In Act I of George Bernard Shaw's famous play Caesar and Cleopatra, the two main characters meet for the first time at the foot of the Sphinx. Cleopatra, still very young and inexperienced, does not realize who Caesar is and confides to him her terror that the invading Romans are barbarians who "are coming to eat us all." Without revealing his identity, Caesar tells Cleopatra that if she behaves like a grown woman and a queen, then the Romans will not harm her, but if she continues to act like a silly child, she will be eaten.
I love that scene because I think it says something important about life-and about poker. Carry yourself like a grownup; behave like a king or a queen, and you'll make it through. But if you act like a frightened child, you'll get eaten alive.
The poker equivalent of behaving like a frightened child is weak-tight play. It's playing scared, pure and simple. It's coming to each session, entering every hand, with a fear of what can go wrong. Weak-tight players don't stay in the pot unless they have a strong hand or a strong draw, and they fold much too often and too easily. These players won't bet without a very good hand, won't raise without a great one, and their betting patterns are extremely predictable. Moreover, weak-tight players virtually never bluff. Against skilled, aggressive opponents, a weak-tight player will get eaten for breakfast almost every time.
But as with all things poker, the severity of weak-tight play really depends on the situation, more specifically, on game conditions. In a low-limit, loosey-goosey type of game, weak-tight play isn't really all that dire. Given the fact that loose opponents play all kinds of junk hands, the decision to only put money in the pot with strong cards is usually profitable. And playing in predictable patterns won't hurt nearly so much in these types of games, since the majority of opponents are either too lazy or too clueless to think about anybody's cards except their own. And bluffing at loose opponents is futile anyway. In short, a weak-tight player can actually do well if he sticks exclusively to ultra-loose, small stakes games.
But once you get up to the middle and higher limits-where the real money is-it's another story. At these levels, savvy opponents will be quick to recognize and take advantage of the weakie's propensity to fold. They'll take every opportunity to bet at, raise, and bluff weak-tight players-who will be compelled to fold again and again, except for those very few times when holding premium cards. And when the weak-tight player does have a great hand, he won't get paid off. Winning only small pots with the occasional great hand, and getting pushed out of the pot the rest of the time, is a deadly-and costly-combination.
One of the biggest flaws in this playing style is that weak/tight players fail to protect their good hands in the early rounds. Afraid that future cards will go against them, they don't want to risk putting more money into the pot just yet. So A-K doesn't get raised pre-flop, because the flop might fall little cards. Medium pairs don't get raised pre-flop either, because the flop might bring big cards. Top pair doesn't get raised on the flop, because some opponent will probably call and hit his lucky card on the river anyway. Often it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Suck-outs and bad beats are an inevitable part of poker-but they become much more inevitable for weak-tight players who keep giving opponents free and cheap cards to outdraw them. Poker can be a brutal game and certainly unforgiving of weakness. It's a game where grown-ups survive and rulers thrive, but frightened children are doomed to be eaten.
Barbara Connors is a sucker for classic old movies, science fiction, and the St. Louis Cardinals. Her life's ambition is to figure out the unusual behavior patterns of that unique breed of humans who call themselves poker players. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.