We’ve all sat down at the table full of super-tight players and been frustrated by a lack of action. But the key to profiting from these positions is to realize you’re in a massively exploitable opportunity, and to get exploiting! On this week’s podcast, James ‘SplitSuit’ Sweeney shares a chapter from his book Unfolding Poker, giving you some solid, specific tactics for crushing tight tables.
James: I was playing six handed and surrounded by five tags. Given their tight nature, I was not able to win any big pots and they kept folding on earlier streets. How am I supposed to make money in this game?
This is not an uncommon game, whether you play on-line or live. You will occasionally run into a table populated by a bunch of nits or TAGs, players who are not getting involved in many pots and are more focused on their own hand strengths than fighting for pots with air. This situation leaves lots of opportunity for us, but most nits and TAGs end up missing out because they simply are not willing to get outside of their own comfort zone. You will not hit home runs in this game.
When playing with nits and TAGs who are card focused and looking to hit big hands and get paid off, it should be clear that you will not win many home run pots. These players are not looking to run big bluffs, make big pots with second pair or even semi-bluff as often as you and I might. They will not be building big pots unless they have been dealt or flopped a big hand that justifies it. If you are keeping the same mentality, not creating a huge pot without a huge hand, it should go without saying that most pots are going to be small to medium sized. Home run pots, ones that are bigger than a hundred big blinds, tend to be reserved for nuttish versus nuttish hands, something that just does not come up that often. Therefore, the strategy of waiting around for a huge hand at this table and hoping to get paid off, is going to be futile and frustrating. Do not fall for this trap.
Making money in this game. Since the other players are only looking to get involved in huge pots with huge hands, we can threaten large pots and get them to relinquish any hands that are non-nuttish. Of course, most hands in a range are far from the nuts and thus there should be many opportunities to create folds. In this dynamic, my major focus is picking up lots of small pots uncontested. My opponents are focused on trying to hit big hands and my focus is picking up the pots where they do not. This can be done both pre-flop and post-flop.
Here are three things I look to do constantly in this game. First, steal the blinds. Fighting for the blinds pre-flop may not seem like the most profitable endeavor, but the small pots that consist only of winning the blinds add up. I am always looking for steal opportunities when my opponents prove that they do not want to re-steal or even contend for their blinds. You do not need a real hand when your opponents are constantly folding more than 80% of the time when facing a steal. So be diligent when looking for these spots, especially when you are on the button and in the small blind.
More information. Stealing is the first of my three major tips for making more money against nits. Check out the other two tips in this article by going to splitsuit.com/unfold1. That’s the number one, splitsuit.com/unfold1.
Secondly, three bet with more air. Tight players hate giving three bets action with marginal hands. Especially when they are not sure if you’re a maniac. So look for spots where the gap between their open raising range and their giving a three bet action range is wide. Even though this type of player has a relatively tight range, he still has plenty of non monsters that he is willing to fold if you can convince him that you’ve got a big hand yourself.
For instance, if they open with deuces plus, ace, jack plus and king, queen, a mere 11% of hands, and would only give your three bet action with queens plus and ace, king, 2.5% of hands, they would be folding 77% of the time when you three bet. You do not need a strong hand to exploit somebody who is folding that often.
Third, check raise more air. While pre-flop aggression is great, there are plenty of spots where you can be aggressive post-flop as well. One of my favorite things to do against weak type players is to check raise them post-flop. Especially on flops and turns to apply maximum pressure to their ranges.
To do this, I consider two major things. First, what would they bet with on this street and two, what would they give my check raise action with? Take a spot where a TAG continuation bets a flop of nine, four, deuce with a flush draw. You think that they would continuation bet with any pair, sets, flush draws, ace highs and back door draws with over cards, like king, jack of diamonds? Many players would actually C-bet even more than this. You also think that if you check raise, they would only give you action with top pair or better and flush draws. This means they would be folding around two thirds of the time against your raise. That is not even factoring in the fact that your hand could have some equity, that your opponent may not hold on with nine if you continue betting turns and rivers etc. Remember whenever there is a wide gap between the hands a player has and the hands a player would give action with, there is a profitable opportunity to bluff.
Take advantage of the fact that your opponents only want to give action with big hands and apply pressure to the weaker and often times more plentiful parts of their range. Notice that none of these tips include going to showdown. Since your opponents only want to go to showdown with nuttish hands, it is your goal to fight for all of the pots where they do not have nuttish hands. Use this to your advantage and bluff at all of the pots that you not have interest in. This is a fairly boring strategy, but there is easy money to be won here, if you are willing to apply pressure at opportune times.
The dynamic. Now and later. Left unattended, these games will continue with a table full of TAGs trading small pot after small pot, but if you jump in there and start fighting for pots and being aggressive, the dynamic will almost certainly shift in time.
There are three ways that tight players tend to respond when you start implementing an overly aggressive strategy here. One, they leave. Some players just do not want to play against a ton of aggression. That is totally fine with me though. If that kind of player leaves, it opens up a seat where a weak player can join the game. Wish them well and show them to the door. The second option is that they keep playing tight (TAG). This is my favorite player since they really do not adjust at all. They keep playing tight, they keep folding to aggression and they never challenge me for pots. These players are waiting to hit their monster hand to get back at me, and you already know how often those monsters come along. Just keep fighting for pots and picking up the money that they do not want to contend for. Make sure to fold when these players do finally show interest in building a big pot.
The third option is that these players loosen up and fight back. At some point, the average player will catch wind that I am up to something and adjust by not rolling over so easily. This is fine. First, I am far more comfortable playing loose and aggressive than the average TAG, so I get to stay in my comfort zone and they’re forced out of theirs. Secondly, it is easy to identify if they over adjust and start playing way too loose and way too aggressively. When they adjust this way, I can re-adjust to them by sitting back, playing a more straight forward game and letting my table image work in my favor. See chapter 19 for more information on this.
Keep in mind that the dynamic at this table can change quickly. If you are at a full ring table that just happened to have six players at it, new players can fill the empty seats and change the dynamic in a heart beat. Be diligent and remember that the changing table dynamic may force you to take your foot off the gas at some point. Do not force bluffs and bad spots. Situations where you can bluff with impunity are easy to spot and if you pay attention, you will know exactly when your bluffs are less likely to work. Have fun in these games. Enjoy the free pots while everyone is being a TAG and keep your finger on the pulse of the dynamic of the game so that you can always be one step ahead.