Tracking Preflop Tendencies

The Poker Tracker statistic that best measures tightness is VP$IP ("Voluntary Put Money in the Pot"). VP$IP represents the percentage of times that a player chooses to either call a bet or raise before the flop. In order to categorize players based on their tightness, it is first necessary to determine how often certain hands are dealt. The table below illustrates the probability of being dealt a certain hand from five different "hand categories" (ranking the starting hands is beyond the scope of this book. We refer you to http://www-2.cs.cmu.edu/People/mummert/poker/ as a starting point).

Threshold

Probability

Top 24 hands

11.3

Top 42 hands

20

Top 51 hands

24

Top 68 hands

32.9

Top 84 hands

43.9

Thus, if you only play hands that belong in the top 24, you will have a VP$IP of somewhere around 11.3%. Obviously, game conditions greatly affect the number of hands that can be played profitably. Hands like suited ace-rag and king-rag go way up in value in loose-passive games, but cannot usually be played profitably in tight games. In any case, the above categories give us a general idea of the type of hands people play. We offer the following "labels" for VP$IP ranges in small stakes hold 'em (games below $10-20):

Threshold

VP$IP

Category

Top 24 hands

<11.3%

Super Tight

Top 42

between 11.3% and 20%

Very Tight

Top 51

between 20% and 24%

Tight

Top 60

between 24% and 28%

Neutral

Top 68

between 28% and 33%

Slightly Loose

Top 84

between 33% and 44%

Loose

84+

greater than 44%

Very Loose

These categories help to get a quick assessment of our own preflop play, as well as the play of others. Since optimal preflop play is highly dependent on the specific conditions at the table, there is no specific value of VP$IP that optimizes expectation. However, we note that over the long run, tight players often have a higher win rate than loose players. On a loose-passive table, a wider variety of hands (e.g. suited king-rag) can be profitably played, but any player with a VP$IP greater than 33% will most likely lose money over the long run. For players with a VP$IP greater than 33%, we suggest "tightening up" by mucking marginal hands before the flop.

Unfortunately, having seven preflop categories is not feasible, since we would like to have at least three categories for postflop play. With seven preflop categories and three postflop categories, we end up with 21 different player categories, far more than Poker Tracker's 14 icons can handle. For the sake of simplicity, we reduce the seven preflop categories to four more general categories by combining the "super tight," "very tight," and "tight" categories, as well as the "loose" and "very loose" categories. We feel that this simplification does not significantly reduce the usefulness of our preflop categories, since there is very little difference in the optimal strategy against players in the subcategories we have combined. Thus, our four preflop categories are as follows:

VP$IP

Category

VP$IP < 24%

Tight

24% < VP$IP < 28%

Neutral

28 %< VP$IP < 33%

Slightly Loose

VP$IP > 33%

Loose

Note that since higher stakes games tend to be tighter and have fewer players seeing the flop, these labels must be modified to match the tighter game conditions. For example, a player seeing 30% of flops in a $15-30 game would be considered more than slightly loose. For higher limit games, we recommend sliding the labels down a notch (so a 20-24% VP$IP would be Neutral and 24-28% could be considered slightly loose).

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