Some players say they prefer to play loose, while others prefer to play tight. They call each other donkey-nits, clown-fish, and all manner of animal-inspired names. They may not be playing from a hand chart, but they’ve decided whether they prefer always to err on the side of aggression or conservatism. They pick a style and stick with it.
That doesn’t make much sense. Every decision you make at the poker table should be based on what you think will win the most money.
Improving at poker is just like improving in life. When you’re trying to play a logic game for a living, you need to be logical in life. Is it logical to eat awful food and never exercise? No. You don’t have much in life without your health. Without it, nothing else really matters.
There are times when logic will shout at you to deviate from your comfortable game plan. Heed its call.
Consider the following story:
One day a salesman receives a phone call.
“I need to buy a crane, ASAP,” the caller requests. “I’m sorry, sir. We don’t sell cranes,” the salesman responds. “We only carry toothbrushes and dental floss.” He hangs up.
“Who the hell was that?” his boss demands.
“Some guy wanted to buy a crane,” the salesman laughs. “And you hung up on him? Get back on that phone and tell that guy you’re gonna get him a goddamn crane!” “But we don’t have cra–”
“What the hell does that matter? Do you know how much those things cost?” the boss asks. “If the man wants a crane, we’ll sell him a crane.”
The salesman calls the guy back and the boss begins furiously flipping through the yellow pages for crane dealers. He calls a few places, talks to a few guys, and thirty minutes later he’s brokering a deal where the caller gets a crane, the crane company gets $600,000, and he gets a 10% commission.
Dusty heard this from a golfing buddy, who happened to be the boss in the above story. The salesman was one of his best employees, but he considered firing him for hanging up on a dude who was looking to drop over half a million on a crane.
How does this relate to poker?
Maybe you’ve been playing tight all day and a couple of loose players are constantly raising and cold calling each other. It’s time to re-raise and grab all of that money that’s sitting out there. Your cards don’t matter. You should squeeze. You already know that both players have weak and wide ranges here. The first guy will have a hard time calling your raise with a speculative hand, knowing that he’ll wind up squeezed between you and the cold caller. The cold caller
is even less likely to call, since he usually would have re- raised himself if he had a hand worth a 3-bet.
Maybe you’ve been playing loose all day and a super tight and oblivious player shoves over your 3-bet. You think his range is only aces and kings. You should fold your queens. Queens are normally a powerhouse hand when you have a loosey-goosey image. But this opponent doesn’t pay attention to that stuff, and he’s super tight to boot. Your awesome hand has turned into muck, and that’s exactly where it should end up.
It’s okay to deviate from your “standard” play when the situation demands. In fact, that’s the best way to play. Here are a few considerations that should affect your range:
• There is a big fish at the table. When there is a truly awful player at the table, you should do everything you can to get into pots with him. There are players who min-raise any two cards preflop, then massively overbet every flop. With these ridiculous implied odds, you can play literally any two cards against them. This example is extreme, but these situations come up. Be ready when they do. Don’t take it so far when the fish isn’t quite so massive, but the same general concept applies. Get in there and take their money.
With a very bad player in the big blind, you should play this hand that you would usually fold from such an early position. In fact, you can open raise your regular cutoff range from any earlier position, and an even wider range from the cutoff and button.
• There is a raise in front of you and the bad player is in the big blind. This is a fine spot to do some looser cold calling. You’re less likely to get 3-bet (squeezed) by any good players behind you because they should prefer to just call with their playable hands in an attempt to extract more money from the fish after the flop. Since a re-raise would shut the fish out of the pot, good players may even just call with aces and kings. In fact, you should consider just calling with your strong hands as well, since you’re more likely to get value from the bad player in the big blind than from the solid player in front of you.
• The blinds are super tight. You can play more marginal hands, particularly from late position, when the blinds fold too much. When there’s free money out there, you should take it. You can open any two cards, even deuce-seven offsuit, from the button if the blinds are tight enough.
• You are in the cutoff and the button is weak/tight. When the button is going to fold to your raise 95% of the time preflop, it’s almost like you get the button twice per orbit. You can open up your cutoff range considerably. If the blinds don’t adjust and keep folding as much as they would against your usual cutoff range, you can almost make an argument to open the cutoff looser than you would usually open the button. You can certainly open as loose as your default button range.
• You have been playing unusually tight. Sometimes you just sit around and fold almost every hand for an hour straight. If an early position player has been opening a lot of pots, you can 3-bet light and get much more credit than you usually would. This concept only applies against opponents who are paying attention.
It’s generally best to save this play for times when you have a little something for back up, like suited or connected cards, or an ace or a king in your hand. When your opponents do call the 3-bet, it will often be with pocket pairs instead of the king-queen and ace-jack type hands that have you dominated. That makes you less likely to suffer from kicker problems, keeping you from losing too many big pots. An ace or a king in your hand also reduces the chances of your opponent holding a hand like aces, kings, or ace-king.
• The player behind you is awesome. This can be a world class player or just someone you feel has a good edge on you. Be honest with yourself. There’s no need to seek a struggle with players who are better than you. If you’re willing to give position to a player of this caliber, there’d better be a big fish on your right. (Otherwise you should find a better seat.) Play pots with that guy. He’s the one offering to pay your rent. You can’t be afraid to take advantage of the bad players just because someone scary is sitting behind you, but when the bad players are out of the pot, you should be too unless you have a strong hand. As illustrated by the following example, you should often fold hands that you would play with a weaker player sitting to your left.
• In extreme cases, you should make severe alterations to your range. Most of the time, however, you shouldn’t take it too far. When a moderately bad player opens in early position, you shouldn’t cold call in the cutoff with 8♠ 2♠ . But you can start playing suited connectors, weaker suited hands like queen-eight and jack-seven, and big offsuit hands that you would fold against a more dangerous opponent.
• This is not an exhaustive list. You should always be thinking about other situations where deviating will be more profitable than sticking to your chart. Never be afraid to sell someone a crane.