Tight vs. Loose: One Mo’ Time

Bertrand Grospellier
Betrand "ElkY" Grospellier breaking the SNG record.

The long-term impact of tight verses loose play is a hot-button topic. It’s been debated in chat rooms for years with opinions on both sides voiced with passion and volume.

It’s also a topic gaining in importance because, as noted in a recent piece: Know Thyself: Post-Flop Play Part VI, the games have become a lot looser and a lot more aggressive.

Today’s column is written with my friend Max Weiss. Max and I are members in the Wednesday Poker Discussion Group. The WPDG is a group of poker junkies who meet regularly in Vegas, usually at some joint with a large room and decent food.

All manner of speakers come by and the room is routinely graced with several “bracelets” and folks whose pictures hang in Binion’s.

After trading emails about the relative importance of tightening up at the table, we realized that we were approaching the issue differently. I mainly play a single table; Max muti-tables. We soon recognized that these two contexts were very different.

A style that is effective in one can easily lose value in the other. In particular, the LAG game that is erupting all over the internet may not be optimal when multi-tabling.

We argue here for tightening up, sometimes almost beyond reason. There are times where it will be to your advantage to give up playing spots with small +EVs for the sake of greater playing efficiency, lower error rates and reduced variance.

A Quick Example

Let’s take two hypothetical players, Victor, who plays 10% of hands and Vickie, who plays 30%. Victor relies on cards, positional play and his tight image; Vicki on her loose image and post-flop abilities. Both are positive EV players with similar bankrolls and life styles.

Victor will miss opportunities, mostly ones with small +EV but will gain by staying out of difficult situations, stealing more and bluffing more successfully.

Vickie will lose money on the bottom 10% (or more) of her hands, no matter how skilled she is but will get paid more on her good hands and be able to make more value bets in certain situations. And it’s not unreasonable to think of them ending up each year with the same sized bankroll.

Ilari Sahamies
Ilari "Ziigmund" Sahamies, well known for his super aggressive multi-table play.

Okay, that’s obvious. “What,” you ask, “is the point?”

The point is that we presented this example with the implicit assumption that both are playing live. This relationship between these two canonical players changes with online multi-tabling.

Vickie may now find that those small +EV hands whose gains come at the meta-game level will lose their glow. When you’re playing six tables things get complicated and messy.

These hands require a good bit of thought and thought extracts its metaphoric pound of flesh. It increases stress, wears you down mentally and, above all, it takes time --- and time is the enemy of the multi-tabler.

Victor, who is prone to tightening up under duress, cranks it down further with each new table he opens. He may begin to do things like muck hands that have, theoretically, +EV because of these same psychological factors.

To see this, let’s give them each AJ off UTG in a $1/2 NL game. This hand, for most decent players, has modest +EV and in a live game or a single-table we expect both to play it, albeit differently. But if they’re playing six tables things will likely change.

Vickie will probably play it, maybe even more aggressively. Victor will muck it. Both will gain; both will lose. Both styles can be made to work; both are found in professionals.

But psychology favors Victor’s path. When multi-tabling you want your decisions to be as routine as possible. You’ll experience less pressure and be able to sustain high levels of play longer. The average Victor will able to play solidly longer than the typical Vickie.

By following Victor’s lead, the swings will be damped and, because you are making fewer tough decisions, your error rate will stay low. And, critically, you will rarely suffer one of those catastrophic “cascade failures,” where warning bells from other tables start ringing, tables start timing out and pots get lost by default.

In short, when multi-tabling it’s perfectly ok to:

(a) get pushed out with marginal hands, especially if you don’t have a good read

(b) get bluffed

(c) muck a good or even very good hand

(d) give up your blinds, even to what looks like a naked steal

Sure, there are plays that can be used in these situations but they do not necessarily have long-term positive EV, not when other tables with equally complex situations beckon, not when pressure is constantly being applied by opponents, not when you’re starting to feel tired.

In fact, their main gain is in the meta-game and in these online situations the role of the meta-game drops.

We appreciate that our point of view here may not sit well with many. That’s okay. We learned long ago that there’s no one way to play this game. Feel free to comment.

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