A Nit's Apology (why tight is right for me)
I'm what many would call a "nit." I play 200NL 6-max, and I have a VPIP of 19%, and a PFR of 16%. I'm here, the nits' Socrates if you will, to explain why. I've been meaning to make this post for quite some time now, but other things have come in the way of making it happen. What's been gnawing at me is the fact that most good players at the sites I play (Party Poker and Poker Stars
) are looser and more aggressive preflop than I am. Although it's certainly true that there's one more than one way to win at poker, surely they must have a reason to be looser and more aggressive than me - or conversely, I must have a reason to be tighter than they are, and that reason must be Profit. So I've been thinking, and analyzing, and running filters in Hold'em Manager, and reasoned and thought some more. And while I think opening up my game and adding more hands to my ranges could be profitable, there are a couple of reasons why I think I should be very wary of doing that, and I list them below, in reverse order of importance.
I'll end the post with a comparison of my own stats to that of a slightly more loose and aggressive (and frankly quite typical) solid winning player at these stakes and see how we match up. I made this comparison after I started writing the post and while I'm not surprised at the outcome I'm a little bit surprised at how pronounciated it was.
This hopefully shouldn't require a lot of explaining on my part, but I'll say it anyway: The more hands you play, the more rake you will pay. This is not a hugely significant contribution, but rake plays a major role at small stakes games and will eat a large part of your win-rate. If I add more hands to my range, it's not enough that they are theoretically profitable versus my opponents, they need to theoretically profitable versus my opponents after rake has been taken out
The difference between myself and someone playing, say, a 23/19 style is 4 meager percentage points in our starting hand ranges. The difference in ratio, however, means that I'd need to play 20% more hands across all tables to achieve the same numbers. Playing more hands means spending more time on each table, and the way I figure, I'd rather play 20% more tables with my very profitable range, rather than add 20% at the bottom of it (which, presumably, isn't a hugely profitable part of my range). If I was a computer instead of a person with a limited attention span, I'd add all the 0EV hands I could find to my range, because the more hands I play, the wilder I will be perceived and the more I will be paid off on my big hands. If I knew that I can play 86s on the button versus a certain opponent's range and be exactly break-even for that hand in the long run, then it would almost certainly increase the profit of all my really big hands in the process.
But I'm not a computer. My choice isn't between adding 86s on the button or not adding it, it's between adding 86s (and similar hands and situations) or playing an extra table. My win-rate, lifetime, at 200NL is just above 4bb/100 and in order to opt out of adding another table of 4bb/100, adding medium strength hands on this particular table has to increase the value of my premium hands by that much. I don't think it does. It can certainly be argued - successfully, probably - that with a style as tight as mine, I'm not just dismissing 0EV hands, but am in fact folding solid winners preflop. Maybe. I'll return to that point further down.
Opponents overadjusting/not adjusting well.
Do you play differently versus a 20/18 compared to a 21/19? Probably not. How about a 22/20? 25/21? You probably (or you should) adjust a little when you see someone with a 25+% VPIP, but in general, humans are classifying creatures. We look at someone, and we categorize them into something that we're familiar with. For the computer programmers who happen to be reading this, there's significant data to suggest that the brain is object oriented. When a new object is introduced to us, we tend to start with thinking about some very generic object of roughly the same type. If I tell you that "a man was walking down the street" you will create an image of a non-descript man in your head, if I then tell you that he has a moustache, you will add that information to your object and probably add some other features of generic moustache-decorated men while you're at it (maybe slightly overweight, maybe taller than average, maybe older than you first had imagined, etc.)
My point in all this is that when I raise, my opponent has to look at my stats and make some kind of decision as to how he wants to react to it. I have reasons to believe that he will classify me as either
a) "a reg", or
b) "a nit".
Some really good players probably adjust a little in between as well, maybe thinking of me as a "tight reg" or so. Very few regs will say to themselves "19% of hands means the following range: 22+, 76s+, ..." because they will have some idea of ranges internalized and simply default to the standard. But I'm not as loose as the majority of regs. Meanwhile, I'm definitely not as tight as the real nits (the 15/12 type players). In the worst possible scenario, my opponent pegs me just right, but in the best possible case he adjusts to a majority that I don't quite conform to. For that reason, it pays to not be just like the majority. The same argument can be made for playing 25/22, for instance, since you're now out of the majority again (this time above it) and people are more likely to make incorrect assumptions about your range.
Now we return to the question left unanswered in the last point, namely the fact that I may be folding winners. Maybe a lot of winners. Maybe I can play profitably up to 27/24, in which case I'd reap not just the rewards from the individual hands I play but also the added bonus of having people not being able to correctly visualize my range.
I may not be good enough.
Playing a LAG style requires a lot of skill and attention. In fact, it requires so much of it that I have good reasons to believe that the vast majority of LAG regs playing small stakes would profit greatly from tightening up. Never mind the fact that they could probably add a few more tables to play and increase their hourly by even more. Case in point:
Of the 20 biggest winners in my database (sorting on people with 50k or bigger hand samples, six players at the table, 200NL) only 4 had VPIPs higher than 21.0%. The highest was 23.3%.
What makes the LAG-style more difficult to play is that it forces you into the tricky situations much more often than a tighter style does. The 50-or-so extra combos of hands that the laggier players have that I don't are the ones that end up with second pair, no kicker on the flop. Or only an ace overcard. They find themselves in the awkward spots much more often than I do. This is fine, of course, if they play those spots well; an expert player can certainly profit there, but the nature of the situations - by definition - is that they're difficult to play and therefore they will be played incorrectly more often. Adding those extra 50 hands means more difficult situations overall.
... which brings me to the last thing I wanted to point at, which is to analyze what exactly separates me from a successful looser player. I chose to look at a skilled (and highly successful - higher win-rate than me, at least) regular on whom I have a large sample of hands and compare my style to his, and outline the (preflop) differences.
Stats are his / mine:
Steal on button: 54
Fold to steal (sb): 84
Fold to steal (bb): 83 / 75
PFR by position:
Red marks the spots where this player is looser than I am. Curiously, there's one exception: He folds way more often in the big blind than I do, and it's a significant enough difference that I think I'll do some more work to find out if it's a leak of mine or of his.
The other only really significant difference is in how often he opens in the cutoff compared to me. He opens almost twice as many hands as I do, and that's where the lion's share of his larger VPIP comes from. So I look a little closer at how he does profit-wise when he opens in the cutoff compared to me, and found this: His profit in the cutoff is 6.7bb/100. My profit in the cutoff is 24bb/100. He's still making money in the CO which is good, but unless I've been running silly hot in specifically that position (I have no particular reason to believe that I have) it seems clear to me that this particular player would benefit greatly from not stealing close to 40% of the time that he's in that position.
(Note to self: His win-rate is significantly higher in the BB than mine is, so it's probably the case that I should fold the BB vs. a steal more often than I do)
In closing, there's a final argument for playing tighter that I'd like to mention. I didn't list it above because I've been focusing on reasons I should stay tight, rather than on reasons why I should tighten up, if you see the difference. And that argument is this: Tilt.
In my experience, the almost universal response to tilt among regulars is playing more loosely and more aggressively. Tilting regs start calling preflop with dominated hands, they 4bet bluff very light, and they make loose calldowns where they would normally have found folds had they had their heads on straight. When I tilt - and it does happen, albeit rarely - my starting range creeps upwards a few percentage points. I start to open stuff like 75s in the cutoff, I call 3bets more liberally both in and out of position, and I go to showdown more often. But opening 75s in the cutoff is something that a laggier player already does. So while I feel all wild and crazy, they were already doing that prior to tilting. They're now opening stuff like 86o in the cutoff instead, which is - obviously - much worse. My tilting starting hands range includes mostly hands that were in theirs to begin with.
Secondly, when I start calling 3bets more liberally, I'm doing it with a stronger opening range to begin with. Again, my tilt doesn't cost me as much (although it does cost me) because my equity was better to begin with. And thirdly, and you'll already have seen this coming, since my equity is stronger from the get-go, making lighter calldowns isn't quite as expensive as it is when you play looser. In short, tilting is quite probably a much less expensive affair for a nit than it is for a LAG player.
Anyway, that concludes my Nit's Apology.