Playing Tight

Ashton Cartwright Awesome Hair

Most inexperienced players play far too many hands, and go too far with them. Texas Hold’em is a game where preflop hand strengths make a huge difference to the playability and profitability of a hand, and one of the first things you realise when you start becoming a winning player is that most of the time “tight is right”. Playing fewer hands, and focussing only on hands that are high quality will make you money from players who are playing weaker hands than you on average.

The other benefit of playing tight preflop is that when you are playing only strong hands, it makes your play on later streets much more straight forward.

Your plan for how then entire hand will play out begins right from the point where you are dealt your two pocket cards. Unlike the flop and turn betting rounds, which you might only play every 5 or 10 hands, you make pre-flop decisions every single hand you are dealt into. If you play too loose pre-flop, splashing around with hands that aren’t going to be money winners, you’re costing yourself cash.

Therefore, the first poker technique that you learn should be playing tight before the flop.

Focus on only playing the best starting hands. These are hands that are either already powerful, like AA, KK, QQ, etc, or hands than make top pair with a very strong kicker, such as A-K, A-Q, etc. You can also play quality speculative hands such as T9s, 56s, small pocket pairs, etc. These are hands that can flop big hands light straights, flushes or sets, and take down big pots.

In a cash game, or at early stages of a poker tournament, don’t bother playing any other hands. Not only are they negative expectation, they can also be difficult to play after the flop.

A hand like Q-7s may look good, being a Queen and suited, but this hand is virtually unplayable. When it pairs its seven, it will very rarely be the top pair on the flop. When it pairs its queen, it only has a low kicker, and will often be behind any hand between Q8 to Aq. That’s the problem with this sort of weak hand: you can never be sure if you are ahead or behind. A hand like Q-7s also has no possibility of making a straight using both cards.

But they are suited! That surely is enough reason to play the hand isn’t it? Alas no. Being suited only adds a few percent to its chances of winning at showdown. Not enough to justify putting money into the pot with a weak hand.

Now compare that hand with a strong hand like AKs. When A-K hits the flop you make top pair with the best possible kicker. You’re never going to be outkicked at showdown. In fact if someone else hit top pair too, YOU are going to be the one out-kicking them! You can play this hand strongly.

Playing good starting hands make the later streets easier. When you hit the flop, you know that you have a quality hand that can see a showdown.

If you play hands that show a positive expectation pre-flop, you should be faces with very few difficult decisions later in the hand. Your good pre-flop hands are going to make good post-flop hands more often than your opponents who are playing weaker hands than you on average.

Playing tight is an excellent strategy, which should make you money from the looser players. Fold your weak hands but play your good hands aggressively. Selecting only quality hands will make the rest of your decisions easier, and put you in a great position to win.