Why play tight-aggressive...?

OK, we're gonna give this a shot... By "this," I mean writing a meaningful, helpful, poker strategy related post. That being said, I came across a few people at the local pub (horrible play is present all around, thank god I had my surgical mask on, as I fear this "disease" known as piss poor poker play could be contagious)...

Anyways, these people were questioning me as to why I play the way I do. Specifically, they were questioning why I don't see more flops (like everyone else who plays there), and one person in particular questioned first whether or not I "could" lay down A-10s like I claimed I had, and second why I would lay down a hand such as A10s preflop. So, basically, these people were questioning why play tight aggressive poker. I'll attempt to explain why I choose to play tight aggressive poker and answer if and why I would lay down a hand such as A10s preflop.

Working definitions

For the purposes of this article, some of the terms and concepts we will discuss will specifically mean what you see below, unless stated otherwise:

aggressive: (n) Pertaining to a style of play characterized by much betting, raising, and reraising. This is not the same as loose play. Some of the best players are very selective about the cards they play, but when they do get into a pot, play those cards aggressively.

donk/donkey: (n) A very loose player, usually implying one who loses regularly, makes poor decisions (i.e. - I think I am behind, but I will call your allin - flips over pocket twos into a board that is AKQ all suited while playing under the gun and calling a large raise from a tight aggressive player who is known for playing top ten hands and rarely bluffs).

loose: (adj, adv) Playing liberally; not tight. In hold 'em, playing almost any two-card starting combination, and playing through to the river on almost anything that has a prayer of winning. Lacking standards (see also donk).

position: (n) 1. Where a player sits in relation to the others at the table. 2. Where a player sits in relation to the dealer, or, sometimes, in relation to the blinds. Position 1 is generally the position to the left of the big blind, that is, position 1 is three positions to the left of the dealer. 3. Where a player sits in relation to a particular player. Sitting to someone's left is generally termed good position, and to his right bad position. 4. Good position with respect to the other players at the table. "You can open with a worse hand when you've got position." 5. Sitting in good position with respect to a particular player, usually sitting one or two seats to the player's left. "I had position on the live one all night, but I never held any hands."

SuperDonk: (proper noun) The Beer Guy's friend Kyle.

tight: (adj, adv) having stringent playing requirements.

tight player: (n phrase) One who plays tight, that is, bets only when holding a strong hand.

Terms mostly "borrowed" from Mike Caro's poker dictionary, either in whole or in part.

My style of play

As we all know, I play quite a tight aggressive style. I play tight because I have standards. I have standards in life, standards in friends, who I date, who I surround myself with, where I go, what I do... and I damn sure have standards when I play cards. You'll never hear me say (and truely mean) "I'm down for pretty much anything..." Usually I have a pretty good idea of the universe of things I'd be "down" for doing, and they don't include ridiculous off the wall things such as jumping off a cliff, robbing a bank, "hogging"etc. I have standards. Despite having served long ago in the Navy, I'm not an "any port in a storm" type of guy. I respect my position on the table, can't imagine just playing any two cards, and will rarely if ever show down a garbage hand. When I am in a pot, unless in the unraised BB, you can pretty much expect that if you're given insight to what my holding is, you'll see a hand that makes sense, has positive expected value (read: a winner long term, one that I will win with more than I will lose with), and one that is played in "position" (very high standards the earlier I act).

When I play a hand, I generally do so in a very aggressive manner. Why, you ask? Well, here's the thing. Anyone I sit at the table with sees that I have standards, as that part becomes very obvious. If it doesn't hit you between the eyes, I am sure to let ya know, given the opportunity. "But BeerGuy, that doesn't tell me why you prefer to play aggressive, does it?" No, not really. However, here's the deal... My starting hand selection is usually better than 94% of my opposition preflop over the long term and generally speaking. Additionally, I find that putting the decision making on my opposition, who once again knows that my hand selection is generally better than his/her hand selection, makes it much more difficult for them. Said another way, its easier to make a big bet than to call a big bet.

Why is it easier to make a big bet than to call one for me? Simply put, I have generally raised preflop to enter the pot. You and a donk have called. I essentually tell you by my raise that I have a hand, probably the best hand. Your call and said donk's call has told me that you believe me but wish to play anyways. The flop comes, I bet out. What is this bet telling you now? Its meant to continue telling my story "I STILL have the best hand, what's up now?" Knowing that I've told you once that I have the best hand, and now I am telling you a second time that I have the best hand... it makes it kind of difficult to call, doesn't it? Especially so, if you are familliar with pot odds and some basic poker math, because I very rarely make it profitable for one to draw on the board (if there's a possible flush draw, count on the continuation bet being statistically less than 2:1 in pot odds as an example... I'm not only betting my hand, but also betting against your hand!). It will not be a cheap date if we're in the pot together, and once again, I will make that known to my table early and often. I want someone to make a mistake by calling me preflop, and I want to continue causing mistakes after the flop.

Knowing all of this, it makes the decision for someone to call a bit more difficult, just like it would be difficult for me to make the "big decision" if someone were on the aggression and betting into me. In order to be the aggressor, I need to first know my opposition, second know my hand, and third be aware of the board. I don't necessarily need to know whether or not the flop helped me, only whether or not the flop was likely to have helped you in addition to having a good idea what you think the flop did for me. If I am on the other side of that equation, I am forced to think about how that flop helped you, and totally reflect on whether or not the board has helped me. Did I need to improve, am I still ahead, was I ever really ahead, am I drawing dead, how bad could it be? See, entirely too much thinking involved. I like to cause others to think, as opposed to thinking myself. So, put me on offenses coach, please!

This is not to say that I ALWAYS play this way. Sometimes, I may wish to extract chips from others, and might play weak and try to trap. Other times, I just may be weak. Ya never know. I do vary the game and the look I give, just to keep my opposition on their toes. Playing a call call call call call limp call call game is not varying your play at all. Actually, that's not really playing, in my opinion, but oh well.

So, onto the ace ten suited portion of this discussion. On Monday at the pub, there was a girl who had showed down a hand (jack seven suited) from under the gun when she flopped low pair (a seven). It was a costly pot in which she (surprisingly enough) did not take down. Then again, is jack seven suited an appropriate starting hand in the utg position (read: donk). This is fine for a beginner, but really... she claims to be "a knowledgable tight player who knows the ins and outs of the game probably better than everyone at the table." And yes, fellow poker pubbers, I was at her table as was a former poker dealer. We looked at each other and laughed, with yours truely laughing much harder, and far more animated than was appropriate. Anyways, a few hands later, Kathy (the former poker dealer) looks at her cards. She sees that I am watching her look at her cards, so she may or may not have been playing to me on this. But, she says "I need to look again to see if I saw what I thought I saw." She looks again, and limps. She was second to act.

This action implies that either she does not wish me to be in the hand, or I need to raise my standards. By the way, I am sitting mid position for this hand. I look down and see A-10s. I didn't "need" to play this hand, and had the feeling that even if I improve, short of flopping a straight or the nut flush, I'd most likely be playing catchup (had her on a medium to high pocket pair, AK, AQ, AJ, possible A10, KQ). Either way, with the threat of a short stacked allin behind me or in the blinds, if I couldn't bring myself to comfortablly raise, I surely could not limp. I feared that I would be raised by later position, and then reraised by Kathy, all before I could act on this limp. So taking all of this into consideration, I chose to fold.

Four handed the flop is rags, and of course Kathy bets into it and gets herself heads up. Turn rags again. Bet-call. River comes a ten. Kathy shows down king queen and takes the pot down unimproved versus king nine. Miss "i know more about poker as I show down j7utg" comments "I KNEW I shouldn't have thrown away my jack ten. I would have taken that pot. Of course, I have to correct her, telling her I folded ace ten suited. She tells me "you crazy and lie. No one throws out ace ten suited preflop, you'd have pushed allin." Oh? So let me get this straight. You cannot lay down "a hand" preflop regardless of action before you, or thoughts on who has entered the pot, and who is likely to do what after you enter. So that means I can't too... I understand completely... NOT.

I do not do the donk thing. I think about the universe of hands that make sense for a given player or players, I look at my hand, reflect on my position, check out chip stacks, and then I choose whether to play or not, and think a few steps ahead - as damage control or a chess game, to get a rough idea of how I wish to play this hand out and what I will do if A, B, C, or D happen. If I believe that I have the best hand or stand reasonable chance of having the best hand/the winning hand, I will play and play hard. If I do not think that I'm best or have reasonable chance of winning, I will not play the hand. Its that simple. I don't play catchup, I don't throw dead money into the pot when I feel behind, and I think things through, unlike Ms. Donk who cannot see past her own average at best hands despite action of others.

That being said, I have standards and am not afraid to demonstrate this. Additionally, when in a hand, one better think hard when they're up against me, as I am no cheap date. In my ever so humble opinion, this style of play works best for me, as I am only playing what has proven to work and be profitable over the long term, and I'm forcing those around me to play catchup, which is much better than mindlessly calling either "just to see" or "hoping to catch."