Loose Games

Most of the poker games you will encounter will be loose games. This lesson will help you understand the characteristics of these games and investigate some facts about them.

What Constitutes a Loose Game?

A loose game is one in which a lot of players are in on the first round of betting. In flop games, half or more of the players at a full table of players see the flop; in stud, half or more of the players are in for fourth street.

In almost all typical games, this definition means that a lot of these players are calling or raising with hands they should be folding. In other words, they must be playing some hands they should not be playing, and therefore they are making mistakes. In some games, the tendency toward looseness extends to other streets; in others, people play very loosely on the first round of betting, then play more tightly.

Many of the loose games are played for fairly low stakes. In fact, many players consider “low limit games” to be synonymous with “loose games.” While this may be a reasonable stereotype, you must remain aware of the characteristics of that particular game you are in, and even the hand you are playing. In any particular deal, several typically loose players may receive hands that are beneath even their starting standards, and they may fold. Thus, for the moment, the nature of the game can change, and you need to be aware of it. Do not assume that just because you are in a loose game, it will be that way every single hand.

Similarly, in a middle or high stakes game, even one which is normally tight, may have loose moments or even loose days. Since hand values vary greatly with the type of game you are playing in, you must remain vigilant not only to the general type of game you are in, but what is developing on the particular hand.

Can Loose Games be Beat?

Yes, loose games can be beat. As you know, almost all winning players use a tight-aggressive style. Loose games feature many players who do not play selectively. Therefore, these games ought to be easy to beat, since they are by definition populated by players who are not playing selectively, and thus not playing well.

So why do so many players claim that they cannot beat these games? I believe the answer comes from several factors:

However, you will find that if you respect the stakes and the game, remain focused on the task, select the proper hands for the situation, and play in a manner that fits the game, you will certainly beat loose games.

  1. They do not respect the stakes. Many low limit games are loose. Even good players in these games tend to relax because the stakes have little meaning to them. However, proper poker requires that you consider the stakes in proportion to the ante and pot size, and not in relation to the real life value of the money involved. If you play $0.50 – $1.00 hold’em, the correct plays remain the same as if the stakes were $50 – $100, or even $5,000 – $10,000.
    It should not matter if it costs $1 to call with a flush draw for a $3 pot, or $1,000 to call with the same flush draw to win a $3,000 pot. The odds are the same, so the play should be the same. When people say to themselves “What the heck, it is only a buck,” they are playing losing poker.
  2. They get frustrated by the number of times they are drawn out on. If a lot of players are in the pot, there is a much greater likelihood that the best starting hand will not hold up. Of course, when it does hold up, it wins a lot of money from the people who are chasing.
    People get emotional when they start with the best hand and lose several times in a row. They start to press and play too loosely themselves. They think “If you can’t beat’em, join’em,” or “If I can’t win with good cards, I will play bad ones or play trash cards.” Both of these sayings are simply excuses to play badly, and therefore lose, perpetuating the myth that loose games are unbeatable.
  3. They do not play the correct hands. The correct hands to play in loose games are not obvious. Many players simply assign hands a “playable” or “unplayable” label, and respond accordingly. But proper hand selection in loose games is very different from what it might be in tight games. Big unsuited cards go down in value; small pairs and suited connectors go up. The next few lessons will explore this topic in detail.
  4. They play “too well,” and try to make advanced plays. A lot of the late-street play in loose games must be very straightforward. All sorts of otherwise useful plays, such as bluffs, do not work either because of the lack of insight on the part of the opponents, or the size of the pot relative to the size of the bet.
Does position matter in loose games?

I frequently hear players say, “Loose games are basically showdown poker, so position does not matter.”

Position always matters. First, you may know you are in a loose game generally, but you cannot know how many players are going to be in this hand unless you are in late position. You do not know if the hand will be raised. I know some of you are thinking, “He is a high limit player. In my games, almost everyone is in on every hand.” Even if that is true, you don’t know if someone will raise. It might even be a good idea to raise yourself if enough people enter the pot before you. You cannot tell either of these things if your position is poor.

Position in flop games lasts the whole hand. On the river, for example, if someone bets and you see two callers, you may be able to fold a hand that you would have called if you had been forced to act right after the bettor. In this case, position saved you a bet. Conversely, you might make a call on the end if there is a bet and everyone folds to you and you are last. If you were forced to act with several other potential callers (or raisers!) behind you, you would probably fold (or call only to find others have called or raised and you regret your call). This scenario might just win a whole pot for you!

It is a rare game indeed where ever hand goes to a showdown, even if it feels like that is what happens. As we discussed in Lesson 1, your understanding of the value of position, and your ability to exploit good position and avoid poor position will go a long way toward making you a winning player.

What is the difference between passive and aggressive loose games?

All loose games are not created equal. In some, it seems as though every pot is raised or even capped. In others, a raise before the flop (or on third street) rarely ever happens.

Games with lots of players and lots of pre-flop raises are called “loose, aggressive” games, while those with lots of players and little raising are called “loose, passive” games. While both share the characteristic of many players (which means that some are playing sub-par hands), the nature of the hands you can play depends on how many raises you are likely to encounter.

In loose passive games, the pot is fairly small after the first round of betting, as is your initial investment if you chose to play. In loose aggressive games, the pot size grows huge very fast, and the numbers of bets you must put in to see the next card(s) is quite large. This difference will dictate what hands you can play, as well as the way you will want to play them.

After the flop, for example, a pot in a loose aggressive game may contain 20 or 30 or even more small bets. A bet or even a bet and raise after the flop represents a small fraction of the money already in the pot, and cannot have much impact on the players’ actions. In a loose, passive game, on the other hand, a pot may only have 5 -7 small bets in it. A bet or a bet and a raise can have a significant impact on the actions of the other players to follow. Anticipation and awareness of these differences is vital to selecting hands to play, and strategies to use after the initial round of betting.

What kinds of hands win in loose games?

With a lot of players in the pot, the average winning hand goes up. Since a lot of players are involved in trying to make a winning hand, the player that succeeds will, on average, need a pretty good final hand, regardless of the nature of the cards he started with. Thus two-pair, three-of-a-kind, straights and flushes win most of the hands, with one pair winning a smaller number. This characteristic will have a great effect on the starting hands we chose to enter the pot with.

In the next lesson, we will look at tight games, and then we will move on to hand selection.

Lesson created by Barry Tanenbaum.