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Change Up Your Style

by David “The Maven” Chicotsky

Candy makers know that if they can get a person to like a certain type of candy as a kid, they’re much more likely to eat that brand of candy for the rest of their lives. Something similar occurs in poker - where players start out playing a certain style of poker and continue to play that style throughout their poker career. Just because something feels comfortable, doesn’t make it correct. In fact, in tournament poker, much of what initially seems correct is dead wrong.

The average poker player starts out overly tight, playing mostly semi-premium and premium hands. The sad truth is most of these players remain tight for years and years. It’s very important to be a chameleon at the table - adjusting to the table conditions (stack sizes, play of our opponents, time of the tournament, among other factors) on a constant basis. Other players start out loose (affectionately known as spewtards) and also follow along that path for far too long.

Playing poker is like driving a car; we go fast on the highway and slow in school zones. Just because we go fast on the highway, doesn’t mean we are a “fast” driver - it’s just part of the skill-set we need to efficiently get around town. Try not to mentally box yourself into a certain category of player. Let the game come to you and make the necessary adjustments along the way, since many other players won’t.

If you’re too tight there are various ways you can learn to loosen up. First of all, try and re-raise more (and I don’t mean with semi-premium or premium hands). Work in reraises with hands that you might have called with previously, like queen-jack suited. Also, in spots that you might have normally set-mined with pocket-pairs, go ahead and re-raise and take the aggressive option. An amateur or beginner player reraises less than five percent of the time. Professional tournament players can easily double that percentage, while doing it in a controlled manner. Just reraising won’t cure tightness; tight players need to learn to call more often as well. If you’re overly tight (and you recognize it), make some loose calls on the button preflop and either bet or raise on the flop in order to take the pot down. Especially if you have a tight table image - this will work for you a high percentage of the time.

Loose players can tighten up by simply not limping or calling raises as often. It’s not uncommon to see loose passive players playing 30 percent or more of hands, while raising less than 10 percent of those hands. This means that player is limping or calling two out of every three times they enter the pot. Other than some shortterm luck, this is a guaranteed path towards a dwindling bankroll. Interestingly, many loose passive players actually reraise less often than many tight players. When tight players don’t know what to do they normally fold. When overly loose players don’t know what to do they tend to call. Again, neither of these options are necessarily right or wrong, they just fit within the parameters of the players’ comfort zone.

Being honest with yourself about which style of play you consider your comfort zone is the first step towards varying the methods by which you play the game. Tight and loose players are both easy to play against, easy to adjust to and ultimately easy to beat. The hardest players are the ones that have multiple gears and always keep you on your toes. Be one of those players by learning to switch your game up when it’s necessary. The next time you sit down to play poker be sure to vary your playing styles and pick on the players that are stuck playing a certain way.

David “The Maven” Chicotsky is the 2008 Online Player of the Year and a former #1 ranked online tournament poker player. He is also an experienced poker coach and can be reached at

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