These two words describe in a general way how many hands you tend to play. A tight player only plays a small percentage of hands (maybe 15%) and tends to come into pots with high cards only. A loose player plays a much higher percentage of hands, mixing up their hand selection to make it difficult for their opponents to guess what cards they’re holding.
Experienced gamblers who play loose might do so in order to throw off their opponents’ calculations, intimidate other players, or put enough pressure on them to force mistakes. Less experienced players might play loosely because they they don’t understand hand values, they think it’s more exciting and only want the thrill of the game, or they want to mimic how their heroes play on TV.
These words describe what a gambler does once they’ve decided to stay in the hand. A passive player is likely to call instead of raise or they might check when betting begins with them. A passive gambler is sometimes referred to by other players by the derisive term “calling station”.
An aggressive player is less likely to call bets and more likely to raise them. Their aggression can best be summed up by the saying, “If you have a strong enough hand to call a bet, you have a strong enough hand to raise.”
People playing aggressively take that last statement to heart. If they raise the pot, then their opponent has to make a decision. What that person does is reactive, which could provide a gambler with much-needed information. It could force a mistake.
When you’re aggressive, you project strength. And when a tight player suddenly projects strengths, this reinforces the notion in their opponent’s head that you have a strong hand–that you possibly hold the strongest hand possible (“the nuts”).
So a tight/aggressive poker player is telling players around the table, “I’m only going to play hands in which I have a high percentage probability of winning. When I do start betting, you better fold or be prepared to bet high against a strong hand.”
Instead of being a contradiction of gambling logic, have a reputation for playing tightly and aggressively reinforces the same idea to your opponents. Of course, when you do decide to bluff, these players are likely to take you seriously.
Make no mistake about it, raising and re-raising endangers the size of a chip stack. Aggression carries with it risks. That might sound obtuse, but players who raise aggressively must be prepared to lose a lot of chips from time to time.
One of the skills a gambler needs is proper risk assessment. When you raise, this gives you two ways to win instead of one. Your opponent might fold or you might win a showdown. If you call, only one good possibility exists.
That’s why it’s best to know how strong your hand is. If you bet without the nuts, you’re going to lose a big part of your stack from time to time. Bad luck happens, so even if you dominate your opponent’s hand, it’s possibly you lose on the river, anyway. In other words, you need patience to play tight and nerves of steel to play with aggression.
Poker players inevitably debate which style is better. They see world class Texas hold’em players like Gus Hansen and think that loose/aggressive is the way to go. Gus Hansen sometimes seems like a madman at the poker table, but his style puts constant pressure on opponents.
They have to guess whether the crazy man on the other side of the table is bluffing or holding strong cards every single hand (or what seems like every hand). When a player guesses wrong one too many times in a row, they can go on tilt. Whether a person is a talker at the table or they are a silent assassin type, a loose-playing aggressor tends to put everyone at the table on edge.
Whether that’s a better style than a player who makes sounder judgements, yet also bets with force when they start to act, is why people continue to discuss the question. For every Gus Hansen, there’s a Dan Harrington, whose poker career has been a major success by any standards.
When it comes to selecting a style, it’s probably best to say a player should choose one according to their personality, outer charisma, and inner psychology. Beyond that, a few concepts should be kept in mind.
New poker players should begin with a tight/aggressive style, even if they choose to become more aggressive later. Using these tactics is a good way for the inexperienced gambler to learn good habits, to master the fundamentals of the game. It’s like a modern painter learning the classic techniques, then deciding to take their artistic talents in a new and less traditional direction. Their art is better for having mastered the basics.
In fact, online gamblers who play tightly and aggressively in the low-dollar card rooms are likely to be winning players. The reason is simple: you get into pots when the odds are in your favour.
You’ll have your share of losing hands, but if you pick your spots correctly, you’ll usually be playing at an advantage. Those who try to bluff low stakes players are likely to find themselves being called by those calling stations I discussed earlier.