Pre-Flop: Evaluating your opponents

If we sit in a poker game with no prior knowledge of our opponents and are first to act we can base decisions on our hand strength alone. However the very first action an opponent makes is information that needs to be used in building up a profile. If it’s the first hand and he raises his button, I’d assume he’s loose and aggressive until shown otherwise. If he folds his first button I’d say he is tight. If he raised his first button and then folded his second button I would then re‐ verse my opinion of him to thinking he is tight because it’s correct generally to play more than 50% of hands on the button and here he has played tighter than that.

Everything depends on how your opponent plays, including your pre‐flop hand selection. The first step is to learn about your oppo‐ nent and to do that we’ll use labels and categories to put people into. But be careful because though helpful, categorizing opponents is in‐ accurate – every opponent is different and they don’t fit into neat tidy categories. Some players are aggressive pre‐flop and then im‐ mediately slow down, or others might be skilled tough players except for pre‐flop they play very poorly. Make your reads on players as detailed and accurate as possible. When evaluating a player the main things to assess are levels of skill, aggression and tightness.

Playing tight or loose is not inherently bad or good. There are skilled players who win a lot of money by playing tight, and those who win a lot of money by playing loose. There are advantages and disad‐ vantages to both styles. Playing tight will lower the quantity and se‐ verity of your swings in poker. But playing tight won’t get you as much action as people like to give action to opponents who will gamble, not nits. Playing loose means getting into more tough situa‐ tions, and those extra situations mean the possibility of making good decisions and making more money, but they can also mean getting outplayed and losing more money. Because poker is a com‐ petitive game, being aggressive is advantageous. However, it is pos‐ sible to be a good player and win a lot of money playing more pas‐ sively than most. And it is possible and not an uncommon problem to play too aggressively.

There are many things to consider when learning about an opponent, although the above ones are the primary factors. You might also consider if when he has a very big stack he becomes loose and care‐ less or whether he tightens up to protect it. If he loses a pot does he tilt and try to win it back? Or does he refocus his efforts and start playing solid poker? Is he suspicious when you bet or does he take you at your word? If the pot is big on the river and he faces a big bet will he think along the lines of ‘I can’t call if I don’t have the nuts, I don’t want to go bust’ or if he gets a good hand does he refuse to be pushed off of it? And so on.

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