Some of the best players in the world play looser than the vast majority of other good players. There is often a drive to emulate them. Perhaps this stems from hero worship, or perhaps from the misconception that playing so loose is what makes these players great. This is backwards.
Great players often play loose because they’re great. They’re not great because they’re loose. In other words, they can get away with playing many weaker hands preflop because their world-class postflop skills allow them to make up so much ground later in the hand. That’s half the story.
The other half of the story is that they’re frequently playing with considerably deeper stacks than the typical online game allows. If you gave these players stacks of just 100 big blinds, they would have to play much tighter, simply because there is less room for postflop maneuvering.
So the next time you see Tom Dwan, Phil Ivey, or Patrik Antonius cold call with 53s, take a look at their effective stack sizes in relation to the blinds. Television coverage doesn’t always do a great job of communicating this information, but if you pay attention, you should be able to figure it out.
The fact of the matter is, with 100 big blind stacks, tight is right.
Great players look for profitable opportunities, and they’re great at finding those opportunities. That’s what makes them great, and that’s what lets them play so loose. They see ways to take pots away on the flop, turn, and river. They see ways to squeeze extra value out of their opponents. They find ways to get away from sick spots where a lesser player might go broke.
As great players discover how big their edge is over their opponents, they often start loosening up. They do well, then keep pushing the envelope. Eventually, it just becomes their game.
Some of this crazy looseness that you see is a television illusion. How many hours do you think they play to get those five or six hands that they feature in a 42-minute episode? They don’t show people folding for hours on end. It’s boring. They pick the hand where the guy shoves with T7s, not the one where someone opens under the gun and everyone folds.
To add to this, TV time is money. Consider that a 30-second commercial slot during the Super Bowl may cost a few million dollars. Getting a hand featured on television can build up a brand and build up an image for a player. We can’t know for sure why a player chooses to play a hand a certain way. It could be for deception, knowing that many people will see this hand and make broad judgments about this player’s game. There’s more than one player who looks like a crazy guy on TV, but plays totally different online. Considering how much TV time is worth, it’s also possible that the player wants to buy some cheap airtime for the logos he’s wearing. Taking a line with a little negative EV, say $1,000, can be easily outweighed by the publicity it generates. It’s hard to find airtime cheaper than five minutes for a grand.
Playing loose is fun. It’s great to imagine that you can find ways to outplay your opponents postflop. But imagination and reality don’t always line up. Are you so much better than your opponents that you can really get away with playing inferior hands on a regular basis? If so, that’s fantastic. Get in there and make some money. But there’s a good chance you could make more money by reining it in a bit and adding tables. If you’re that much better than your opponents, there’s also a good chance that you would make more money by moving up in stakes. Adding tables or moving up might cause your win rate to shrink, but your hourly earn would increase.
Are you playing for money or for fun? Decide.
To some extent, you can do both. Playing for money (if you’re good at it) can be plenty fun. But you must prioritize. One or the other has to come first.
Make sure that if you’re playing loose, you’re doing it for the right reasons. When the game conditions are right, go for it. If you’re a freak who can mass multi-table and still play a larger percentage of your hands, great. If you’re one of the best players in the world and you play a small number of tables at the highest stakes, even better. But that’s probably not you. At least not yet. That’s not most people.
Most people play loose for the wrong reasons. Most people can make more money playing a bit tighter across more tables.
Say you have the option of playing either 20% or 30% of your hands at a given table. Assuming the extra 10% adds to your profitability, your win rate will be higher at that table if you play looser. But how much higher will it be? Those additional hands won’t provide a windfall. They will be varying degrees of marginal. So you’ll be playing 50% more hands, but you won’t increase your win rate by 50%.
Now consider how many tables you can play if you’re playing 30% of your hands. How many more tables could you play if you only played 20% of your hands? Assuming you have the proper computer set up, the answer should be at least 50% more. Not only are you playing fewer hands at each table, but you’re specifically playing fewer marginal hands. That means you’ll have fewer time-consuming decisions. More of your plays will be straightforward.
Let’s say that you usually can either play loose (30% of your hands) and get in 400 hands per hour, or tight (20% of your hands) and get dealt 600 hands per hour. If playing tight will yield 10 cents per hand, maybe playing loose will yield 12 cents per hand. Would you rather make $60 per hour or $48?
It’s good to try different styles. Find what feels comfortable for you. But be honest with yourself. One way or another, you want to end up with the style that allows you to make the most money.