Tight is good play?
What an idea! Tight aggressive is what you see recommended over and over in literature on how to play poker, but that is truly meaningless and hard to pin down when you examine real examples. What exactly does 'tight-aggressive' mean? Something like don't play many hands, put a lot of bets and raises in when you do play a hand, and be sure to win that hand when it comes to a showdown. Okay. Good idea. No problem. Lol!
Essentially there is a lot more to measure one's status with if you have been paying attention until your time on the brink comes up. Your opponent's position, your position, his stack size, your stack size, the relationship of the two stacks [especially by size], how he has been playing, how you have been playing, how often he has been playing, how often you have been playing, has he just taken a beat? Have you just taken a beat? Are the other players conscious of how he is playing? Are the other players conscious of how you are playing? Of course what I am talking about is in relationship to no-limit tournaments and games, if you are a cash player then you are usually deep-stacked and if you are also playing limited stakes then it is possible to sweep it all into that mysterious category--'tight aggressive'.
Let us go on to the actual hands; the two hole raises in limit holdem and now you look down at in the hijack seat, what do you do? What if you hold ? ? ? ? ? What action does the "tight-aggressive" player take now? What if the game is no-limit holdem? What if it is a tournament? It is one thing to say "tight-aggressive" but it is another to give specific advice on what hands are placed under that umbrella, and how to act with them.
These thoughts came about because I was discussing situations with a professional [money] player recently and he was annoyed that certain names of the distant past were brought up over and over. Should one deify Tom Hood, Cissy, Don Z, and others because they were known to be successful at limit holdem? I can fill up a page with no-limit holdem players starting with Stu Ungar and Ray Zee from 25 years ago but the truth is that most of them were money game players and that is such a different category than tournaments that it is almost a different game. Tournaments have become much more popular of late but barely existed before the eighties. Historically in tournaments the best players mentioned are TJ Cloutier, Phil Hellmuth, Men the Master, Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan, and Billy Baxter. When it comes to tournament holdem certain players in the modern game are successful beyond belief; Daniel Negreanu, Phil Ivey, John Juanda, Eric Seidel, Erick Lindgren, Gus Hansen, Alan Cunningham, Chris Ferguson, and Gavin Smith with challengers such as Patrik Antonius, Nam Le, David Pham, Nenad Medic, and JC Tran in the wing. That said we find many "one-time wonders" winning tournaments when the sun shines correctly on them. Why? Well the fields are enormous and so one has to be lucky as well as skillful just to weave through the field without being eliminated. One can take AA vs JT suited every time and after a few match-ups you are big dog to continue in the tournament! The wait for that AA [which can carry a lot of trouble with it] can be tedious so you had better play that Js8s in the meanwhile, and how about 44, or QJ off-suit, or QT suited?
Alan Goehring deserves a special mention because he understands things about the theory of playing tournaments that few others do in my opinion. I not only credit him with being the father of the mini-raise but of pioneering efforts to make "smallball" happen in deepstack situations. My favorite Alan G story is when at a televised final table Ted Forrest asks him about a hand where Alan has bet and Alan answers "I'd like to help you out, but I'm in a hand right now." [this is from memory and may not be an exact quote] He delivered this line so convincingly and so naturally that Ted dumped his hand and allowed Alan to win by bluffing.
One hand I witnessed over 20 years ago in Lake Tahoe happened in a $25-50 game of limit holdem between Yosh Nakano in the little blind, and Ray Zee, on the button. Ray raised and Yosh called and the flop came AKJ rainbow and they went 8 bets with Ray Z stopping. The turn came a 7 and they went another 8 bets but before Ray stopped once again he called a floorperson over and asked about the extra bets in the pot, over the casino limit of five bets each on every street--it was commonly understood that heads-up that one could raise until all-in came up. Surprisingly the floorperson agreed with Ray and they counted the bets out and returned the extra bets to each player. The river brought an ace and Yosh bet and Ray called and they both turned over QT!!!!! Ray Zee had gone through all this drama on the turn with the stone-cold nuts!
So in my world there is a big difference to note between money games and tournaments, between limit holdem and no-limit holdem. This is true even though the rules are very similar in all formats of holdem. Of course, as I was the 2002 Card Player pot limit player of the year I think that pot limit is the natural and most skillful way to play any game. Pot limit is unlikely to experience a resurrection with the hoi polloi because it is too painful for the dealers, too slow for the casino, and not nearly as popular with the players! Of course it is no-limit holdem with brakes on it, so that one cannot drive downhill all the time with only 'cajones'. In a few places they play something that makes a lot of sense to me, and that is pot limit before the flop, and no-limit after the flop! In days of old the no-limit games played a lot like pot limit games as large over-bets of the pot were very seldom made.
A recent show that Mansion Poker has called the Pokerdome on FSN also uses the pot-limit before the flop and no-limit after the flop format until it becomes 100% no-limit when the contestants get heads-up. Now this might be because it makes better television to have more confrontations, or that they brought the idea with them from the Australian tournament, or because each contestant starts with only 50,000 in chips and the first blinds are 1000-1000, but in any case it makes for much better poker and I applaud the effort. Once the blinds get large relative to the players stacks it does not mean as much in most cases but at least it brings a meaningful flop at the first four levels or more.
When the blinds were 1000-2000 in the show I was in this hand came up--firstly the button did not raise while holding an ace, which is almost another line of thought, his kicker was an off-suit four and as it was pot-limit he could only make it 7000 maximum. Is it correct for him to raise? The table has six contestants and even with everyone dealt in he is the favorite. [That is a very strong clue, even though he would likely lose this pot.] Okay back to the hand as played, I am in the little blind and hesitate with 83 off-suit [well one does not have to hesitate here, you could just muck it and move on] and call, the big blind holds JT off-suit and checks. The flop comes in dramatic fashion, one card at a time--8,J,3 and I lead right out with a pot sized bet, many amateurs would check here and hope to win a big pot when their opponent bluffs or gets something attractive on the turn but I chose to be doubly deceptive and bet giving my opponent the chance to bluff-raise the pot or have a Jack, as I know that I will not lay this hand down on the flop even though there is a small chance that I will be going up against a set. My opponent announces a raise, a pot sized raise, and I move all-in with my opponent folding. The aftermath of this hand was that later in the show I raised with AK and she moved all-in with A5 behind me, I believe this was because she had the impression that I was being a bully and raising and re-raising with less than premium hands. Furthermore she regretted laying this JT down and wished she had taken a stand with it, also she was not sure if my hesitation before calling with the 83 meant I had a monster like AA or if I really wasn't sure what action to take.
Until next time...play good and get lucky!