Texas hold’em is a deceptively easy looking game. It’s not hard for most people to master the rules. You simply use the two cards in your hand with the five community cards to make your best five-card poker hand. However, being a winning player requires much more than just knowing how to play texas holdem. It requires discipline, math skills, reading ability and a host of other intangibles that make up the 10 percent or fewer players who actually walk away consistent winners.
Most books on Texas holdem poker will tell you that the favored style of play is tight aggressive, that is to say, enter very few pots, but bet strongly in the ones you do enter. In the online texas holdem era, many Internet stars found success playing a loose aggressive style, entering many pots and wielding their chip stack like a club to force out all opposition. The question becomes, when is loose play acceptable?
In limit Texas hold’em, loose play is almost never acceptable. Limit Texas hold’em is almost entirely about math. If you are getting correct odds to call, you call. If not, you fold. If you are likely to gain value from a bet, you bet or raise, if not, you don’t. Tactics like bluffing and trapping, which can yield great dividends in no-limit hold’em are fairly blunt tools in limit hold’em, since you are only allowed to make a fixed-size bet when you act. This means a successful trap will yield very few dividends, usually not enough to make up for the times you see a flop with a trapping hand and miss, or you give a free card that hits your opponent and lose. It also means it is difficult to pull off a successful bluff, as your opponent is almost always getting correct odds to call on the off chance you might be bluffing. Really the only time you might consider loosening up is if you are at a short table, either because it is late in a tournament or a small cash game, where your hands need not be as strong as usual to win, or if you are playing extremely tight players, who really will fold to a single bet, or extremely loose ones, who will always pay off any bet to the river no matter how clear it is they are beaten.
In Texas No-Limit Hold’em, it is another matter. Seeing flops with unusual hands can pay great dividends, because you can flop a well-disguised monster hand and get an opponent’s entire stack. Loose calls on the flop are a bit trickier.
In general, you want to avoid loose calls on the flop in Texas No-Limit Hold’em. You will notice that even professionals famous for their loose, unconventional play, such as Gus Hansen or Daniel Negreanu, will rarely flat call the flop with a marginal hand, even if they have come into the pot with a marginal hand. These players are looking to either A) flop a hidden monster, in which case a call on the flop would not be loose, or B) bluff at the hand, in which case a raise on the flop would be preferable, unless they are planning the raise for a later street. A flop call with a weak hand is usually just an excuse to give away chips.
What is an example of a loose call in No Limit Texas Holdem? It’s a call that is not merited by the pot odds. For example, there’s $80 in the pot and you hold Kh Th. The flop comes 8h 6s 3h. If your opponent bets $80 and you call, this is a loose call unless you are all-in and will see both turn and river. Your odds of hitting another heart on the next card are about 4 to 1 and you are being offered only 2 to 1. If your opponent bets only $20, this is a perfectly acceptable call due to the pot odds. Also, note that if you have a reasonable suspicion that your opponent will pay you off big if you hit your flush, or that players behind you will call as well, the $80 call would be correct.
On the other hand, if you hold Kh 5h and the flop comes As Qd 5d, your opponent bets $40 into an $80 pot and you call, this is an extremely loose call. While it is easy to convince yourself that your opponent has missed and is bluffing, you cannot afford to make that assumption continually if you are going to enter pots with marginal hands often. No Texas Holdem bonus in the world can make you a winning player if you keep making these types of calls. Especially in a cash game, there’s no reason to try to defend most pots with just bottom pair. Look for excuses to fold, rather than call, avoid those loose calls on the flop, and start making money.