Loose is best

In the first of a regular new series, Pommo argues the case for playing drawing hands as if they’re made hands

With every month that passes on planet poker, more and more players are classing themselves as ‘loose’. The big winners certainly do, and at every big tournament these days you can pretty much guarantee the last man standing will admit to the odd moment of madness. It’s no coincidence that Scandinavian players are considered the best in the world at the moment, and for the most part are incredibly loose. When I first got into poker I was told that tight-aggressive was the way to play, but that’s all changed now. So why is playing loose deemed to be the winning strategy of choice nowadays?

One of the biggest advantages is that you can take someone out of their comfort zone. Poker is all about making the right decisions, and if you can push people into a place where they’re not making rational decisions the game is as good as over. Just ask Phil Ivey, an expert at taking people out of their comfort zone and almost untouchable at this moment in time. If you decide you have the best hand against a looseaggressive opponent, it might cost you all of your chips to see if you’re right. Get that first big decision wrong in a cash game and you’re in for a long hard session. Get it wrong in a tournament… well, better luck next time.

Playing loose also greatly increases the long-term value of certain types of hands, which potentially makes it a great way to play. Some players like to play their drawing hands fairly slowly and not put too much in until they hit. I have a different theory. What if you play your draws exactly the same way as you play a set or two-pair? The turn is the most important street in poker, where the majority of hands are decided and – crucially – where you can really start to put some serious money in.

Say you have 6? -7? in the big blind in a raised pot, and the flop comes 8? -4? -Q? . Let’s say you just call a bet from the pre-flop raiser, and the turn is the 2? . It’s a great card for him if he’s holding a hand like K-Q. You check, he makes a decent size bet, and you check-raise a substantial amount. What’s he supposed to do now? What can he really beat? If he folds you pick up a very nice pot; if he calls or moves in you have plenty of outs going into the river.

Pot luck

Obviously the play has to be altered depending on your opponent – in the long run it’s a losing play against someone who never passes top pair when you have the draw. But most players will lay down and it means you’ll pick up so many pots on the turn that when you do get called you’re practically freerolling.

Apart from taking people out of comfort zones and freerolling your drawing hands, loose play also has other advantages. It means you win much bigger pots with top pair than the other players at the table. Why? Because everyone knows you’re a bluffer and they’ll struggle to fold second pair against you on Queen, King and Ace-high flops. When do you put the brakes on though? It’s something I still struggle to do, but it’s crucial. A lot of it simply comes down to timing – some days it goes perfectly, on others you find your opponent always has a hand!

Highs and lows

A word of caution – playing loose also means you’re liable to have much bigger swings. If you’re pretty much willing to live or die by drawing hands, then you’re going to have to deal with some bad sessions when you’re not hitting. And if you’re playing even slightly out of your bankroll, then you’re not going to be able to play loose poker the way it should be played.

If you’re having problems, dropping down a level for a while can usually work; even dropping down to penny games and playing like a maniac for a few hours can do wonders for your confidence. If anything, it serves to remind you that big hands can be cracked more often than most people care to realise!

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