Classifying Players

When you play against people at a Poker table, to the best of your ability you want to try to classify their play. Beginning and intermediate players tend to think of players by general categories of classification; we talk about those in this section and that’s certainly a great place to start. Eventually, though, you’ll want to classify each and every player individually. The more you can say about an individual player whom you’re competing against, the more likely you are to beat her in the long run.

Aggressive versus passive players

In broad terms, many players tend to be either aggressive or passive in their play. Figuring out where your opponents are on the passive-aggressive spectrum can help you not only win more when you have a good hand, but also lose less when he does.

All aggression, all the time

Aggressive players are the easiest to pick out at a table. And by this, we don’t necessarily mean they’re the ones who are most likely to throw an empty beer bottle across the room when bad beat. Aggression can certainly be well defined, but you’ll feel aggression as much as you actually see it, and the symptoms are fairly blatant.

Aggressive players tend to

Raise and reraise fairly often when they’re involved in the betting action. Raising is what makes the aggressive players easily identifiable because dealers will always announce “raise,” and all eyes on the table immediately turn there.

Play from their position more heavily. An aggressive player in late position will raise even more often than her usual trigger-happy self, based solely on her position.

Start the betting rounds. When given a choice between check and bet, an aggressive player usually bets.

Check-raise. Check-raising is the second most aggressive act you can do at a Poker table (the most aggressive act is reraising). And check-raising is sneakier because the original check implied that the player didn’t have a Poker hand — the raise indicates very clearly that the person does.

Be not at all intimidated by anyone at the table. Aggressive players by their very nature are also more self-assured.

Be less likely to fold a hand after they’re playing.

Be more experienced Poker players. As a rough rule, people become more aggressive the more comfortable they get with the game. This is especially true of people who have read a lot of Poker theory books (they repeatedly hammer home the importance of aggression at a table).

Those wimpy passive players

Passive players are a bit harder to spot at a table, mostly because their lack of aggression makes them easy to overlook. These are the players who

Call rather than raise. The passive player believes she has a hand — she just isn’t interested in pushing it forward.

Check instead of starting the betting.
Have a greater tendency to fold the hands they’re playing.

May seem intimidated by one or more players at the table — or maybe even playing the game itself.

Typically have less Poker experience. For a passive player, just the act of sitting at a table and betting is scary enough. He doesn’t want the added tension of raising. His inexperience also means he hasn’t had any exposure to advanced Poker texts that recommend raising.

Deciding tight versus loose

In addition to aggressiveness, you should try to make some sort of determination of how loose your opponent’s play is.

Hearing the tight squeak

A player is considered to be tight if he plays an extremely limited set of starting hands. And although you can’t see a player’s starting hand very often, you do see how often he decides to play a hand — and this in itself is a clue.

Watching the loose rattle

Conversely, loose players will play a wide variety of starting hands, and as result, you’ll see them in the pot more often. Any player playing something like a third of her hands, or more, over a long session would definitely be considered a loose player.

Combining your evaluations

The implication is that there are four different types of players, but that’s true only from the very widest of standpoints. Again, as you gain Poker experience, you’ll probably find yourself fine-tuning your evaluations to each individual, but the following is a good set of evaluations to begin with — along with some advice on how to combat them effectively.

Battling aggressive/tight players

Playing against an aggressive/tight player is fairly simple. Because he’s tight, he’ll play only the highest quality hands. When he does, your response is fairly straightforward: Fold unless you have a hand that is extremely good.

Tight players tend not to bluff much, so don’t be afraid to throw away the occasional hand that’s only okay by your estimation. And if you’re going to start aiming your hole cards at the trash can, the earlier you can throw it away, the better — their raising and reraising will gnaw on your stack in a big way.

Playing a bit looser against a tight player will get you more small pots (especially if you’re raising, where he tends to fold quickly early on). But when you do play loosely against him, you need to be very quick to drop a hand when you see aggression coming back at you.

Keep in mind that if a player thinks you’re bullying him on the table, he will change his style of play — probably by loosening up a little and getting even more aggressive.

Playing against aggressive/loose players

Aggressive/loose players may seem a bit scary when you first come across them, but you’ll quickly learn to think of them as one of the biggest assets to you at a Poker table. The aggressive play will bring money out on the table; the loose play will mean that it just keeps on coming.

An aggressive/loose player will have an interesting side effect of making the other players on the table loose and aggressive as well. And although you may be tempted to jump on the bandwagon yourself, your wallet will like it better if you instead opt for tighter and more passive play. Because your opponent is loose, if you play tight, you’re more likely to win on any given hand (because you have a better set of starting cards). Over time, you’ll take down more pots and find your stack ratcheting right on up.

Don’t complain on the odd times you get a bad beat. Just think of it as the tax of doing business with one of your best customers.

Skewering passive/loose players

On the surface you may think that a passive/loose player is a rarity, but actually it’s probably the most common category that beginning Poker players fall into. These people are the ones who play too many hands and then have no idea how to bet as the hand progresses.

If the player seems passive enough to fold merely by someone else being aggressive, that’s what you should do every time you enter a pot. Her continual folding will float your bankroll pretty quickly.

Be careful, though — some beginning players never fold, which means bluffing against them serves no purpose. Against these players you should instead tighten your play (so you’re only playing higher-quality hands) and fire away unmercifully when you’re holding the good stuff.

Dealing with passive/tight players

Passive/tight players are an interesting anomaly because they will tend to stay in the hand when they have a winner, but not bet it. These types of players won’t pad your bank account very much, but they’re also easy to play against — just check through whenever they’re in a hand.

Because he’s playing tight, he may well have a winner over your hand, making betting mildly suicidal. However, you should bet if he’s the passive kind of player who tends to fold.

Watching for the “unusual” play

There is one thing you need to watch for: any unusual play from a player you believe you have classified correctly. Here are some examples:

If you see a raise from a normally passive player who never raises, that means she has a hand. Unless you have something really good relative to the board you’re seeing, you should fold.

If a typically aggressive player who is normally Mr. Bet-Bet-Bet suddenly checks, he’s either playing for a draw or (probably more likely) trying to trap you. Only bet against a player like this if you’re willing to call a reraise.

If an extremely aggressive player ever check-calls you, it almost certainly means she has a trapping hand. If it happens to you, you definitely should not bet the next time you see action.

In No-Limit be especially careful of a player who flat-call the blinds from early position, when the typical action you’ve been seeing from her is raising pre-flop. This is a classic trick of someone holding a very large pocket pair (A-A or K-K). Don’t fall for it.

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