The tight-aggressive playing style is generally considered to be the best playing style to make money in poker. The term “tight-aggressive” can be broken down into two parts:
- Tight: Is selective when choosing which starting hands to play
- Aggressive: Plays strong hands with aggression, folds all the rest
The tight-aggressive style in poker is so effective because it keeps you from losing money with weak hands while at the same time getting the most money with your strong hands. Let’s analyze each word in the term separately and then put it all together.
The “Tight” in Tight-Aggressive
The word “tight” in tight-aggressive refers to your starting hand selection. If you watch winning poker players closely, you will see that they fold close to 80% of their starting hands. In other words, tight players only voluntarily put money in the middle with about 20% of their starting hands.
If those sounds overly tight, don’t worry – it’s actually not that bad. There are a lot of junk hands in poker that you should fold without even thinking twice. If you get rid of all the K2, Q6 and 72o type hands, you’ll quickly see that it’s not hard to cut down to only playing about 20% of your starting hands.
The term “any two can win” is technically correct, but that doesn’t mean it’s good advice. Weak poker hands need to be folded because they lose more money than they make over the long run. It may look cheap to see the flop in a no-limit game, but all those flops quickly add up. On top of that, weak hands put you in difficult situations after the flop.
Tight-aggressive poker players recognize all of this, so they eliminate the problem by folding weak hands before the flop. Every once in a while a tight-aggressive player might mix it up by raising with a weak hand before the flop, but generally tight-aggressive poker players stick with strong starting hands.
The “Aggressive” in Tight-Aggressive
The word “aggressive” in tight-aggressive refers to how you play your hands before the flop and after the flop. During the preflop betting round, aggressive poker players like to play a raise-or-fold game. If a hand is good enough to play, a tight-aggressive poker player will enter the pot with a raise. All other hands get folded.
There are always exceptions, of course, but this shows how the tight-aggressive poker player thinks. They do not like to play hands passively with a bunch of checks and calls. They would rather wait for strong hands and then come in strong.
This aggressive preflop strategy works so well because it gets value for strong hands. If you get a starting hand like AK, you’re not guaranteed to win, but you will win more than your fair share of pots. By entering the pot with a raise, you make the other players pay to play. Over the long run, this nets more money for you.
During the postflop stage, tight-aggressive poker players continue on with that same mindset. Tight-aggressive poker players like to only continue on if their hand is strong enough to bet or raise. If a hand is only good enough to check and call, it’s probably not worth playing anyways. Once again there are exceptions to this rule, but it should go to show you how winning players think.
Checks and calls are passive moves, and tight-aggressive players do not like passive moves. The problem with checks and calls is that they give control of the hand to the opponent. Checks and calls put you on the defensive and make it difficult to figure out where you stand in the hand. Plus, the fact that you are checking and calling indicates that you are spending money on a less-than-stellar hand.
Unless you’re slowplaying a strong hand or you have a draw (and are getting the pot odds to chase that draw), you should not do much checking and calling. If you’re the one making the bets and raises, it gives you initiative and control of the hand. It forces your opponents to play a more straightforward game because they are on the defensive.
On top of all that, aggression makes money with strong hands. Betting and raising gets more money in the middle when you have what is probably the best hand. That’s pretty much the entire point of poker. You won’t win every time with this strategy, but you’ll win often enough to turn a very tidy profit.
The Style in a Nutshell
In its most basic form, the tight-aggressive playing style is not terribly tricky or complicated. Basic tight-aggressive poker players wait for strong starting hands, put in raises with those raises and then only continue on after the flop with strong hands. The idea is to be picky with all your hands and then go hard when you hit the hands you want.
As you move up in stakes, you can add certain tricks and new tactics to your playing style to keep your opponents off guard. But if you’re playing in a typical low stakes poker game, you don’t need to worry about mixing it up – your opponents will make plenty of mistakes on their own. Just play a straightforward game and place bets when you get strong hands.