In this instalment of the series we launch in earnest into considering the most common poker leaks amongst beginner / intermediate MTT poker grinders. These will be covered over quite a few posts in the series, as there are a large number of such leak areas, each of which deserves its own section for analysis. This whole series should serve as a primer for leak-busting your MTT poker game, and for the more advanced MTT grinders it should still offer a pretty solid refresher course with some more advanced topics coming up in the latter half of the series.
Aggression & Looseness
When we first start studying the game, the value of aggression is something we quickly have drilled into us in poker. Indeed, it is one of the most fundamental features of a solid poker game, and the vast majority of serial limpers are frankly the bottom of the skill barrel. Becoming more active and aggressive in poker, especially becoming looser in poker, is something fraught with the possibility of missteps. It’s commonly agreed that it is easier to be a good TAG (tight aggressive) than a good LAG (loose aggressive) player, and this is something we’ll come back to later in depth.
So forget lagging it up for now, we don’t need too much of that in the smaller stakes MTT world anyway. Let’s focus on getting a good solid TAG game together. It’s worth reflecting on why beginners limp so often, too. They essentially have one correct instinct but lack another. They’re keen to see a lot of flops and be involved in a lot of hands, and their other instinct is to risk the least to achieve this. On the surface that seems plausible, until we realize the multiple benefits which a raise brings.
This is a super basic fundamental, but an open raise gives us a chance to win the pot outright pre-flop. When we limp we have none of this “fold equity”. Now, that goes for when we’re stealing with a bluff, or even a semi-bluff open where we want some fold equity but also are happy to get some calls and take it down on the flop or at showdown.
For the same reasons, we frequently want to isolate raise a limper or limpers when they open limp in front of us, provided we have a decent enough hand to do it. We want to limp along sometimes, when our hand is good enough to do so but not really good enough to play post-flop against several callers, such as limping along with 33 after a few limpers, or completing in the small blind when we’ll have a positional disadvantage when it goes post-flop.
As for those few opportunities where it’s actually strategically advisable to open limp? For me, they’re few and far between. If I’m on a table of bad players who are nonetheless capable of aggression, especially one where they’re giving my opens too much credit, and we’re shallow, I will sometimes open limp a monster like KK or AA in early position, as I think I’ll get more shoves than when I open raise. On a passive table this is a disastrous play. I don’t like to limp/raise when deeper stacked either much, as it’s so face up even to relatively poor opponents. And that’s really about it!
Playing Face Up
Speaking of playing face up, it’s another common error amongst those starting out. On the flip side, it doesn’t matter too much against fish. They won’t notice when you bet bigger for value and smaller for a bluff, so you can go ahead and do it. Against anyone observant however, you might want to play less exploitably. As we learn to play weak when we’re strong and vice versa, the primary reversal on our original “face up” play, we begin to perceive the multiple layers of misdirection possible in poker play.
It’s vital that we remember that in micro, small and even softer mid to high stakes MTTs, the fields are soft and we don’t need to get too fancy in terms of levelling wars, or we will only end up levelling ourselves, and getting so fancy that we blow our stack bluffing a calling station or calling down light against a nit. We simply need to observe the basic tendencies of each opponent (directly and through their HUD stats), make good basic assumptions about unknowns, and play a solid ABC exploitative game against them.