Playing Tight in Weak Positions

If someone told you that following one simple rule could immediately make you a more profitable poker player, you'd probably be skeptical.  It sounds like a bit of a scam, or at least a sales pitch, right?  Truth is, there is one singular mistake that is probably the most costly and most commonly made error, and if players did work to correct just that one mistake (and did nothing else) they would almost certainly see their winnings increase almost instantly.

What is the biggest mistake players make in poker?  What is the one rule you can follow to bump up your bankroll?  It's simple, it's boring and yet it's hyper-effective: Play tight when you are in weak positions.

That's it, really.  Assuming you've already fully internalized that rule at this point in the article, you could stop reading and you would literally be a better poker player for it.  If you'd like to see a little more substance behind these dramatic claims, we don't blame you - keeping reading to fully understand how simply playing tighter when your position is weak could be the tweak that transforms your game.

What Are Weak Positions? Why Play Tight in Weak Positions?

In poker, a weak position can be thought of as any position that puts you at an informational disadvantage.  For example, most people regard the under-the-gun position (UTG) as the weakest position preflop, because that player has to act first and has no idea of how the players behind them will act.  The blinds are also regarded as generally weak positions, as they are going to have to act first post-flop.  However, a weak position can be pretty much any seat at the table - it all depends on how the hand plays out.  If you're in doubt, just keep the initial rule in mind:  Whenever your opponents have more information than you, your position is weaker than theirs.  The less you have and the more they have, the weaker your position becomes.

Why play tight in these positions?  When we say playing tight, we mean sticking to stronger hands and avoiding weaker or speculative hands.  As poker is fundamentally a game of information, you should naturally proceed cautiously when you lack information

A hand like a pair of fours should help to illustrate this concept.  When you play small pairs in No Limit Hold'em, you're generally hoping to hit a set and win a big pot when you do.  If you call with your small pair in early position, you have no idea how many people are going to play, how big the pot is going to be or even how much it's going to cost you to see the flop.  If you're making the same decision on the button or in the blinds, you have a far better idea of how the hand is shaping up, and can make a much more informed decision about whether playing the hand is likely to be profitable.  See the difference?

Tight Play Doesn't Have to Make You Predictable

Some people feel they have to mix it up from early positions and the blinds so that their opponents won't be able to assign them too correct of a hand range.  This might be a worthy strategy if you were playing against the best in the world, but most people aren't.  Most people are playing against opponents who don't notice or don't care, and even when you do come up against a quality opponent, it's not as if a tight range is the same thing as having your cards face up.  If you only raise preflop with pairs bigger than nines, big suited aces and suited face cards, your opponent will still have some difficulty deciding whether you're holding an overpair on a low flop or just continuing with a hand like AK.  Additionally, if an opponent is clearly playing you for this exact range, you can start to use that information against them in other ways.

We could provide more examples, but the core idea would be the same:  Playing a tight strategy when your position is weak is not necessarily something your opponents can or will exploit.

Money Not Lost is the Same as Money Won

When you play weak hands lacking information, you're going to have a tough time showing a profit over the long haul.  You might book a few winning sessions or two, but you'll eventually be winning less and less than it seems like you should be - even if you are taking down a couple of decent-sized pots a night.  The leak that's usually at fault in these situations is something that has a small individual impact each time but occurs frequently, resulting in a large aggregate impact on your winnings that you might not even be fully aware of. 

Let's say you play poker for five hours at a casino.  You'll probably see something in the range of 200 hands total at a full table playing No Limit Hold'em.  Let's just say there are ten players at the table to keep our numbers round.  That means you'll be in a weak position (one of the first three to act or in the blinds) at least 50% of the time - or 100 hands.  Now, you won't make a mistake every one of those hands, but even playing 10% more hands than you should in these spots can add up quickly.  Even if you only lose a blind (or just a small blind) on average each hand, you're still talking about a loss of five to ten big blinds just in one session.

If you're playing online, the effect is multiplied.  The speed of hands online is easily two to three times faster than live play (and you can play multiple tables), so even just one or two mistakes every few orbits can quickly add up to a full buy-in worth of losses that could have been avoided.

At the end of your next session, try the following exercise.  Think of just 10 hands from your session that you played from early position or in the blinds facing a raise.  Review your play and add up the chips you would have saved if you chose not to play the weakest 5 of those hands.  The number may surprise you.

There it is - the secret to poker.  One of them, anyway.  It's a strategy you'll have to actively apply each session you play, and it won't be easy - especially if you're a person who hates folding.  But if you fully commit to developing the habit of tighter play in the weakest of positions, it will pay dividends through the entire course of your poker career.