If you have played poker in a live environment, you have surely come across the phrase “tight is right” coming out of someone’s mouth. While this could hardly be further from the truth as a general statement, it is the base concept around which many players build their Texas Hold’em strategy.
The one group of players who take playing tight to an extreme are called nits. If you want to know what is nit in poker and whether this approach to poker is good, just keep reading.
The basic definition of a nit would be a player who plays few hands, rarely gets involved at all, and is only involved in big pots if he holds a monster.
Otherwise, the nit folds.
So is playing the nit poker approach ever a good idea? What exactly would this approach entail? I tried to find answers to all these and other questions, and here is what I found.
What is Nit in Poker and How This Strategy Works
Being a poker nit is not generally considered a good thing, as nits are often seen as players who try to take advantage of others.
However, this is certainly not true in the big picture, and playing like a nit can be profitable in some games, while it will actually be quite bad in others.
Someone simply playing very tight and waiting for pocket aces isn't going to do well in a game with a lot of good players. In a game with many fish, the nit poker approach is good but can be seen as taking advantage.
A nit, in essence, is a player who plays very few hands regardless of his position, rarely three or four bets, and is cautious about continuing on multiple betting streets.
The upside of the nit poker strategy is that such players get to extract maximum value with big hands from very bad players.
On the other hand, nits also miss out on a lot of value in fishy games by not playing marginal hands against the fish and not getting paid in spots where others could.
On the flip side, nits can often get crushed in good games in which players recognize their tendencies. Good players will often take nits to value town with hands like sets and flushes while avoiding losing big to them in many spots.
So, let's talk about when it may be a good idea to play the nit strategy, and when you should steer clear of it, and how to adapt it in games with tougher players.
When the Nit Approach in Poker Can Be Profitable
On average, a nit will be playing some 12% of the overall poker hands dealt. This is a very low number and one that means you are only playing the best possible starting hands.
To make this approach profitable, you are going to have to get paid big when you have monster hands, and you will need to be in the right game for that.
The right kind of game for this, of course, is a live poker game with many recreational poker players. These players tend not to pay too much attention and not adjust their ranges to yours.
In a lower-stakes live cash game or a medium stakes game with many recreational players, the nit approach can actually be insanely profitable.
If you play tight and make big raises and bets, these players will tend to still call you and try to break your big hands, even if they do know you have them.
As a nit, you should be careful of opponents hitting big draws, but you should also learn to be ready to go the distance with your big hands like pocket aces or pocket kings.
Remember, players will try to put you to the test knowing you have a big starting hand, and they will represent any draw that gets there. For that reason, you will sometimes have to just go with your hand regardless of the board.
When the Poker Nit Approach Doesn’t Work
Being a nit may work in some low to mid-stake live games and sometimes even in a very high stakes live game. However, it will seldom work online, especially as the stakes get higher.
There are several reasons for this, and the main one is that players have stats on you. This means if you are only playing 12% of your hands, people will be able to tell immediately.
Furthermore, online grinders will be well aware of the tendencies of their opponents and will quickly notice that you are playing too tight.
This will result in them adjusting their strategy against your opens by folding many hands, flat calling with ones that easily crack big pocket pairs, and only re-raising you with monsters.
You will not get paid off by solid players if you are playing like a nit, and these players will also know how to put pressure on you when you show the slightest weakness.
If you are looking to play online and advance through the stakes, you will need to change your strategy and forget about playing nitty. Otherwise, you will end up getting crushed and wasting both your time and your money.
Why the Nit Approach is Suboptimal
We all dream of the perfect poker scenarios in which we flop set over set or top two pair against a weaker two pair. However, most poker hands don’t go this way.
The nit poker approach means playing very tight before the flop and only continuing after the flop if we still have an amazing hand, which means at least top pair and top kicker.
Regardless of how tight we play before the flop, our hands will often turn into ones that are far from the best possible on the flop and will only decline as turn and river are dealt in many situations.
This is the reason why great poker players mix up their strategy, include bluffs into their ranges, and look for thin value with their weaker made hands. Nits don’t have any of this at their disposal.
Being a nit makes you vulnerable to attacks of all sorts and from all sides. Aggressive players will use your tendencies against you and will torture you with every new card that is dealt.
If you stick to the true nit poker approach, you will end up folding the best hand all too often and only extracting value on occasion, not nearly often enough.
With modern poker players reading hands in terms of ranges, you are going to end up with a capped range on countless different runouts, where you will not be able to have too many nut hands, simply because you are folding them before the flop.
What's even more, as a nit, you will be folding your gutshots, second pairs, or overcards too often. All of this will leave you reaching the river unable to call overbets or unable to balance out your range.
Playing as a nit may have worked many years ago when everyone was bad at poker, but with the new generations of players expanding their repertoire of poker plays, you must do so as well.
If you learned how to play like a nit, that's OK. There is still a chance you can become a great poker player, but you must start adjusting.
Let’s talk about how you can change your strategy to play better poker and avoid being destroyed by players who are playing a balanced poker strategy.
Balancing Out Your Ranges
To beat many poker games, you don't have to play at an extremely high level. However, you can't play like a nit either, as this strategy is simply too transparent.
To start making your game better, you should first expand your preflop ranges. This means adding more hands to your opening, 3-betting, and 4-betting ranges in each position.
This may be hard to adjust to early on, but it will pay dividends. By expanding your preflop ranges, you become more unpredictable post-flop and are able to have more hands in various scenarios.
Once the flop is dealt out, you need to start mixing it up. Start c-betting even if you have missed, and introduce some check-raises into your strategy as the aggressor.
When defending against opens and 3-bets, consider calling or raising with more draws, even the marginal ones. After all, your opponents will rarely connect with the board and will have to fold many of their hands to aggression, just as you would.
Changing your strategy from a nit one to a balanced one will take time and study. I recommend looking over some opening hand charts that good players are using and applying these in your own games first.
With so much coaching material available these days, it is a shame to keep playing like a nit and getting exploited by the more balanced players, so dig in and start improving your game.
Use Your Image to Your Advantage
I have already explained why the nit poker approach is far from optimal and why it simply doesn’t cut it in today’s poker games.
However, if you have been playing like a nit in your games and are looking to improve your game, being a nit may finally pay off.
The reason is that the players you often play with have an idea about how you play. They expect you to be tight and only play when you have monster hands.
As you learn how to expand your range and play better post-flop, you will find yourself at a distinct advantage.
With every hand that is dealt, you will now have opportunities to deceive your opponents. You will start showing up with hands they don't expect, and your bluffs will work at an increased frequency.
Make sure to show your cards as rarely as possible and keep up the pretense that you are still playing like a nit. This will work to your advantage until your cover is blown.
It will take others some time before they notice changes in your game, and even then, it may be hard to pinpoint what they are. Some players may simply think you are tilting and are still mostly a nit.
In either case, using your nit image to bluff players out of hands is one of the best things you can do if you are perceived as one in the games you play in often.
Final Words on Nit Poker Strategy
The nit approach is an outdated and obsolete concept that modern players should look to stay away from. If anything, you should be looking for nits in your games and finding ways to crush them.
If you learned poker from nits and have this mentality, it is time to change it and drastically improve your poker winnings.
I have discussed how expanding your range and using your nit image can greatly benefit you, but this will only work for a while. Once you are established as a well-balanced player, you will have to simply play good poker.
I recommend using other coaching materials and training resources and learning how to play in different situations, how to read poker hands, think in terms of ranges, and size your bets.
Once you have mastered all these concepts and moved away from your nit strategy, your bottom line will start to look a whole lot better, guaranteed!