This episode of the Red Chip Poker podcast is all about why being a nit is a really bad idea in poker, both live and online, in cash games and in tournaments. If you’re one of those players that only raises preflop with AA or KK, only bets postflop with the nuts, has a VPIP of 10, or just finds themselves a small loser or breaking even all the time… you might be a nit.

Lucky for you, SplitSuit is here to break down the nitty details, and the strategy behind why abandoning the nit ship is a +EV move for any poker player. He breaks it down into four key areas:

1. Being a Nit Messes Up Your Frequencies
2. Being a Nit Makes You a Target
3. Nits Never Get Information
4. Being a Nit Leaves Money on the Table

Featuring: SplitSuit

What is a Nit in Poker?

The term ‘nit’ refers to a very tight poker player. In other words, this player only aim to get involved in big pots with huge, monster hands. They play a very narrow range of hands, and continue with a narrow range postflop.

Most unstudied players begin playing far too loose. As one studies and learns about the value of position and of being more selective with which hands they play preflop, it can be easy to take this ‘ABC’ style of poker too far.

SplitSuit’s Too-Tight Poker Past

SplitSuit says that if you go back to some of his earliest poker strategy videos, you’ll see him advocating a too-tight style that even he admits is just too conservative. Which is to say, even the best strategic poker minds learn from their mistakes. If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not learning.

You can work through being a nitty poker player even if you are extremely risk-adverse. Calculated risk is what the game of poker is all about, and the more calculation you are capable of doing both on and off the table, the more opportunities you will see to play outside of your nit style and profit.

Being a Nit Messes Up Your Frequencies

Whether you’ve ever thought about this or not, you have frequencies in your own strategy. Nits are opening tighter than everybody, 3-betting more than everybody, and hardly ever bluffing.

But where this frequency imbalance really shows up is post-flop. Because they don’t give action very often without monster hands — especially when they face raises — nits open themselves up to enormous exploitation by other players. Compounding this vulnerability, the nit will not get paid on their monster hands.

It’s extremely easy to identify anyone who has this level of frequency imbalance. In a sense, it’s where bluffing begins to emerge, particularly at the $1/$2 NL and $2/$5 NL games where you are likely to see the most nits. The other players will quickly pick up on the range imbalance and begin to open their ranges and playing more aggressively when in position to exploit the nit’s range telegraphing.

SplitSuit cites Ed Miller’s book Poker’s 1% as a major force in shaking him from his nitty strategic slumber. Miller drives home the need to play a wider range of hands more aggressively to avoid becoming a target of exploitation.

Being a Nit Makes You a Target

This follows from the point above. Poker is an information game and you are telegraphic what you have preflop. It does not take too many orbits to pick up on a player who only plays 10% or less of their hands.

If you play in truly soft “marshmallow pit” games where you can nit it up and always get paid off, then by all means, nit it up. But outside of that bubble, poker has gotten tough enough that you can expect the majority of the players at the table to be paying attention to frequencies.

Postflop, nit is the type of player that takes the advice of “don’t pay people off” way too far, and it makes it easy for good players to steamroll their stacks via aggressive action on a wide range of flop and turn runouts.

Nits Never Get Information

When you play too tight, you rarely get to showdown. As a result, you will lack a major source of information on your opponents.

A lot of nits are players that have been the victims of bad luck and evil beats. They are cowed into submission by cruel twists of fate, and rationalize their risk-averse playing style as a way to avoid past pain. But the truth is, luck can always stab you in the back. It can also deliver great fortune. The question is: Are you taking your shot enough?

In the case of the nit, the answer is no.

Earning no information from taking players to showdown is just the salt in the wound on your ability to put other players on ranges. Remember: Poker is a game of information, and we get a lot of it at showdown. It’s not a game of “who can wait the longest to double up with pocket aces that flop top set?”

Being a Nit Leaves Money on the Table

No strategy is going to give you a straight line of wins with no losses. There are lots of little losses on the way up the mountain of profit.

As we’ve said, there are some specific soft games where a nit strategy could be acceptable. But the vast majority of games contain at least one, two, and often several players who are savvy enough to peg your tight ranges.

By now it should be clear to you how a nit telegraphs their weakness. But also consider that when you want action, quite often, you won’t get it.

There are many reasons players become nits. We mentioned the aforementioned serial loser syndrome. There’s also the home game syndrome, where a player learns to play tight in a game full of awful players who will pay them off all the time. Likewise for those who learn on play money. Make no mistake, these habits are expensive.

You don’t grow as a player when you only play super-tight and try to get maximum value out of nut hands. That’s not where the value comes from in this game. You grow as a player by growing more aggressive and playing more hands until you find a range which is balanced and incredibly difficult to exploit.

Get Inspired, Not Discouraged

Nit poker worked once, back in the days when players were horrible and basically handing their money over to any studied player with the requisite experience. These days, it’s just not an option. You have to be mixing it up more often, gaining an edge through aggression and more unpredictable ranges pre- and post-flop.

If these changes to your game make you feel spewy as you lose a few pots, understand that you are still making +EV decisions. Don’t be results-oriented. Use SplitSuit as a model. If he could move on from being a nit to a consistent winning player moving up in levels, so can you.

If the hand range and frequency information flew a little nit over your head, definitely check out SplitSuit’s latest book Poker Workbook: Hand Reading for Live Players, which has exercises that work through range reading to show you exactly how it’s done.

Showing 8 comments
  • ed

    I understand on not being a nit. Nut do you recommend agressive play in a turbo shortstack
    Or limit cash game.
    You can triple barrel your whole stak on one hand. That is bad

    • Scott

      I think James is talking about games with stacks of at least 100 big blinds, and no-limit cash games.

  • Bobby Clendenning

    —All gained insight has one qualifier ‘it depends’
    I just finished a 3 week ‘scouting’ of casinos in the S. West . I observed some ‘CRAZY’ games — where the term aggressive would not begin to describe the play. 2-5 games that had players shipping on the flop and -call -call –and often with air . Sooo all we ( try to ) learn about being more and more aggressive need be qualified — I played NIT and did ‘okay’ . –and just okay because they would run you down if they eeven had bottom pair — thus ‘it depends’

  • shane

    As a pro member working through some of your sites awesome content, I realized that I was a NIT. Once I opened up my game and aggressiveness I had some early success at the local 1/3 NL game, stacking chips and leaving with big wins. I thought I had it all figured out. Ha! Now I find myself running bad and everything I do just exacerbates that. However I find myself enlightened more now and have a heightened level of awareness at the table which I never used to have. Articles like this lets me know that it’s something I’ll work through. Hopefully sooner than later. Love your content. Thanks!

    • James Sweeney

      You’re very welcome Shane – keep up the good work and exploration!

  • Albert A

    “You grow as a player by growing more aggressive and playing more hands until you find a range which is balanced and difficult to exploit.”
    GOLD. Gold, gold… gold.