freeroll, your opponents’ inexperience means they’ll be less likely to put you on a hand that strong, and continue to bet or call your raises with top pair or worse. Make sure you fast-play your big hands like sets, straights and flushes and you should get paid off nicely.

5. Pump up the pot

Sometimes a big hand can simply be top pair, top kicker. And you shouldn’t be afraid to jam the pot when you feel that you’re ahead. Rather than simply betting for value, a large bet or re-raise is still likely to be called by weak players holding marginal hands. It’s schoolboy errors like these that deserve to be punished, and where a lot of chips in the early stages come from. Shove!

888 poker 468x60

6. Play big pairs like a maniac

Always be prepared to make huge raises and all-in pushes with hands like A-A and K-K, almost regardless of position. One of two things will usually happen. Either inexperienced players will give you action by calling with any Ace, any pair, or even any two suited cards. Secondly, a player with a similar level of experience as you may share the opinion that a tournament without a buy-in allows for a greater amount of gamble, and therefore make the call with a low pair, a big Ace like A-K or A-Q, or even something like K-Q or K-J! Yes, everyone might fold, but if you do catch someone with a playable hand you’re in a great spot to double through. If the action is short-handed or the blinds really small then a big raise, rather than an all-in move, is a better approach.

7. Keep your mouth shut

You’d be hard pushed to find any other instance in the world of online poker where the chatbox gets abused more than during a freeroll tournament. With the standard of most players being relatively low, you’ll bear witness to an endless run of bad beat stories that disgruntled punters will have trouble letting go of. Of course, you’ll have noticed that most of these tales are not unlucky, but in fact the result of poor play. The trick is not to tell them that, no matter how tempting it is. That way, when you cripple Mr. Moaner, inducing another sob story about cracking his pocket Jacks, your silence will almost certainly put him on monkey tilt. Be the mature one, ignore his ill-advised insults, and watch him bust out soon after.

8. Target the big stacks

In the middle stages of a real money multi-table tournament, it’s often fair to assume that any player with a huge chip lead knows what they’re doing. However, at the same stage in a freeroll it’s often the other way around. There’s a good chance that a lot of the big stacks simply got lucky a few times by playing hands that they really shouldn’t have done. Not having learned their lesson, they will almost certainly make the same mistakes again allowing you to capitalise by making them pay dearly to draw, hitting cheaply-priced draws yourself, and waiting for them to pay you off when you’ve got a monster. It won’t take long for their chip fortress to crumble – so make sure you’re there to pick up the pieces they carelessly fritter away.

9. Embrace the bubble

Just like in a tourney with an actual buy-in, most freeroll players tighten up around the bubble. While this can make sense in a real money tourney, it’s a pointless endeavour in a freeroll, where the lowest-paid places usually amount to a few dollars. Of course, to some the idea of winning any sum of money is an achievement, and if that includes you, fair enough. But ask yourself if you’re happy spending a couple of hours trying to win the equivalent of a beer or two? If you’re not, put pressure on opponents and you should find yourself coasting deep into the juicier money spots. After all, you came with nothing and have nothing to lose, so why not try and leave with a lot?

10. Become one with the fish

Perhaps the most important bit of advice is to try and get inside the mind of a fish, by picking out the players that don’t know what they’re doing and thinking how they would play. Imagine the kind of mistakes they might make, and then do the exact opposite.

 

How to Beat Tight Poker Players

beat tight players

by Paul Seaton

We all know the type. More reluctant to commit than the cast of Hangover, more rock-like than granite and nittier than a pre-teen school disco. Tight poker players can be a major hassle. But while they might think ‘tight is right’, we know any style is exploitable. Working out the best way to beat tight players can be time-consuming and complicated. We’ve picked through the rubble to find six commandments you really should abide by.

Understand the Mindset

If you want to take advantage of tight players, first you must understand their motivations. One of the first pieces of advice new players are given is to be careful and play tight. This is because one of the earliest perceptions in poker is that it is an achievement to survive, be patient and climb the ladder in tournament terms. The essence of these pieces of advice is correct; should you survive to the end of a tournament, you are winner by virtue of everyone else failing to survive. However, the notion of surviving as a strategy has, in recent years, been seriously targeted. Gone are the days when absolute rocks are the last to be washed away. These days, poker ‘rocks’ are more likely to crumble around the min-cash point of an MTT or not get there at all. Poker has become an attacking game where players rightly fight for the top money long before they reach it, in order to accumulate a stack. The tight player will be conservative with their hole-cards, sticking to premium hands and strong aces and king, along with the most powerful court cards or suited connectors.

What Are They Holding?

When you take on tighter players, it is infinitely easier to do so if you know what they are holding. So you need to be range-finding from the off. The loosest player will play any two cards. The tightest will obviously pick more premium cards. This means that you should respect re-raises and moves out of position from tight players, but it also gives you more knowledge heading post-flop. Let’s say that we encounter a player we notice has been tight for some time. They open from under-the-gun. They are likely to be strong, so you can fold low suited connectors such as 5c6c if you choose. But if you call, you know that on a low flop, you’re going to be ahead in the hand and can often take down a raised pot there and then. Tight players rely on catching cards to win, while players who are able to mix it up rely on cards and skill. Put yourself in the latter group and monitor when the tight players give up on hands most often. Take advantage on that street.

Take the Opposite Stance

While all tight players have tendencies, working out how best to combat each tight player is still a task you should remain dutiful to. They may be aggressive or passive pre-flop and post-flop. Do they buckle on the turn, or only give up hope in their hand on the river under extreme pressure? If you’re playing online, creating a note on each player is a great way of building up a true personality of the poker player you’re trying to overcome. Live, you will need to utilize your memory to keep a step ahead, but it’s worth doing so. While some loose players can often appear like valuable players to get into pots with, tighter players pay out consistently by entering pots they then go on to fold in. They are without doubt a more reliable source of chips than taking on a loose player for what may be your entire stack when they have two live cards.

Watch Out for Warning Signs

So, you’re now combatting the tight players with their kryptonite – focused attacking play designed to exploit their weaknesses. Tight players, of course, can be successful ones. The best tight poker players will use their image to mix it up and chip back into tournaments and regain the upper hand in cash games. Be sure to watch out for those signs that the tight player you expect to fold actually might have a very good hand. Tight players prefer to play from later positions at the table. If they re-raise you from UTG +1 for example, warning bells should be ringing. If they have already folded to you in a certain position, be sure that you are not too recognizable in any repeated action. Just as you are trying to identify patterns in a tight player’s style, so too are they looking for a way to take advantage of your aggression. Bet sizing and when you make the bet are important. Don’t over-commit chips to a bluff – tight players may not need the same % of the pot slid their way to get them to fold and if they re-raise you could be in a tough position.

Taking Advantage

The best way to take advantage of a tight poker player is by reading their moves. They are going to be more limited, so target tight-passive players who have demonstrated the ability to fold big pots as these will be more valuable to you and you’ll have to win less of them to succeed in your aims. They might simply check-call often, or check-fold after missing flops consistently. They may also keep calling two streets then panic when a card falls on the river that looks like it would complete a flush draw or straight draw. Being aware of how a tight player is feeling is important. Poker should be played in a spirit of fun, but if you notice a player who looks uncomfortable in a pot, within that context it is fine to want to force them off the pot!

Use Their Style Against Them

You can also use a tight player’s passivity, literally defined as an acceptance of what happens without active response or resistance, against them. Keep it simple in this regard. If they display timidity, show aggression until it is met with resistance. If they river-raise, get out of the way more than you would with others – they’re highly unlikely to be bluffing. The best poker player (you!) will be tight themselves at points, but know when to mix it up and go on the attack. Patience is a virtue many players profess to having, but perhaps never more so is this tested in poker than when trying to extract chips from tight players. By using your strengths across the range of poker skills, you can make sure you end on the right side of them.

 

Poker Danger Hands: How to Avoid Losing Your Stack

1. A-K

Main Danger
Under-playing preflop and over-playing postflop.

Preflop
It’s usually correct to be very aggressive when holding A-K before the flop. After all, it’s a favourite over everything bar pocket pairs, and even then it’s usually just a coin-flip. The hand is only ever in really bad trouble against K-K (approx 30% to win) and A-A (8-11% to win). In most tournament situations you’re rarely doing much wrong if you get all your chips in pre-flop.

A common mistake players often make is calling a large re-raise with A-K for a decent portion of their stack – say 30% – and then folding when they miss. Remember that you’re only going to make a pair on the flop around a third of the time, so if you’re going to play a big pot with A-K, you’re probably best re-shoving all-in pre-flop. This could force your opponent(s) to fold and, if not, at least you get to see all five cards to improve.

Postflop
If your A-K doesn’t improve on the flop you should usually fold in the face of strength, unless, of course, you have the nut flush draw. The harder decisions come when you make top pair, top kicker. The problem is that a good player is unlikely to play a big pot against you with anything less. Imagine you hold A-K on a K-6-5 rainbow flop. Your opponent bets, you raise and he re-raises! Often that will mean you’re beaten and you should fold. Against aggressive, tricky players then, you might want to slow the action down with measured check-calling.

This doesn’t mean you should be petrified every time you hit with big slick. When you make top pair on an A-9-2 rainbow flop, and the turn and river bring safe cards, you should bet all three streets in case your opponent is passively calling along with a weaker Ace.

Summary
A-K is a very strong hand, so play to its strengths preflop and postflop if you hit.

2. K-Q

These court cards look pretty but can soon turn poisonous on a sour flop…

Main Danger
Making top pair and playing a big pot when your hand can’t be good.

Preflop
While K-Q is a strong holding, you can often find yourself in trouble against dominating hands. For that reason you need to minimise potential problems by making sure you come in raising, especially if you’re the first to enter the pot. You might even consider re-raising with it in a short-handed game or against an aggressive player who has been opening with a lot of hands, especially if you have position on them.

If your raise is attacked by a non-tricky player you should probably fold because their ABC raise usually means they either have you dominated (with a hand like Q-Q or A-K) or they’re slightly ahead with a pocket pair. Finally, never limp into a multi-way pot with K-Q. You’re giving the advantage to hands that play well mob-handed like suited connectors and low pocket pairs. Raise or play in a heads-up pot only.

Postflop
The real danger point for K-Q is on the flop. You can get away from your hand if you don’t hit, but if you make top pair and get a lot of action it’s hard to know where you stand. Let’s say you hold K-Q and the flop is Qs Tc 8c. You’ve made top pair and you’ll often have the best hand. So you bet and get one caller. Then, on a blank turn, suddenly he raises. Are you ahead? Unlikely. A tricky opponent might be playing a draw fast, but in most situations you will have to fold to a raise, especially if the turn completes a draw that you can’t improve upon.

Summary
K-Q is a strong hand that can win at showdown, but keep pots small with just top pair.

3. Ace- rag

Playing an ace with a weak kicker will often leave you praying for a chopped pot.

Main Danger
Playing the hand because it’s an Ace.

Preflop
Ace-rag really means A-9 and below unsuited (or suited when the flop brings no flush potential). Adjectives have not been invented for how poisonous playing these hands can be to your long-term profit in hold’em. The only time they have real value is when you’re shoving all-in during a tournament with a short-stack, or in a short-handed or heads-up situation.

Postflop
Ace-rag is tough to play. When you flop an Ace and get action you just won’t know if you’re ahead or behind, let alone if you flop your kicker (e.g. you have A-8 and the flop is Q-8-2). Most of the time you will have no hand at all, and when you do you won’t be able to stand any major action or you’ll end up being slowly milked by someone with a bigger Ace than yourself. That, by the way, is not a good situation to be in.

Summary
Muck the bad Ace.

4. Suited connectors

Tricky hands demand solid post-flop play – don’t hang yourself out to dry.

Main Danger
Paying too much preflop and getting lost postflop.

Preflop
Suited connectors are seductive little tykes – so pretty with their connectedness and matching colours and all. Of course, they can be a huge weapon in hold’em – with the right flop you can stack that previously cocksure big pair. The problem is that this doesn’t happen often enough to make them profitable on a regular basis.

The preflop dangers involve investing too much money or chips and playing them out of position. You must recognise that these hands are drawing hands and have almost no value preflop. You’re not investing money in Eight-high, but in the implied odds of getting paid off when you make flushes and straights. For that reason you’re only looking to see a flop when you and your opponent(s) are deep-stacked. As such, don’t get into the habit of routinely playing them in raised pots. If you’re the raiser it’s a different matter entirely, because your unorthodox play is disguising your hand. So if you get involved with suited connectors make sure that you’re either the aggressor, that it’s in a limped pot, or you’re making a specific play against a specific player.

As most of your play with them will be postflop, make sure you’re in position when you enter the pot as they are exceptionally difficult to play out of position after the flop.

Postflop
There are two big problems with suited connectors after the flop. The first is where you catch part of the flop and may or may not have the best hand. So, for example, you’re playing 8c 7c and the flop is Jh 8d 5s. Against one opponent you may have the best hand or you may be crushed. In reality your hand is not strong and you should remember that you played the suited connectors to make a really big hand. Do not get seduced into putting too many chips in the middle in this kind of marginal spot.

The second big danger is that you get lost in the hand – this is especially true if you’re out of position. Let’s say you play 7d 6d and the flop comes Td 9s 2d and you’re first to act. The flush draw and gutshot make it a good flop for you but it’s hard to play from here. If you lead out, what do you do if you’re raised? If you check-raise and are called what do you do on the turn if a blank comes?

And finally there’s the danger that if you hit your straight or flush you get beaten by a bigger one. If you hit that diamond flush who’s to say that the bettor isn’t pumping it in with a nut flush draw?

Counteract these dangers by playing suited connectors in position so you can control the action, but make sure that you extract maximum value when you make a big hand. You’re playing these speculative hands and taking the worst of it pre-flop so you can get paid out when you hit. Get those bets in!

Summary
Has the potential to cause mayhem but don’t overplay.

5. J-J

Wired jacks are a solid pair but can be strung out by all manner of flops.

Main Danger
Playing a big pot when dominated.

Preflop
When you have two Jacks in the hole you’re very often ahead of your enemy preflop – it is the fourth best hand in hold’em after all! So play it aggressively by betting and raising heavily.

This is great advice, of course, until the time it’s not. The problem with Jacks is that when the other guy wants to get all his chips in too, it’s often because he has a dreaded overpair. It’s an especially tricky decision when an aggressive move-making player is prepared to play a huge pot preflop. That’s when you must assess the game situation.

If you have a shortish stack, in a Sit & go or MTT, you’re hardly ever going to lay it down. But if both you and your foe are deep-stacked in a cash game or MTT it might be wiser to muck ’em.

You need to be wary of calling re-raises pre-flop with J-J as there are only a few flops that will help your hand. Unless you’re getting the odds to hit a set it’s often better to make a decision with them preflop.

Postflop
The reality is that there are very few flops that will help your hand. More than half the time you’ll see at least one overcard, and if you were beaten by a bigger pair preflop you’re still stuffed. Also, if there’s strong action on the flop you could be up against two-pair, a set, or overcards with a huge draw. Use your hand-reading skills and knowledge of your opponent to decide whether your Jacks are still good. If your Jacks are an overpair to the board you should apply pressure if a pre-flop raiser makes a continuation bet.

It’s possible your opponents have a smaller overpair to the board, a draw or Ace-high. These are the dangerous situations which separate the men from the boys – focus on improving your decision-making with Jacks.

Summary
J-J is a strong hand but you need to trust your instincts as to when your pair is crushed.

6. A-A

Pocket rockets can cause shock and awe, but don’t let them blow up in your face.

Main danger
Not being able to give them up when you’re beaten.

Preflop
You’ve got the best hand in the game so this is a good time to invest chips – a lot of chips! Raise, re-raise, do whatever you can to get money in while you’re ahead. Feel free to (occasionally) mix things up by playing your bullets deceptively too, usually by flat-calling a pre-flop re-raise and then attacking the flop. However, playing A-A strong and fast is usually the best policy.

Postflop
Playing Aces postflop, however, can be difficult and you can get into horrible spots with them. The main danger is that an opponent has played a hand like a small pair or suited connectors knowing you have a big hand. If he hits that flop full in the face you’re in trouble. For instance, you raise four times the big blind and a tricky player calls. The flop comes 5s 6d 7s and he check-raises you. This is a very dangerous spot – you could be crushed by a set or two-pair. But maybe he’s drawing or just got an overpair. Against tight opponents you may need to muck your bullets here, but if your opponent is lively it may be time to put the pressure back on him.

Things are a lot easier when there’s been a lot of preflop action. If an opponent has called a chunky re-raise you’re often up against a smaller pair like J-J or 10-10 and a low flop can help you felt him. If you do play them tricksy and find yourself in a multi-way pot, be prepared to give them up if the action gets too hot. After all, A-A is just a pair – don’t be the donkey who can’t put a hand down.

Summary
The best hand in hold’em demands to be played fast, but be prepared to lay it down if beaten.

 

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