Monday, May 17, 2010

Tight Aggressive VS. Loose Aggressive

One of the things I struggle with in my life is moving out of my comfort zone. I first started skiing in my 20's and it took me some time until I was capable of hitting the black diamonds with confidence. The first time I attempted snow boarding I was a mess. Quickly I decided that in my limited time I would rather ski black diamonds than fall on my ass on the bunny slopes... at least for the next half a dozen times while learning how to snow board. I am learning that if I want to grow as a poker player, and I guess life in general, I need to shatter that attitude.

In terms of poker style I am from the Dan Harrington school of thought. I have no issue waiting patiently and pulling the trigger when I feel the opportunity is right. I have played this way for many years now, and have plugged numerous leaks by improving on this style. This method has served me particularly well in NL cash games.

About 4 months ago I bought in at the Venetian for a $340 deep stack tournament (the largest tournament buy-in I attempted). I placed 6th out of 135 and quickly became more interested in tournament poker. Although I have made the money in the last 5/10 of my live tournaments I am learning a big lesson. If I do not accumulate a bigger than average stack early on, as the antes and blinds rise, the game becomes a roll of the dice. Its hard for me to accept that hours of patient tight aggressive play usually come down to a crap shoot. For this reason I have been investigating loose aggressive play. My hope is that this style will help me accumulate more chips early on so I can survive the later stages of the tournament.

I have been working on my loose aggressive play both in tournaments and in cash games. It is equivalent to snow boarding for me. Much like snow boarding I imagine this style appeals more to the younger iGeneration as it is riskier and more thrilling. In medical school when students were applying to residency there seemed to be two types of people. Those who liked to race cars and jump out of perfectly good airplanes went into emergency medicine or surgery. Those, like myself, who would rather spend their vacation time sipping a margarita on the beach went into primary care. I am not a thrill seeker and this is the inherent struggle I have with loose aggressive play.

My biggest challenge with loose aggressive is the aggressive part. My attempts at loose aggressive have a tendency to become loose passive (labeled the 'Elephant' by Phil Hellmuth), possibly the worst way to play poker. Although I don't mind bluffing at pots from time to time and making a continuation bet on un-made hands I find it very hard to bet, raise and re-raise on the scale that is required for a loose aggressive player. I understand that part of the idea is the implied call equity that is created in the meta-game, but it is a stark contrast from my more comfortable meta-game which is to build a good table image by showing down some good sh*t and ultimately build fold equity. I don't like to be called unless I have the nuts or near to it. Although some say the unpredictable nature of the loose aggressive beast instills fear in others (increasing fold equity as well) I believe for most opponents it creates nothing more than call equity. Call equity, for me, is uncomfortable.

Yesterday at the Venetian I played a fairly good loose aggressive style. I played my call equity well and won some big stacks. Although I came out ahead I had 2 major obstacles that limited my earning potential:

1. My chip stack size swung up and down dramatically. The down swings made me prone to tilt and switched me to loose passive. If I am to work on this style I need to learn to accept that I am in a high variance neighborhood and not let it emotionally affect me.

2. It exposes my weakness' in my post flop play, in particular how good I really am at reading my opponents. Playing Dan Harrington style does not push the skills of reading your opponents. My tight aggressive play gives me a good handle on how strong I am in relation to the situation, and usually when my money is in I have the best hand. Playing loose aggressive forces me to play my opponents rather than my cards.

Loose aggressive is the hardest style of poker to play. To be successful you have to be sharp at reading your opponents and emotionally steady. Without those skills it is near impossible to apply your aggression effectively. If I want to become a better poker player I am going to have to take a pay cut and fall a lot more for the next few months while practicing this style. If I can avoid letting the falls dampen my confidence and swing my emotions I will have brought my play to a new level when the dust settles.

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