Why “Tight is Right” for Pre-flop Ranges

This is a common conversation I get into with students. They have this sense of innate post-flop superiority that leads them to play sloppy pre-flop. The use of the word “outplay” here seems to imply some sort of plan. Where does this idea that we need to play very wide pre-flop originate, and is it optimal for 100bb micro- to small-stakes poker?

Why did you open 85s UTG?

Oh that’s standard for me, but I’m better than all the regulars in my game so I can get away with it.

What makes you better than them?

They are all just bad.

What is your plan post-flop with this hand?

I’m going to outplay them!

Why do we think we need to play loose pre-flop?

The idea that in order to be the best we need to play very loose pre-flop is often created by watching poker in movies or on television. Students of the game see people like Tom Dawn running these elaborate bluffs and they assume they need to replicate this strategy to truly crush their games. However there are huge differences in these games they are not accounting for.

Differences between Live Cash games and Online Micros

Firstly, these games are incredibly deep cash games. This stack depth is a prerequisite to really open up pre-flop ranges. The extra depth lets us apply maximum pressure on our opponents. If you think of it logically, the more you open up your range pre-flop the more often you will arrive postflop with a weak made-hand. This will result in us being able to win less often at showdown and therefore require our opponents to fold more often. A strategy that revolves around getting a micro-stakes player to fold a pair is about as likely to be successful as hammering Jell-O to the wall.

Secondly, the players shown in these deep stakes cash games are only focusing on one game. This allows them to take their time and utilize all of their mental capacity to make the optimal decision in each situation. While my students are typically 2-4 tabling Zoom or 4-8 tabling regular tables. As a result, their focus is split across several hands at any given moment.

Therefore it can actually be beneficial to our overall win-rate to eliminate some of these marginally +EV or breakeven situations. This may seem counterintuitive because in theory we should look to take any situation that is +EV, no matter how small. However, this assumes that we play all situations correctly and our decisions in one hand do not affect our other hands. The fact of the matter is we are poker players, not robots, although the jury is still out on Nanonoko. This means we have a limited amount of brain capacity. Each pot we enter uses up some of our focus and mental energy. What ends up happening is that we utilize so much of our mental capacity in an attempt to make a hand marginally profitable, and we auto pilot in other scenarios that offer us drastically greater +EV possibilities. We try to create some elaborate plan to get our opponent to fold top pair vs our 9 high, instead of carefully thinking through how to extract maximum value from a weaker player with our two pair.

Why it’s right to be tight in the Micros

People often confuse the term “tight” with being a “nit”. Being a nit involves over-folding until we are dealt premium hands. Conversely, playing tight involves maintaining a solid range pre-flop to ensure we do not become exploitable. This means that our standard ranges for EP and MP consist of strong hands that flop well and play well out of position. As we approach the steal positions our ranges open up, a huge distinction between TAGs and NITs. This is due to the combination of their being fewer opponents behind us that can wake up with a strong hand and the increased likelihood that we will either steal the blinds pre-flop or get to play our hand post-flop in position.

The important thing here is to have a thorough understanding of our standard ranges pre-flop. We should be able to look at our hand and position and immediately determine if this is a hand that we should play or fold as a standard. We then use this standard pre-flop range combined with the information we have been provided to determine our best course of action. Should we tighten up slightly due to an incredibly aggressive 3-bettor behind us, or should we loosen up slightly due to a passive weaker player in the big blind. The key here is: we need to know our standard range inside and out, so that we can quickly move on to the next decision.

Don’t Ask Quora, Ask yourself

A thought exercise I often go through with my students involves taking their complaints about their player pool and using this as information to determine our optimal pre-flop strategy. This is a bit of an oversimplified way of looking at the game, but it is a great place to start when trying to develop a solid TAG approach to beating the games. Below is an example of the most common complaint I hear from my students, and how we can turn that into an actionable strategy.

“My opponents never fold to my bluffs”

This is one of the more common complaints from beginner poker players. Their opponents seem impervious to aggression and call down with any semblance of showdown. This often tilts them into widening their range pre-flop in an attempt to get involved with this “weaker” opponent and win back their money.

The problem with this strategy is that they start to lose one of our advantages over the “weaker” player: our solid pre-flop range. By entering the pot with a strong range, we eliminate much of the necessity to bluff our opponent. If we consistently enter a pot with a range that is stronger than that of our opponents, we will consistently flop better than them. Therefore we are able to take our initial complaint: “they never fold to our bluffs” and turn it into a money printing strategy. “We can value bet against them incredibly thin because they will call too light.”

Therefore the next time you find yourself frustrated complaining: “My opponents call more than an obsessive teenaged girlfriend” or “This guy always has it, he’s tighter than a pair of wet skinny jeans” stop feeling frustrated. Instead, take a second to think about how we should manipulate our range to most effectively deal with each opponent.

“Where do I find the optimal pre-flop ranges?”

While there is not necessarily one “best” pre-flop range, there are some that are better than others. It’s important to continuously be adapting your range to fit your games and player pool. However, especially when starting out or trying to improve your game, having a solid understanding of pre-flop ranges is an essential part of winning poker.

Fortunately for you, Mike Gano has recently released an ebook that specifically addresses pre-flop ranges. Through studying this book you will gain a thorough understanding of pre-flop ranges. By making these pre-flop decisions second nature, we’ll ensure we enter pots with strong, complete ranges and free up our mental focus to optimize our EV with that range post-flop. This will enable our range to do the outplaying for us.

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