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Poker Strategy:Table Climate

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Anything is possible, even finding a low-limit Texas Hold 'Em table that isn't loose. The fact is, however, that the great majority of low-limit games are loose in nature. First, we'll discuss what we mean by "loose", why it's the type of table you'll likely find, and how to play to optimize results.

By table climate, we're referring to the type of game being played. Is it an expensive game? Are there many opponents in the pot against you? Are they tough players or weak players? You need to do more than generalize an entire table, but there will be classifications that are prevalent even if they don't apply to every player. Notwithstanding specific players, a table will have a climate defined by the playing styles of the majority of players.

Your personal playing style will need to adapt to best play in a certain table climate. No one size fits all. If the game is expensive because players are betting often, you need to be more sure about the hands that you play. You're being asked to invest more money, and therefore can only proceed with more solid hands. This is an example of adjusting your style based on the climate of the table.

Loose Vs. Tight

The first designation of table type is loose or tight. By either, we're making reference to how far into the game players will go with their hands. At a tight table, players are not as willing to invest money and proceed into the later stages of the game. There will be alot more folding. At a loose table, players are more willing to invest money and proceed into the later stages of the game. There will be more calling.

In very general terms, tight play can be associated with either a very disciplined play or a fear of risk. Some players will have a strong, rigid control over what they consider playable. If it's junk, they don't play it. That doesn't mean this type of player wouldn't stay in with trash for a bluff, just that they will fold far more hands than they'll play. That, or they have a fear of risk in what they play and how much they spend. If it's not a monster hand, they will fold for fear that they're beat.

In very general terms, loose play can be associated with either a player who likes to gamble or one who just doesn't know any better. Some players aren't there to reap the benefits of a thinking man's game. Rather, they're there for the same reason you might play Let It Ride or Roulette: to gamble. They will purposely play less-than-playable hands in the hope that it pays off unexpectedly. Again, they are gambling. That, or they just don't know any better. Weak players will often play loosely because they don't know a good hand from a bad hand from a hole in the ground. They haven't a strong enough grasp on the game and play loosely out of inexperience.

Why Low-Limit Games are Loose

For the remainder of this discussion, we'll focus on the loose play that you're likely to encounter at a low-limit table. It's not that you won't find the occasional tight low-limit table, but rather that they will be loose more often than not. It's important to understand why this is. As noted, loose play stems mainly from two attributes: the want to gamble and/or a lack of understanding the game's mechanics.

Many players interested in playing poker as a gamble will choose the low-limit tables. This way, they'll lose about the same as they would at say, a $5 Blackjack table. Bear in mind that the higher the limit of the game, the better the average player sitting at the table. Whereas one's skill level doesn't affect the other players in other table games like Blackjack, it has a direct effect on your bankroll in the game of Poker, where players are playing against each other. A gambler knows this and will be more inclined to play the lower limits against less-skilled opponents.

And, the inevitable, wonderful truth is that the weak poker player will more often be found at the low-limit tables. This player could be weak for many reasons: a new player without any tutelage, an unintelligent player, an unskilled player, maybe even an inebriated player. Unlike the gambler, who may be fully aware of the negative mathematical expectation of his moves, the weak player doesn't know any better.

Not everybody at the low-limit table is a gambler or weak player. Far from it. There are plenty of regulars at these tables. Some of them are solid players who simply prefer the lower limits. However, the money that you make over the long run will come from gamblers and weak players. Both of these get killed in the mathematical long run either by making moves with negative mathematical expectation (gambling) or by making moves without sufficient understanding of the game (weak play).

The Loose Table

For a loose table, you can already formulate certain strategy to optimize your results. Remember that in the game of Poker, results don't just come from winning, they come from not losing. You have to know when a situation is unfavourable and when a hand is unplayable.

1) Slowplay less
With a monster hand, you debate over how to get as much money in the pot as possible. Betting out may fold too many players, where a slowplay will keep them in longer for you to make your move later. At a loose table however, you're far less worried. Because of the table's loose nature, you needn't worry as much about players folding. If players insist on staying in the game longer, best to bet into them and win as much money as you can. Why slowplay opponents that won't fold? Bet your monster hands.

2) Bluff less
Where bluffing is an important part of poker, a bluff that doesn't successfully fold everybody is a failed bluff and therefore, a waste of money. At a table where players are far more willing to stay in to the later stages of the game, you won't be able to pull off bluffs as successfully, if at all. One reason to bluff is so that you still get action when you do get a monster hand later on. A player who is notorious for never bluffing will likely get very little action when he has a hand and bets. Both of these lose value at a loose table. If you know you can't successfully bluff a table of loose players out of the pot, bluff far less if at all. And, don't worry about players acknowledging you as somebody who wouldn't bluff. If the table is loose, then you'll get action everytime you have a good hand anyway.

3) Play it like it is
This point is simply summation of the previous two. One of the best pieces of advice to remember about loose tables is: when there's doubt, play your hand legitimately. Slowplays and bluffs are examples of deceptive plays, where you play your hand differently than you 'should'. We've seen that neither deception is as profitable at a loose table, leaving you almost only with legitimate play. In other words, if you don't have a hand, check or fold. If you do have a hand, bet or raise.

4) Your hand is better, but not against everybody
A curious aspect of loose tables is the strength of your hand relative to that of your opponents. As you acquire strong skills in this game, you'll find your loose opponents playing many more hands than you would. Sometimes, you'll even see them winning with these hands, even though in the long run, they're destined to go broke playing this way. What this means is that the strength of your hand is better relative to that of your loose opponents. However, the more opponents in the pot against you, the more chances there are for you to be beat. Up against one or two loose players, you're less concerned. Up against six loose players, even though you stand (based on skill) to have a better hand than each one individually, the combination of them all together against you reduces your chances significantly. So, you're strong against a few loose opponents, but suffer mathematically the more loose opponents there are against you. Against a few loose opponents, your hand should be good but doesn't need to be a monster. Against many loose opponents, your hand will need to be a monster.

5) The impossible balance
All of this said, it's a mistake to generalize all players at a loose table as gambling maniacs. If you are overly tight, it will eventually be noticed. If you never bluff, it will eventually be noticed. Most importantly, if you are easily folded from a pot, it will eventually be noticed. One of the first lessons learned by the low-limit rookie is that you will be bullied if you look easily pushed around. If you haven't played a hand in a long time, consider calling the blinds on something a little beneath your starting requirements. If you can pull off a very inexpensive bluff, you might want to try it. If you feel you are being bullied out of a pot, you might want to call the bet. Remember that these will fail more times than they succeed. But, they possess the value of 'advertising', where your playing style as interpreted by your opponents is based on how you are perceived to play.

Passive Vs. Aggressive

The second designation of table type is passive or aggressive. By either, we're making reference to how expensive the players make it to stay in the game. At a passive table, players make far less bets and raises, more satisfied to check or call. At an aggressive table, players make far more bets and raises. There will be fewer occasions where a betting round goes unopened, or where a bet isn't raised by another player.

A loose table can be either passive or aggressive. What is important is that it is far cheaper to stay in a passive game and far more expensive to stay in an aggressive game. Like the designation of loose vs. tight, it will be rare to find a table completely one or the other. This designation refers to the more prevailing nature of the table, determined by the playing style of the majority of players.

We continue to assume that the great majority of low-limit tables are loose. From there, a low-limit table can be passive or aggressive. I argue from experience that there is not one nature greatly prevalent over the other where it concerns the bulk of low-limit tables. You will find both in your travels, and part of your skill in becoming a winning player will stem from how you adapt to one or the other.

The Loose-Passive Table

The way to recognize this table is that there will not be as much betting and raising. There will be many players going to the flop and staying in to the end (by virtue of it being a loose table), but few will make it expensive for the other players to stay in. It becomes a cheap match between several players. There are a number of ways to optimize results at such a table.

1) Play more hands in early position
To be discussed in a future column, you are sometimes unable to play certain hands in early position because you are uncertain what the action will be behind you. For example, if I'm dealt a pair of Deuces in early position, I would only call the blinds if I knew there would be no raise behind me. If I knew there would be a raise behind me, then the cost to stay in is actually twice as much (the blind bet now and the raise later). At a passive table however, there is more promise that there WON'T be a raise behind me. It's not guaranteed, just more dependable. You can now play a wider range of hands with less fear of a raise behind you.

2) Bet legitimate hands
Your bet may get raised behind you, and this may scare out more players than you had intended. At a loose-passive table however, you're far less worried about a raise behind you. Because of the table's passive nature, you needn't worry as much about your bet being raised and scaring out too many players. In fact (and this is the most important part), by virtue of the table being passive, you're required to bet your monster hands as it's less likely a bet will be made behind you.

3) Smaller losses mean higher profit
Smart play over the long run will win you money at any table. Profit is simply money won minus money lost. Where this is important at a loose-passive table is in the money lost. This is not an expensive game to play when action is limited from the other players. You're free to chase hands unless it's unprofitable, and fold without having invested too much money. When you do have a strong hand, you're equally free to bet through the roof and anticipate calls from alot of players. In this way, we talk about 'taking control' of the table, where you command the betting round when your hand is strong, and fold inexpensively when your hand is not strong. It's essential to note that passive players will give you their business, and not charge much in return.

The Loose-Aggressive Table

The way to recognize this table is that there will be a great deal of betting and raising. This type of table can be chaotic with giant pots almost every time. Players are staying in to the late stages of the game (by virtue of it being a loose table), but they're also doing a ton of betting and raising along the way. Because of the price to stay in, you can only afford to play your best hands, but you'll win big pots with those hands.

1) Check-raise more often
The check-raise (also known as sandbagging) is a powerful move whereby you check (indicating weakness) with a strong hand, wait for somebody behind you to bet, and then raise that bet, trapping people into calling two bets. The problem with a check-raise is that if you check and nobody bets behind you, you are unable to raise, and everybody just got to stay in the game for free. In an aggressive game however, you can be guaranteed a bet behind you, allowing you to pull off the check-raise with your strong hands far more frequently.

2) Play less hands in early position
One of the disadvantages of being in an early spot on the betting round is that you don't know what's going to happen behind you. Many times, you'll want to call with a certain hand, but wouldn't if you knew there was going to be an additional raise behind you. At an aggressive table where you can expect much more action, you'll save yourself money by folding mediocre hands in early position. One of the worst traps to fall into is calling a bet and being forced to call an unforeseen raise behind you since you've already trapped yourself with your original call.

3) Anticipate big shifts
Your money will go on a roller coaster ride if you involve yourself in enough pots. The price to stay in the game will be high, but in combination with the number of opponents, you will win huge pots whenever you win. In effect then, you should find yourself playing very few hands, but coming out swinging when you do. Assuming the table is aggressive enough that the rare action from you doesn't fold everybody immediately, you will lose a few bets most of the time, but will win big pots the rest of the time. The size of the pots will offset the number of times you have to fold after investing a few bets. Remember how pricy this game will be, and how to tighten up accordingly.

Some Points on Tight Tables

There may be instances of either finding a tight low-limit table, or sitting at a low-limit table whose players start to tighten up for whatever reason. When this happens, alot of the advice given becomes reversed.

You might consider slowplaying a strong hand to make a move later, where a bet would have folded everybody. You might consider bluffing if there's only a small number of players in the pot who don't seem to have much. Bear in mind that at a tight table, players remaining in the pot have stronger hands than if they were playing loosely. This is especially true if there's been alot of betting, so make sure your hands are strong enough to compete. You'll also find alot weaker hands winning the showdowns at the end, since there are fewer opponents competing for the pot.

Like a loose table, a tight table can be either passive or aggressive. The designation of tight makes reference more towards the number of players that proceed into the further stages of the game. The style of those players as passive or aggressive is the same as those of loose players.

In other words, you're still free to play more hands in a passive game since your opponents will bet alot less. Bear in mind however that those players are likely holding strong hands. If one bets or raises into you, tread carefully. Otherwise, a tight-passive game is a collection of rocks, players who won't play many hands and won't throw alot of money around when they do. It will be tough to turn a buck at this table, and pots will not be big.

Conversely, a tight-aggressive game is a game of sharks. If you're sitting at this table, play a very tight game as you may be up against some solid players. Tight-aggressive play is preferred play among well-schooled players. They won't play many hands, but will come out swinging when they do. Assuming they get action, they will ensure they extract as much money as they can with their strong hands. Pots will be bigger than at a passive table, but there will seem to be a shortage of players involved in them.


This may seem like alot of vague, abstract advice. Although it says nothing of the practical applications of smart play (how to play a pair of Kings, for example), the points here are always important to bear in mind both before you ever sit down and even after your first few sessions.

The low-limit tables you find will likely be loose over tight. What this means is alot more calling and alot less folding. For that reason, you would bluff far less (if at all), since the chance of it working is decreased. You would also slowplay far less, since these players are more than happy to call all of your bets and raises. In essence then, you play your hands more legitimately. If they're strong, bet them. If they're weak, fold them. Further, loose tables are usually full of players competing for the pot. Alot of the time against this many players, your hand needs to stronger in order to be a contender. A lesser hand that would win against a small number of loose opponents may get smashed when there's a table full of them in the pot. From the designation of loose, we decide whether a table is passive or aggressive.

A passive table is one where it's cheaper to play and you will have alot more opponents from whom to extract money when you make a strong hand. This is the best table to sit at. These players not only play too many hands, but they call too many bets and initiate no action of their own. It becomes an easier task to 'take control' of the betting rounds in which you're involved.

An aggressive table is an expensive one with many players, much betting, and therefore, giant pots. You'll be forced to play less hands, but should bring in alot of money when you win.

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