by ~ October 2nd, 2007. Filed under: Basics of poker, General poker strategy, Personal key entries, Poker aggression.

I’m beginning to wonder whether the way to play low, low levels is to play tight/passive/aggressive. In other words, tight preflop hand selection, but only raise Sklansky’s top level hands, or late with no limpers, or from the blinds in a blind war. At the moment I seem to be having more success playing this way. I might even move more towards slightly-loose preflop with this, limping behind with any hand that has drawing potential.

The reason is that aggression doesn’t work against these players is because they don’t seem to recognize what it represents or what position aggression puts them in. The theory with playing with aggression is you raise preflop, chase out weak hands, c-bet at flops and the opposition can’t call unless they’ve caught a good draw or a big piece of the flop. In reality at these low levels a preflop raise doesn’t chase all the weak hands, and bets at the flop won’t fold the missed hands; they’ll keep calling with overcards or bottom pair. Plus, they interpret any attempt at pot control by checking the turn/river as weakness and they’ll bet at it. You’re left sitting with what was top pair on the flop, but now you don’t know whether they are idiots thinking you bluffed at the flop or they actually caught a second pair or filled up their gutshot straight. At the same time if you bet the turn, they’ll still call and you’ve bloated the pot and you still aren’t sure where they are. Worse yet, if a higher card, especially an Ace, comes on the turn or river, there’s a chance they hit what they were drawing for.

Yesterday on Full Tilt as an example I made money from one player when I bet with top pair at a flop. He called, I checked the turn, checked the river for pot control but he apparently took this as weakness and bet at the river with nothing, so I called and won. Later I raised with AQ, c-bet the low flop, checked the turn, and he throws out a pot bet at the river. I still had nothing so I folded, but I think this is his auto response to my not betting the turn and river. Likely the preflop call and flop call were almost as automatic.

In the SnG versions of this I’ve been caught in blind wars betting at flops like K94 thinking it’s unlikely they can call but they do, and go to show down having paired the 4. I don’t think it’s players having a read on me as being aggressive because at this point I’ve played very few hands, they just don’t know how to play, so preflop raises, c-bets, any kind of bet that not backed by a made hand is throwing chips away.


They say playing at low levels means playing straightforward, not using moves because the players won’t recognize what the moves represent. I didn’t think that it also meant don’t raise with good drawing hands, and don’t c-bet when you raised preflop. I thought that these were so basic that they would work no matter what level I was playing at. Apparently not.

I should probably keep in mind that most of these players have never heard of continuation bets or pot control, so there’s no reason to expect that they would respect them. The more I think about this, the more this makes sense. There is probably a significant percentage of players that I’m up against here who are virtually self-taught, not even having read a book or looked at an internet site so they see my preflop raise and think, “Hmm, he says he has something, but he might be bluffing and I have an Ace …”

Or when I bet at the flop having raised preflop, “He has something, or he might be bluffing, and I’ve got a pair with that 4 on the table … ”

And they see that I never min-raise/minbet, so they might interpret that as “He’s just a big gambler. Why else would he always bet that much instead of just raising?”

It’s starting to make sense; I’m playing by different rules, using a different language than they’re using.


And, of course, I wonder what effect this has on my overall development as a poker player. Instead of moving up and playing against better competition I’ve lowered myself (apparently more than I expected) and have to restrict my playing style in order to be successful. Why not move back up? Because I’m still under the larger project of playing at a new site to earn the first deposit bonus. Playing at my old level on the new site puts that bankroll at risk since at the moment I would have less than three full buyins.

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2 Responses to Tight/Passive/Aggressive?

  1. Poster

    This is what I have figured out as well. I am playing 1.2 SNGs at pokerstars and I am staying focused on playing great hands and controlling my chips. Basically I try and be extremely patient and move my way up to 3000 chips. It gets down to about 5 players then. I make sure I keep my 3000 chips by never betting a whole lot as normally a 2.3XBB bet scares them out if they have nothing. Then I just wait for monster hands or to get ITM before actually being aggressive.

    I’ve read so many articles saying you should be tight/aggressive but the aggressive part just doesn’t work the way you want it at these levels. So instead I’m basically tight until I make my set then I bet out that bet where they think “He’s just a big gambler. Why else would he always bet that much instead of just raising?” and get them to go all in at the river as they are pot committed.

  2. PokerAnon

    Thanks for the comment.

    Aggression is a funny thing at low levels. Some tables or some particular players you need to make 5-6X raises instead of 3-4. Other times, like you mention SnGs when the blinds rise, even minimum raises chase everyone out.

    When I wrote this post I really was just wondering about this tight/passive/aggressive combination, but over time it’s become my standard approach to playing low levels. I often still try to exercise pot control on the turn/river, but it’s surprising how often people automatically assume I’m weak and will throw their chips at me with top pair/weak kicker hands. On the other hand I’ll also get surprised by someone who limped KK/QQ/JJ, even from late position behind other limpers.

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