One of the most annoying things in poker is when you’ve studied the rules, read the books, and visited the forums, only to wind up at a table full of people where rules just don’t apply. The “loose” players are the ones who are ignoring most of what we suggest on this blog. They’ll go all in on a pair of 3’s and fold on a straight because they didn’t realize Jack comes after a 10. Maybe they’ll get excited that they have 2 spades and bet three blinds pre-flop, hoping for a flush. The randomness can be scary or infuriating, depending on how your game night is going. Here are some guidelines in dealing with loose players.
1. It’s Still Your Fault if You Lose
Making excuses in poker will get you nowhere, and this is definitely true when dealing with loose players. It’s so tempting to say you would have won if your opponents weren’t so inexperienced, but this is clearly ridiculous.
This mindset (“They’re too bad at poker for me to beat”) is similar to a green belt in Karate saying he lost a bar fight because the other guy didn’t know the basic Japanese fighting stance. You should be able to use your experience to your advantage; otherwise there’d be no reason to learn at all. Poker is a game where the winds can change unexpectedly, so it is your responsibility to adjust your playing style to the conditions at hand.
2. Top Priority is to Stay Off Tilt
When loose players are at the table, you will be far more likely to go on tilt. This is because you will be playing “correctly” and your strategy still won’t work a lot of the time. Whenever this happens, the tendency is to cry out “that’s not fair!” and sulk a little bit, whether outwardly or inwardly. Instead, it’s extremely important that you keep cool. In fact, it’s even more important than usual that you keep your emotions at bay. You will need to use all of your awareness to feel out the unfamiliar situation at hand. Remember that no one’s ever won a game by complaining about it.
3. Play Tighter Than You Think You Have To
When people are betting or checking on bad hands, you may feel tempted to do the same. If you’re usually a very tight player, don’t drop all of your strategy just to match the table. You do have to be careful to not get blinded out, but this won’t happen any faster than at a tightly played game. The blinds move and are raised at the same speed, regardless of erratic player behavior.
If you play best only betting when you have face cards, this will make you all the more powerful when you actually get one. In fact, depending on how strongly or lightly you want to hold your poker face, you can come off as a seasoned pro from keeping a tighter style amidst the madness. When you bet, they know you mean business and many will fold simply from you putting your chips on the table.
4. Protect Your Hand More Fiercely
Loose games are where the underdogs win. It’s where someone best 1/3 of their chips on a pair of 4’s, and then gets two more 4’s on the turn and the river. All the “good players” would have folded by then, but the lucky idiot gets to win the pot because of his insanity.
These underdog wins will often be decided later in the hand, so it’s your job to make sure it doesn’t get that far. If you have a pair of Kings, don’t fool around after the flop, unless you get another great addition to your hand. Instead, bet hard and scare away the loose players who are in it for the fun. Protecting your hand is important in any game, but it can be life-or-death around loose players.
5. Don’t Talk a Lot
If you’re a tight player, you will likely make better conversation with other tight players without it affecting your game. Among loose players, your conversation will be more of a liability. This isn’t because you will give away your secrets, but because you’ll lose your focus on your game.
For one thing, the loose players will often seem to be having more fun than you. This may lead you, on some level, to want to get in on their fun and get their approval. This is opposite from the mindset you need to calmly take their money. Let them do their thing while you plan your attack. Remember that you’re there to win.
Another liability is that the loose players’ betting and playing styles are hard enough to keep track of without having to engage in discussion as well. You want your awareness to be laser-focused on the game so you can make the best judgments. There’s always time to mingle later.
6. The Final “All-In” Hand is Usually Worthless
All players at some point have to put it all on the line when they’re almost out of chips. Whether you play loose or tight, the time will come where you can’t hold out for a double Ace anymore. The difference is that loose players tend to reach that point a lot faster. When a loose player is at 25% of the other players’ chips, then it’s fair game to say that his all-in is a marginal hand at best. Use this as an opportunity to take all of his chips for your own.
You won’t be able to avoid loose players all the time, so it’s important to keep these strategies in mind. In fact, if you get good dealing with loose players, you can win a lot of money at informal tournaments. Loose players tend to be like a flash in the pan and an opportunity for quick money. Just remember your fundamentals of the game and see the positives of the situation instead of just the risks.