By far the most math-based type of player you'll find at the tables, these super tight opponents - also called NITS - are the tightest of the tight poker player types. They'll only go in with solid gold hands, and if they show down, it's with the nuts. You can count on it.
NITs heavy reliance on math means they're only going to be in a pot if the odds are in their favour. However, this doesn't mean you can't take them down. This sort of extreme conservatism can be as much as a weakness as a strength in many hands - if you know how to play your cards right.
Let’s take a look at NITs in their natural habitat...
Where to Find Them
NITs will make up a high percentage of the population of low-stakes games. Their style is going to yield high profits from weaker player types who don't realize that they shouldn't be giving NITs action. Remember, NITs are going to have the goods most of the time, and they very rarely bluff. While they aren't going to be the biggest winners in lower stakes games due to their inability (or refusal) to adjust to their opponents, NITs will make up most of the regulars at low-stakes tables, and they will be earning a steady profit.
How to Spot a NIT
One of the best ways to detect a NIT is to use cold, hard numbers. If you're using PokerTracker or Jivaro, these stats are indicative of a NIT: in full ring games, the stats of Voluntary Put in Pot (VPIP) will be 8% or lower, Pre-flop Raise (PFR) will be about 6%, and aggression will be around 4%, though it could be as a high as 6% or as low as 3%.
In a short-handed game (5 or 6 max), you're looking at stats of around 18% for VPIP, 14% for PFR and a 4% for aggression, give or take a couple percent.
Before we get into strategy on how, exactly, to take down a NIT, I want to make sure you have a solid understanding of this poker player type profile. As they say, know thy enemy...
I've already mentioned a few: they're calculated, they lean on a solid mathematical foundation, and they're patient. But there's more to them than that. These guys are the definition of set-miners; they will almost always call raises with pairs in any attempt to stack the raiser. (Which is a bad habit you can exploit, but we'll get to this later.)
NITS are also hyper-aggressive, which makes sense since they usually have the goods to back it up, so they're betting hard and fast when they do play. The high-aggression keeps them in control, and is actually pretty tough to combat.
NITS are risk averse and opt for low variance. Translation: they don't like to take big gambles. They prefer to make their hands before they commit a pile of chips. What this means is that they experience low variance, and while their profits aren’t fast and massive, they are slow and steady - and there's a lot to be said for this approach - especially if you want to make consistent, reliable money from your poker career.
OK, so NITs are solid and smart players, but they're still human, and they have weaknesses.
NITs are too honest. These guys are usually only capable of bluffing on one street. If a NIT bets twice post flop (and I mean flop and turn), they have the goods. We don't want to bet into this; they have the main hand. Don't pay them off.
NITs are too trusting. As I mentioned, NITs like low variance, making them - in my opinion - the easiest poker player type to bluff. If you can give them a good enough reason to fold - if you've been playing in a reasonable way that gives them a nice, believable story that makes sense - they're probably going to take your word for it and concede the pot. Make sure to let them know that yes, their fears are warranted. This is how you push them out.
NITs over-value implied odds. I've seen so many NITs limp the call-raises with pocket pairs even though they’re out of position and heads-up going to flop, and as you know, this is not what you want going into a speculative hand. They always assume that if they hit, they'll get action; and this is true. Against weak players in low limit games, they will get action. But as long as you can catch the signs and not give the NIT action, he can't catch his implied odds, and he can't be a winning player against you. Simple as that. A NITs style of playing is not one based on out-playing; it's based on getting paid when he has the goods.
How to Out-Manoeuvre a NIT
Part of playing winning poker is not just about having the winning hand, or being a master bluffer, or a mathematical genius: it's about being able to adjust on the fly - and you bet your ass this is how you're going to win against a NIT. You're going to call it as you see it, and change your plan of attack...or retreat, as the case may be.
Here’s how you do it:
Avoid Them. Pretty simple, and entirely effective. When they raise, especially in early position, the best plan is to simply get out of their way unless you have a premium hand. Now, I'm not saying you should fold a speculative hand when a NIT raises in early position; in fact, this is a perfect time to play a speculative hand. But don't be calling the raises with hands like A,Q and expect to win a good pot if you hit top pair. You want to have the premium of the premium, like As and Ks when facing early position range. You want to play the type of game that could crack them or you want to sit out.
Trap and Slow Play. As I said, NITs are hyper-aggressive when they have top pair or better. If you flop something good or have a top pair pre-flop, you should lean toward smooth calling their bets. When you raise, alarm bells will go off in NITs' heads. They see a raise as a chance to get out of the hand, unless they have a super strong hand. (Or unless it's a cooler like set over set, which would still see all the money go in on the river.)
Typically raising will just get the NIT to fold. If you have a decent one pair hand or better, usually just calling their bets and waiting until the river to raise will yield the maximum profit from them. Sometimes, it's not even smart to call them on the river and you should just call them the whole way. The point is to use their hyper-aggression against them and let them hang themselves.
Another word of advice: don't let them know where you stand with a raise. This will often strike fear into their hearts, and they'll discontinue their use of continuation bet bluffs, and this gets them to play more honestly against us - even though, yes, they're pretty honest to begin with. Regardless of player type, the more honestly you can have someone play against you, the more likely you are to get perfect information - and it's this information that's going to result in winning poker.
Raise. Take them out of their element. NITs like to play with the lead, in position and with good hands - and this is a solid way to play. However, if you can push them out of their comfort zone, you stand a better chance of winning. When you raise, they get scared, so if you can flop some sort of draw against them; or something that doesn't have showdown value because it's a high-card hand, but has big hand potential and has equity, you should raise their continuation bet since they'll fold a high percentage of the time.
We want to slow play when we can beat most of their range, but raise with our weakest hands that have equity - and when we're playing against NITs, our fold equity is through the roof. Sure, they're always going to showdown with the nuts, but it's pretty hard to make the nuts, so 80% of the time or more, they're going to buckle under pressure.
Another way to use their hyper-aggression against them with less risk is to re-raise them pre-flop. Now, 3-betting introduces variance to your game, but that's only if your opponents call your 3-bet. NITs have wider ranges in late position (as do most players), but NITs also fold about 80% of their opening range to re-raises. This means that technically, 3-betting them with any two cards is profitable, BUT I would suggest picking 3 or 4 suited connectors to 3-bet them and see how it goes. You'll pick up a ton of chips at low risk 3-betting them pre-flop. If they do call, I'd suggesting betting 3/4 of the pot no matter what until they show a willingness to play back at you. It'll be a huge money maker because even though they'll call your 3-bet with As, Ks, or Qs, they're going to fold on a lot of flops they don't like.
Of course, any good opponent will adjust to you, just as you adjusted to them. It's a complicated dance, but this is a good strategy to employ out-of-the-gate.
Float. Don't go crazy with this tactic, since floating brings a lot of variance into your game and you'll find yourself in spots where you don't actually have a hand. Still, it can be used. The idea of floating is to call a flop back, with no real hand, granted - just with the intention of taking the pot away on a later street. The reason floating works against NITs is because most NITs have a ‘one-and-done’ policy. They will continuation bet the flop, and then they will give up afterwards if they don't approve.
Example: If you have a gut-shot and you don’t think you have the right pot odds to call the bet, you can call it anyway since we know about 80% of the time, the NIT will shut down on the turn and give us the pot. So we can call their flop bet light since they're check-folding a lot of turns and we're winning a bigger point.
Now, if the NITs check the turn and you bet, and then they check-raise you, get out the hand, and if they check-call you, you should not bet the river. If a NIT calls your turn bet, he'll probably call your river bet, so don't waste any more money if your float doesn't work.
Again, if you find your opponent is adjusting to your floating, just stop doing it so much and try it against some other NIT. Floating definitely is not a key part of my game, but a lot of people use it, and I do think it's a good tool to have in your back-pocket.
Attack. Namely, attack weakness. Remember, NITs are very honest players, so if they check the flop after raising pre-flop, they've probably missed. If they c-bet the flop and check the turn, like we just talked about, then they probably have no pair and we can steal a ton of pots from them. If they limp in, they probably have a weak hand they'll be folding unless they make two pair in a set, so put on the pressure. Until they can show you they can check-raise or check-call multiple barrels, assume their checks are weak and bet 90% of the time they check. Likewise, until they show you their checks are a trap, keep on them. The pot is ripe for the taking.
Advice from the Wolf's Den...
I urge you to take my advice pretty seriously, since I'm a NIT born and raised. Don't take the adjustments to the extreme, but use them with a deft, subtle hand, and you'll usually come out on top - or at least not trampled to death. Sure, some NITs may never change their game and you'll be able to make their lives hell and send them on tilt, but many are just as clever as you and will make adjustments to your adjustments. The key is to pick your spots to use these strategies and be aware of your image in their eyes. As long as you can stay one step ahead, you'll be taking home the bread at the end of the day.