Tight players, aka Nits, can be very frustrating to play against.
The Nit’s poker strategy is to play extremely tight and passive, which makes extracting value from them very difficult.
How are you supposed to win money from players who only put chips in the pot with the strongest of hands?
The way to beat a Nit is to exploit their general passiveness by playing our range aggressively.
This will allow us to pick up the majority of pots against these tight opponents, gradually but continually edging out a profit over them.
In this article, I’ll break down the methods I use to exploit these players, starting with the easiest: over-folding against their bets and raises.
Exploiting Nits By Over-Folding
Given that Nits are tight and passive, alarm bells should ring when such opponents take an aggressive line against us. In these situations, we should be able to comfortably fold our marginal hands against their very strong range.
However, we have to be careful not to start over-folding the stronger hands in our range against a Nit.
I often see players over-adjust by making extremely heroic folds given the perceived image of their opponent. This is a mistake in many cases, as we will be easily exploitable if we fold whenever a Nit shows aggression. They may even “accidentally” exploit us if we take over-folding too far.
There are some extremely Nitty players, usually at lower stakes, that we can make huge hero folds against on a regular basis, but these players are rare and easy to spot.
Let’s Play a Hand Against A Nit
Recently, a member of The Poker Lab named Nikolai posted a hand history in our private Facebook group. He asked if we can easily fold the river given that his opponent is a Nit:
Online 6-Max, 195BB Effective Stacks
Dealt to Hero on the Button:
folds to co, Cutoff raises to 2BB, Hero 3-bets to 8BB, blinds fold, Cutoff calls 6 BB.
Flop (Pot: 17.5 BB)
Cutoff checks, Hero bets 7 BB, Cutoff raises to 27.56 BB, Hero calls 20.56 BB
Turn (Pot: 72.63 BB)
Cutoff checks, Hero checks
River (Pot: 72.63 BB)
Cutoff bets 83.25 BB
There is no way that I am folding this hand based on the action.
Sometimes when poker players experience coolers, especially against Nits, they second guess their decision and wish they went for a heroic fold.
In reality, these situations are just a part of the game. Should we fold more often against Nits? Of course. But it’s important not to take over-folding too far without an extremely reliable read.
(Note: Want to be the best player at the table, no matter what style your opponents play? Check out The Lab, an extensive poker training course developed and updated monthly by Doug Polk and Ryan Fee. Click HERE or below to learn more!)
Range Analysis Against a Tight Player
To see more clearly why a hand as strong as QQ cannot be folded here, let’s have a look at what a typical Cutoff 3-bet calling range looks like:
Against this calling range, the equity of QQ preflop is very strong:
Now, a super tight player may defend against 3-bet slightly tighter than this (potentially folding hands like 55, 44, 76s and ATo), but it makes very little difference in terms of equity (less than 1%).
After plugging in the run out of the board, we can see that QQ is a huge favorite to win the pot against Nitty Cutoff’s preflop continue range:
Of course, the Nit won’t check/raise the flop with every hand in his range, but this calculation demonstrates something important about spots like these. It has to do with combinatorics (see: Hand Combinations and How the Best Pros Use Them).
When we start counting the combos in the Cutoff’s preflop continue range, we’ll notice a couple things:
- There are 116 total combinations of hands in the tighter range (166 combinations in the typical Cutoff continue range).
- There are only 6 combinations of hands that beat QQ on this board (3 combos of each TT and 77).
Even though the Cutoff – identified as a Nit – is perceived to have only nutted hands in their range after check-raising, there are far too few combinations that beat us to justify folding the flop.
Nikolai responds correctly on the turn by checking back; by doing this, he controls the size of the pot in a somewhat precarious situation.
Given that the Cutoff checked the turn, Nikolai is justified in calling the bet on the river. We would expect our opponent to bet the turn with their strongest value hands, especially when both players are fairly deep (approximately 190 big blinds).
This makes the Cutoff’s line look skewed towards bluffs, which is why folding the river is out of the question here.
Avoid Coolers, Get Value
Given the strength of QQ here, it is important to get value with this hand when it is available.
Nits are characterized by passive play, which allows us to liberally bet hands for value without too much fear of getting raised. Let’s imagine a scenario where the Cutoff did not check/raise the flop.
In that typical Cutoff range from above, there are 36 combinations of top pair hands in a total of 166 combos (ATo, ATs-T9s, T8s). This means that Nikolai will get value at least 20% of the time when betting QQ here.
Given how few stronger hands the Cutoff has here, they will have to check/call all three streets with at least some top pairs in order to avoid being exploited. If the Cutoff chooses to take the really Nitty route and fold most top pairs by the river, exploiting them will be as easy as 1-2-3 (barrel bluffing).
In addition, there are 6 combinations of middle pairs in the Cutoff’s range (87s, 76s), as well as 8 combinations of nut-straight draws (89s and J9s). These hands are also expected to call on the flop, meaning that Nikolai’s flop bet will extract value at least ~25% of the time on this flop.
Even if the Cutoff folds on the flop, we take down a solid 17.5 BB pot.
This is where value from a Nit is to be gained. By 3-betting and isolating our opponent, we become very likely to win the pot and can easily extract value by fast playing our strong hands postflop.
If the Nit shows aggression, being in position will allow us to better control the size of the pot when we have hands that are in danger of being coolered for stacks.
Go Out There and Rob the Nits Blind!
There’s few things I love more than winning pots…
..and that’s why I really love being at a table full of Nits. If you avoid playing into their strong ranges, they are actually very easy to beat.
Remember these 3 things next time you find yourself up against a particularly tight and passive player:
- Exploit their passiveness by 3-betting aggressively and fast playing your strongest holdings. Remember, Nits do not like bluffing, so slow playing strong hands to induce won’t be an effective strategy against them.
- Be ready to get out of the way with your marginal hands when you face aggression from a Nit.
- If you have a strong hand but the Nit may be coolering you, try to control the size of the pot and assess your equity accordingly.
If you employ this strategy correctly, you will pick up more small pots from Nits, which will dramatically improve your non-showdown (and overall) winnings.
(Note: Want to improve your poker skills, move up in stakes and make more money? Check out The Poker Lab, a training course that will change the way you look at poker. Check out a walkthrough of The Lab HERE or click below to learn more!)
More recent poker strategy from Upswing:
- Make sure you’re avoiding all 12 of these common preflop pitfalls with Ryan Fee’s 12 Preflop Mistakes to Avoid at All Costs.
- What is a GTO strategy and when should you use it over a good old fashioned exploitative one? Doug Polk explains in GTO vs Exploitative Play: Which is the Better Strategy?
- Make your opponents think twice before they attempt to steal your big blind in tournaments! Check out Ultimate Guide to Big Blind Defense by Miikka Anttonen.