A couple of years ago in the small hours of a Wednesday morning I found myself playing a rare $1/$2 session at the Venetian. I didn’t recognize anyone at the table, but not knowing the regulars in this room I wasn’t sure of the tourist-local balance. Since the game seemed pleasantly non-threatening I settled in.
Half an hour later I saw a fast-moving, glittering thing gliding towards the table. Once the thing had moved within my sphere of useful vision it revealed itself to be a young woman. She wore an over-sized ironic trucker’s hat with “LA” emblazoned on it in rhinestones, and carried a voluminous bag covered in dazzling sequins. She dived into the bag as she dropped into her seat, flicked three hundreds and a purple Grazie card at the dealer, and sighed heavily. I immediately dubbed her The bLAg Lady, even though I wasn’t sure where the capital letters belonged.
The nature of the game changed immediately. The limpy-cally make-a-hand routine was grabbed by the scruff of the neck by The bLAg Lady as she fired out raises, three-bets, and post-flop barrels. I felt like I should trade in my cowboy hat for an orange construction helmet. A combination of my starting hands and the fact I was going to bed in a couple of hours encouraged me to adopt the role of an interested spectator as The bLAg Lady ran the show.
Another heavy sigh and three more hundreds pulled from her eye-searing bag were the first sign things were not going well for The bLAg Lady. Based on the hands she had shown down I estimated she was opening about 30% from up front, pretty much anything on the button, and was auto-betting flops. She was also blazing away on the last two streets extremely light. This strategy was typically getting impaled on the top pairs of two gentlemen in the four and five seats who had been quietly chatting as they drank Stella Artois. I assumed they knew each other, but by their raised eyebrows had never run into a Los Angeles LAG in overdrive mode.
It turns out the second assumption may have been wrong. As the four-seat dragged in another pot with top pair, third kicker, The bLAg Lady turned an interesting shade of pink that clashed horribly with the sequins on her bag. Another three hundreds fluttered towards the dealer as she directed a gimlet glare that switched frenetically between the four- and five-seats. “When did Vegas players quit folding?” she spat irritably.
After a brief, awkward silence, the four-seat replied: “We’re from San Diego.”
Discussions of poker style have likely been around as long as the game itself. The notion was certainly well established by the time Super System was published in 1978. In the No-Limit Hold’em section, Doyle Brunson refers to style on multiple occasions, including the following:
“My philosophy of play at No-Limit Hold’em is a simple one. I try to win big pots… and the small ones I pick-up (win without a contest). It’s a philosophy that necessitates a gambling style of play. My style.” (Super System p.420; italics and odd use of ellipsis points as per the original text.)
Doyle’s discussion of NLHE in both Super System I and II requires a little decoding (or recoding?) into the language of 2018 poker training sites, but I think it is fair to say that his approach is essentially a loose-aggressive one. This is an interesting curiosity in itself since most NLHE books in the period from around 2005 to 2015 advocate (or, more accurately, claim to advocate) a tight-aggressive style.
For example, in the 2006 book “No Limit Hold ‘Em, Theory and Practice,” by Sklansky and Miller, the pre-flop recommendations are certainly tight, although one can debate whether they are genuinely aggressive given the recommendations for limping. Nearly a decade later, Ed Miller’s “The Course” (2015) espouses an aggressive strategy across all streets. As I discussed in “Opening Ranges and Seduction,” I don’t regard Ed’s pre-flop ranges as particularly tight, but his overall $1/$2 strategy will have you playing much tighter and more aggressively than others in this player pool.
Digging through forum threads and recent video content here at RCP, I think it’s easy to get the impression that there is a modern consensus that a loose-aggressive style will make you the most money when playing NLHE. And with sufficient caveats I might even agree. That, however, is not the point that I want to examine in this article. Instead, I’d like to suggest that attempting to play a certain “style” of poker may have unpleasant consequences.
Let’s return to The bLAg Lady. She had a well-defined style, albeit one that bordered on the maniacal, but in terms of betting and raising frequencies it wasn’t that far beyond the end of the current expert-approved LAG spectrum. To use an electromagnetic analogy, I’d call it soft ultra-LAG. And had she employed these frequencies four hours later when the breakfast club had arrived at the Venetian to complain about everything over their coffee, she may very well have run over the table. (Or perhaps more likely, some geezer would have loudly mansplained to her that this wasn’t a $2/5 table and then led the exodus to the podium to request a table change, thereby breaking the game within thirty minutes.)
Unfortunately for The bLAg Lady, she was trying to blast people off capped ranges while they were happily drinking Stella and clinging on to see if their top pair was any good at showdown. She may well generate an excellent hourly with this soft ultra-LAG style in some games, but at the table where I met her she might as well have been setting fire to her fluttering hundred dollar bills.
In an attempt to avoid the impression that I sit in my cave rubbing my hands together, gleefully identifying and writing about failures of LAG play, let me offer a completely different case of where sticking to a certain style can be a costly mistake.
Suppose you’ve been diligently studying James Sweeney’s RCP videos that are based on Ed Miller’s “Poker’s 1%.” Specifically, you have worked through the situations in which you are the in-position pre-flop caller. Most people on first studying this material are amazed at how wide they are “supposed” to call on the three post-flop streets. The highly-simplified mantra is “if you call on one street you should usually call on the next.”
So you’re sitting there on the button, heads-up in position against the pre-flop raiser and they fire the flop. You determine that your specific holding is in the top 70% of your range and call. The situation on the turn is the same. On the river your opponent shoves their last $150 into you and the knowledge you have acquired from Poker’s 1% again dictates that you call.
It’s quite possible that you just played this hand perfectly. But if your opponent is a nitty Vegas $1/2 grinder and you called the end with second pair, your river call is pretty horrible. Why? Because nitty Vegas grinders are never firing three barrels here with a hand you beat.
If you are a regular reader of the material here at RCP it is likely that you are trying to get better at poker. Whenever we attempt to improve our skills at anything, it is natural to seek magic bullets and “super systems” that give us sure-fire, straight-forward means to reach our goals. But most areas of intellectual creativity worth studying are simply not like that. In fact I would suggest that adopting and rigidly sticking to any specific poker style is antithetical to the nature of the game.
The great poker players are adaptable, with a fluid range of styles from which they choose the most effective for any given situation. When such players are zoned in and stay one step ahead of the table, the results can be beautifully devastating.