How Playing ‘Tight’ in Poker Makes Your Decisions Easier

Hold'em is a very difficult game. As everyone's favorite WPT announcer Mike Sexton always says, it takes a minute to learn and a lifetime to master.

Truer words were never spoken.

Most beginner poker players play far too many hands and take them too far when they start to play Hold'em.

One of the first things you learn when you decide to become a winning player is to play tight - that is, to play fewer hands.

You do this because when you play only quality starting hands, it makes your play on later streets much easier.

How to Win at Poker

Playing tight is absolutely fundamental when learning to play winning poker. I say winning poker because everyone knows how to play poker but few know how to play winning poker.

Your initial decision whether to continue with a hand or not will be made before the flop. Unlike on the flop and turn, which you might only find yourself playing once or twice an orbit, you're making pre-flop decisions every single hand you play.

If you play too loose pre-flop, you're costing yourself money every time you play a hand you shouldn't. Thus it's imperative the first strategy you master is playing tight before the flop.

Play Only the Best Hands Before the Flop


Before the flop you should be playing only the very best of starting hands.

You should look for hands that are already monsters - AA, KK, QQ, etc. Play top-pair hands - i.e. ones that make top pair and when they do, do so with a good kicker.

For example: A-K, A-Q, K-Q, etc. You can also play quality speculative hands, hands that flop big and take down big pots - e.g. T-9s, 8-9s, small pocket pairs, etc.

All other hands should be avoided like the plague. Not only do they show a negative expectation (see "EV explained"), they're also very difficult to play after the flop.

A hand like K-5s may look good, being a king and suited, but appearances are deceiving here. This is in fact a very weak hand.

When it pairs its five, the five is seldom the top pair on the flop. When it pairs its king, it only has a five kicker and will often find itself outkicked at showdown.

That's the nature of this hand and similar ones: they make poker a guessing game. You can never be sure of where you stand. They also leave you no possibility of making a straight.

Further Reading:

Don't Be Fooled by the Flush!


You may think that all of this is overcome by the hand's ability to make a flush. No such luck. Being suited only adds 2% to its overall likelihood of winning.

Generally speaking, if you would fold a hand offsuit, you should probably fold it suited.

Flushes don't come around nearly often enough to make up for the downfalls of a poor starting hand. So stop limping weak hands just because they're suited.

Contrast that with a hand like A-K. When A-K hits the flop you make top pair with the best kicker. You're never going to be outkicked at showdown.

You can play this hand confidently - you know where you stand in the hand. "Guessing" is minimized.

Further Reading:

When You Hit You Know Where You Stand

pocket kings

This is why playing excellent starting hands make the later streets easier. When you hit you know where you stand. You have a quality hand that can see a showdown.

You're rarely going to find yourself outkicked. If you only play hands that show a positive expectation pre-flop, the rest of your game will fall into place.

Your good pre-flop hands are going to make good post-flop hands, and you'll find your decisions on later streets getting easier and easier the more trash hands you eliminate from your pre-flop holdings.

An extreme example of tight play would be if you decided to only play aces, kings and queens and you would fold everything else.

This would make your play at the flop and after it very easy. There would be literally no guessing game.

If you held an overpair you would bet; if not, you'd slow down. Marginal decisions would be eliminated. Everything would be black and white.

This style, of course, is highly exploitable and would never be profitable; it's merely an example of how playing tight makes things easier on the later streets.

I would never advise only playing aces and kings, but that would be a better strategy than playing every hand that comes your way.

Further Reading:

The Best Beginner Poker Strategy

Obviously the best strategy is somewhere in the middle. Fold your weak hands but play your strong hands aggressively.

As an amateur and a student of the game you are guaranteed to make multiple mistakes in every session. And every time you make a mistake at a No-Limit Hold'em table you run the risk of going broke.

The more marginal hands you play, the more difficult your decisions will be. And that means the more mistakes you will make. The more mistakes you make, the more often you're going to find yourself getting stacked.

If you start out only with quality holdings, you'll make the rest of your decisions easier.

Related Poker Strategy Articles

Related Articles

Unibet Poker Open 2023
Unibet Open Bukarest 2023 – Here we go!

Unibet Open Bukarest alkoi pari tuntia sitten, pahoittelut että blogi pääsee vauhtiin myöhässä. Syytetään Lufthansaa, joka onnistui eilen jättämään matkalaukkuni Frankfurtin kentälle. Nyt on laukku saatu tänne Bukarestin Marriottiin ja…

November 30, 2023 | Juhani Tyriseva
Unibet Poker Open 2023
Suomalaisten chip count, Event 1

Ville Mustonen 65K Aleksi Naski 265K Samuli Hietala 330K Jarno Jokiniemi 85K Max Avela 260K Kai Lehto 105K Feras Abid 130K Topi Palenius 95K Atte Franssila 85K Markku Vihavainen 50K…

September 16, 2023 | Juhani Tyriseva
Unibet Poker Open 2023
Voitonjako on selvillä

Ensimmäisen sormuskisan WSOPC Event 1, voitonjako on nyt selvillä. Turnauksen palkintopotti on 183.360€, ja 47 parasta pääsee rahoille. Turnauksen voittaja kuittaa mukavat 38.510€, ja min cash on 1.100€. Tällä hetkellä…

September 16, 2023 | Juhani Tyriseva
WSOP banner
WSOP Schedule 2020

The 2020 World Series of Poker kicks of in Las Vegas on May 27th. With a time frame of more than 7 weeks and 100 tournaments this will be the…

August 21, 2023 | Arved Klöhn
WSOP banner
Pikku tauon jälkeen jatketaan

Pidettiin pieni tauko, nyt peli jatkuu tasolla bb ante 4K, blindit 2K/4K. 111/573 pelaajaa.

July 25, 2023 | Juhani Tyriseva
melvin shroen live reports from The Festival in Nottingham 2023
PokerListings set to do Live Reporting from The Festival Series in Nottingham (13-19 February 2023) 

Melvin Schroen - Live Reporter For the first time in the history of The Festival Series, an event series is being held at the Dusk Till Dawn Pokerclub in Nottingham.…

March 22, 2023 | Melvin Schroen
PokerListings Awards 2022
PokerListings Operator Awards – Winners 2022

Since 2020, we have been awarding the best poker operators and innovators in the poker business with our PokerListings Operator Awards. Every year the operators are nominated and awarded in…

January 11, 2023 | Bjorne Lindberg
Oliver Hutchins Wins the Trophy in the €500K GTD PPC Malta Main Event (€71,000)

Oliver Hutchins Wins 2022 PPC Malta Main Event United Kingdom's Oliver Hutchins won the trophy in the €500,000 guaranteed PPC Malta €550 Main Event for €71,000 after a back and…

April 7, 2022 | Jason Glatzer
All Poker News
2013-11-12 04:56:55

yea tight, that’s how you do it baby… but it takes more than just tight play to be a winner.

2008-06-11 00:11:00

well written i personally will only play AA KK QQ JJ 1010 KQ KJ QJ pre flop. i find when i raise my opponents usually fold so what ive decided to do is raise with nothin when im in the blinds and only against one player this makes it look like im looser than what i really am. am quite down today was sitting with 30% of my bank roll and had KK i called got raised and went all in i couldnt believe i gt called with QJ but what do u no he hit two pair 🙁

Comment on that

Your message is awaiting approval