Tight Games

Tight games are unpopular with many players, even tight ones. They try to avoid them, or complain when they have little choice but to play in one. In fact, many tight games can be as inviting and profitable as loose ones. This lesson will help you understand some characteristics of tight games, and investigate some facts about them.

What Constitutes A Tight Game?

Tight games are characterized by very few players playing past the first round, either folding before the flop in flop games or folding on third street in stud games. These players have learned that playing substandard starting hands is not profitable, so they wait for good to excellent starting hands before they play.

In many games, including loose ones, tight players are playing and waiting. When the game contains a preponderance of these tighties, the game becomes tight. In typical tight games, rarely do four or more players see the next card, and in some very tight games, you don’t often see flop or fourth street cards dealt, as the hand ends with everyone folding except one player (typically a raiser) who then wins the antes.

While it is true that the higher limits you play, the more tight players and tight games you will encounter, tight games (or tight deals) can happen in any game and at any limit.

Can Tight Games Be Beat?

There is some irony in the loose players’ lament that their hands never hold up in loose games (see Lesson 2), and they yearn for a game in which their opponents do not stay in to draw out. Eventually they find such a game, in which almost nobody plays any hands at all. Their good hands hold up, all right, but there is seldom any money in the pot. Then we hear the new cry that “Nobody can beat this game…it’s too tight.”

In Lesson 2, we explored the problem of beating loose games, and concluded they could be beat. Well, you can beat tight games, too. You need to realize a few things:

1. When a tight player gives you action, you need a very good hand to continue. If you are used to loose games, you may be used to players going to the river with A-rag, or KT, and your AJ or KJ wins with a better kicker. Well, in tight games, this will happen much less often. Your opponents are simply not playing those hands, so when you do get action holding AJ or KJ and flop is an ace or king, your kicker is in trouble.

This is not only true for kickers. Tight opponents rarely raise without very good holdings. You need to give them credit for a well above average hand when they elect to play at all, and when they raise they generally have outstanding holdings. For example, let us assume you raise in fairly early position, and a tight player raises you. While a loose player may have any pair or AK, AQ or even AJ (and a crazy player may have many other holdings), a tight player will have AA, KK, QQ (maybe) or AKs. You must take that into account when you proceed.

2. Pots are small in tight games, but so are your swings. If you are used to loose games, then you are used to seeing your stacks yo-yo up and down like the breakers on the Bonsai pipeline. In tight games, that should not happen, assuming you are playing tightly yourself (which, of course, you are, being a tight-aggressive player). This sense of stability feels good, and helps provide the patience you will need in waiting for decent starting hands.

3. You only need to win a few more bets than average to be a winner. Many players despair of winning in tight games because they do not see opportunities to win the large pots they are used to. Pots in tight games are indeed quite small, sometimes containing only the blinds or antes. Remember, though, you are not trying to win dozens of bets per hour. You are trying to win between 0.5 and 1.5 bets per hour. Little pots are fine for that purpose, and you only need to win a few more than your fair share per day to be a winner. You can do this by stealing a bit more (just a bit) and bluffing a bit more than the other players. Just be careful not to lose more than your fair share at the same time.

4. Tight players can be bluffed. While we are focused on pre-flop (and third street) play in this lesson series, bear in mind that you can win pots in tight games without a showdown. As we discussed in point three above, you will not need to do this often to be a winner. In fact, there is quite an art to deciding when to bluff in these games. But done correctly, your bluffs will work a reasonable portion of the time, and you will show a profit on them.

Are Tight Games the Same as Tough Games?

Recently, a friend came over to visit for a moment to watch me play my usual game of $30-$60 hold’em. He observed a few hands in which the pot was raised pre-flop and everyone folded. “Why don’t you leave this game and go find a good game?” he asked. “Because,” I replied, “this is a good game.”

Games do not have to be rammin’-jammin’ to be good. In the case of my game, there were several players I knew would soon lose patience and begin to loosen their starting requirements. A few players also played badly after the flop (when there was one). This combination made the game very good, and indeed I booked a nice win.

In general, tight players are playing more correctly than loose players, but that fact alone does not make them tough players. Tough players do a lot of raising, trying to maximize results. Tight player do a lot a calling (and folding), trying to not lose too many chips. Tough players typically play aggressively throughout the hand, making it hard for their opponents to be sure exactly how strong they are. Tight players bet with the goods, and check when they do not feel confident.

Tough players are tough to beat. Tight players are not. Of course, you may have a hard time telling the difference at first, since neither plays a lot of hands, but with study, you will.

What is the Difference Between Passive and Aggressive Tight Games?

The primary difference is the number of raises you will see pre- (and post-) flop, or on early streets. Tough games feature a lot of early raising, and especially reraising, to gain position and initiative. You will also see a lot of betting on later streets, and not a lot of checking. Unless you are an expert player yourself, these are good games to avoid. In fact, an expert player told me recently that when he first sits down in a game, he looks at how many hands go to a showdown. If, in the first 10 hands he sees, the answer is zero, he gets up and leaves.

Games that are simply tight, on the other hand, will still feature some early raising (everyone has read at least one book these days), but then a lot of calling, checking and folding. These games can be beat with a lot of patience and a bit of creativity.

What Kinds of Hands Win in Tight Games?

With many fewer players in the pot initially, and still fewer as the hand progresses, one pair (frequently with a kicker) will win a significant number of pots. No pair, in fact, will win a few, typically with AK or AQ. There is a real premium on very high cards, and medium and higher pairs. All drawing hands go down in value as you rarely will be getting the larger pots you will want to chase straights and flushes. Hands like 98s, which are tempting in loose passive games, are trash hands in tights games.

We will begin to explore hand values and how they apply to the various game types in the next lesson.

Lesson created by Barry Tanenbaum.