Poker is a game that evolves on a second-by-second basis. A strategy that works one year might be archaic the next. Successful online grinders can share with you their observations on how optimal strategy in no-limit hold’em games regularly shifts between a loose style of play to a tight style of play, back to a loose style of play, etc. Note that I’m only speaking in generalizations here; just because one believes there’s a market for a tight style of play at the moment doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t be appropriate to play with a loose style at one particular table or tournament.
To be a successful poker player that stands the test of time by generating a handsome profit year after year, one must possess a lot of attributes. One of these attributes is the ability to alter playing style in the face of changing game conditions. Several years ago, you could literally print money by playing a loose style of poker at no-limit tables. This is because everyone was playing ABC tag poker which is highly exploitable to anyone willing to think outside the box. Today, there might be more of a market for a tighter style since so many of today’s players are the winners of yesteryear when a loose strategy ruled supreme.
Being able to identify the evolution of your particular game and stakes and adapt to those changes in a profitable manner can be the difference between feast or famine in the poker world. When I hear players boasting about their style of play in a connotation that indicates they self-identify with that style to such an extent that changing it probably won’t enter the equation until it’s too late, I feel sorry for them. Many successful players get a reputation for their ingenious style of play and begin to self-identify with the fame and attention that they’ve received from playing this strategy. A great example of this is Gus Hansen. Years ago, when Hansen was on seemingly every World Poker Tour final table, he played with an incredibly erratic, loose strategy that, at the time, worked miraculously for him. He made millions of dollars with this crazy style of play and garnered a lot of fame as a result. However, Hansen’s opponents gradually started to adapt to his style of play. Once that began to happen, Hansen could have done one of two things:
- Continue playing with his erratic style that earned him millions
- Use his opponents’ perception of how he plays the game to his advantage
The latter such option would call for playing a tighter style that exploits his opponents’ tendency to believe that he is capable of showing up with any two cards. His days of three-betting with 64 would be over (temporarily, at least) in exchange for playing a tighter strategy that seeks to wait for strong hands and hope to get paid off big thanks to his loose image. And when the day comes where all anyone can talk about it is how tight Hansen is, then he can go back to popping it up with his 64s.
Whether or not Hansen made more money by adjusting to the image he generated from WPT TV appearances isn’t something I’m familar with. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. I don’t follow the guy enough to know either way. He’s just an interesting example of how one can constantly be making changes to their style of play in accordinance with shifts in the strategies of the masses as well as the perceptions these masses have of your playing style in order to continue making money hand over fist at the table.
But the ability to make these shifts isn’t easy. Most players, top pros even, are unable to detach themselves with the familiar style of play that has made them so much money. There’s a reason Phil Ivey is the most successful all-around player in history: anytime he’s interviewed and asked to describe his style, he never has a cut-and-dry answer. His response is usually something along the lines of, “I just sit down and figure out what the best strategy is once I’m there.” Ivey is always thinking. He never goes on autopilot. That tremendous game-theory mindset of his has made him countless millions of dollars over the years. In that time, he’s been able to watch plenty of his old peers crumble away due to their inability to make the adjustments necessary to continue seizing a handsome portion of the poker economy.