Concepts: Player Types
Here we will look at the different player types and learn practical tips on how to identify them. But this knowledge alone is not enough, which is why I will also explain how we should play against the defined player types.
Loose vs. tight
If somebody plays either loose or tight depends on his starting hand selection. A tight player will only play premium hands with which he can make fairly easy decisions in the following betting rounds, while a loose player is willing to play a far greater number of hands which could land him in difficult situations and force him to make marginal decisions on a regular basis. We can use both playing styles to our advantage once we have identified which type of player our opponent is.
But for the moment, let's concentrate on HOW we can recognize the different playing styles.
Count the number of hands a certain player plays per orbit (complete round at a table with ten players). At this point it is irrelevant whether he calls or raises, but hands in the big blind where he simply checks should not be included. If the player gets involved in one or two hands per orbit on average, then he should be considered a "tight" player. If the player gets involved in five or more hands, then he should be classified as being "loose". However, if he plays an average of three to four hands per round, we need to observe the player a little bit longer before categorizing him in order to be sure that he wasn't dealt several good hands in a row, but is generally a tight player. At this point, we should note that this only gives us a "first impression" since a single round is not enough to be able to precisely categorize a player. The player may have had a number of very good starting hands in this round or, on the other hand, no playable hands at all. We should therefore continue to observe the supposed tight or loose player and adjust his status accordingly.
#Hands (call/raise) Status/player type
3-4 continue observing
If we have categorized the player now, we should now ask how we can use this knowledge to our advantage.
There are various strategies that are more or less successful depending on the type of player we are up against. If we have additional information such as his playing style, then this will make a considerable contribution to our chance of winning and our expected value will increase significantly.
Strategy 1: Blind steal
A blind steal is primarily made from late position, e.g. the button or cut-off. Here it is important that the players in front of us have already folded. What is however much more important than our position is the types of players sitting in the blinds. It's their money that we are trying to win with a blind steal. For all of the other players between us and them it is much easier to give up their hand if we give them reason to do so by raising. The players in the blinds, on the other hand, should ideally be tight. A tight player may not even be thinking about playing a hand such as and can thus fold it without having a bad conscience if we raise. A loose player will however have much more creative imagination. He may have already decided to play the hand. In addition he has already invested money in the pot since he had to post the blinds, meaning that he is far more likely to call.
Strategy 2: Bluff play
Among other requirements for a bluff to be successful, such as the presence of a scare card or a tight table image, it is much easier to bluff a tight opponent than a loose one. As tight players are more likely to lay down a hand, which is precisely what we want to achieve in this case.
Strategy 3: Flop steal
A flop steal is when we call a tight player out of position intentionally in order to bet on the flop. In most cases the tight player won't have a big pair, he will rather hold two high cards. If this is the case, he will only hit a pair or better on the flop in about 33% of cases. As he will miss the flop in about 66% of cases, this gives us brilliant odds to go for a steal on the flop. In addition the tight character of our opponent also gives us a higher fold equity if he hits the flop but doesn't have top pair.
Aggressive vs. passive
Another important player characteristic is his aggression level. A player who constantly raises or folds is considered to be aggressive while a player who rarely raises and prefers calling or folding is categorized as being passive. It doesn't matter how often a player folds, since this characteristic is covered above under tight vs. loose. Here the point is the ratio of raises and bets to calls, i.e. whether the raises/bets outweigh the calls or vice versa.
Count the number of calls and the number of raises and bets made by a player during an orbit. Divide the number of raises/bets by the number of calls. The AC (Aggression Coefficient) indicates how aggressive a player is. If the number of raises is at least double the number of calls (i.e. AC > 2), then the player can be considered to be aggressive. With an AC lower than 1 the player is classified as being passive. If the AC is somewhere between 1 and 2, then we should continue to observe the player. Please note that this rule only applies to full ring tables with seven to ten players. At shorthanded tables with up to six players we may need to make significant changes to our system because play is generally much more aggressive at these tables. Checks and folds should be disregarded completely. And we should also continue to observe players who were already categorized after just one orbit in order to check that our passive/aggressive assessment is correct.
(#Raises+Bets)/#Calls Style/player type
1-2 continue observing
Here we should also ask ourselves the question of how we can use these player classifications to our advantage. Below I will explain a number of strategies that work explicitly against aggressive or passive players.
Strategy 4: Value bet
We should make a value bet if we have a good hand and we want to get chips into the middle to ensure that we get paid off with our good hand. This strategy works best against passive players. They prefer to call and check rather than to bet. There is in fact a certain necessity to make value bets against passive players because at this point in time the probability that they will check behind is high and we may not be paid well enough for our strong hand.
Strategy 5: Rope-a-Dope
This method aims to getting our opponent to make value bets that we would have otherwise made. This in turn means that we should only use this strategy if we have a hand with which we would make value bets, i.e. a good hand. However, as we know that our opponent is aggressive (at best loose-aggressive), we can let him make our value bets and then simply call him. This has the advantage that our opponent feels more secure than if we were to assume the aggressive role. So we can let him run riot as long as the board and our hand permit it while searching for the right moment to reveal the true nature of our hand.
Strategy 6: SM call
Starting hands that are in the majority of cases worthless after the flop but have the most potential of becoming a monster of all marginal hands are called SM (sleeping monster) hands. SM hands include small and medium pairs that want to turn into a monster set, Ax-suited hands containing a nut flush monster and suited connectors (e.g. 76s, T9s etc.) that may appear as a straight monster or flush monster. People often use the pot odds to determine when such hands should be played or not. Although the pot odds play an important role here, the playing style of the remaining players can also be a criterion for calling. If the players who are left to act or who have limped into the pot are passive, it may also make sense to play these SM hands. The reason for this is not only that we will probably see a cheap flop in order to decide whether the hand is trash or has become a monster. In addition, we are in a hand with passive players who will also frequently give us the chance to see more free cards without having to put additional money into the pot if the flop hasn't helped us.
Strategy 7: The hammer
The hammer is the proverbial hit-it method where we make a raise or re-raise that is unusually big for our hand. We should use this strategy against loose aggressive opponents who bully the table with their frequent bets and raises. It is imperative that we gain respect from such opponents as soon as possible in order to prevent ourselves from becoming a victim of their frequent bets and raises. Such loose aggressive players won't forget the hammer in a hurry, irrespective of the outcome of the hand, forcing them to reduce their level of aggression when they are up against us. So this is a strategy we deploy to keep the bullies somewhat under control and to stop them from meddling our game.
Strong vs. weak
Strong and weak players differ on the one hand in terms of the decisions they make and on the other hand in how predictable they are. Here it is of little importance whether the player is loose or tight, rather whether he is aggressive or passive. For this reason the category "Strong vs. weak" is not completely independent from the category "Aggressive vs. passive" since good players will also always follow an aggressive style of play. Note that the opposite doesn't always apply, i.e. an aggressive player doesn't necessarily have to be a good player. Most weak players are passive, while most strong players are aggressive. For this reason the aggressive vs. passive and weak vs. strong concepts cannot be completely separated from one another.
A clear rule cannot be created here. However, basically weak players are very predictable and easy to intimidate, meaning that they will fold even good hands unless they have a monster.
Strong players will raise frequently with all kinds of hands and are thus unpredictable and seem to know when to rope-a-dope or when they should respond to the hammer and when not to. As a result, pots only containing weak players can be played profitably even if our own cards are actually too bad since the presence of these weak players alone is often enough to take the pot down without a showdown. Against strong players we should play fewer hands, and, ideally, hands that become either strong or weak after the flop. We should avoid difficult situations against strong players because they are more likely to recognize this and take advantage of it. Strong and weak is always a question of relations. We should therefore try to make sure that most of the hands we are involved in are against players who are comparatively weak.
Classic player types
Classic player types can be derived from the three basic categories described above, and these classic types are as follows:
LPW (Loose passive weak or "calling station")
A so-called calling station plays a lot of hands, but mostly by just calling i.e. playing passively. A calling station is a weak player who will go to showdown with a lot of hands, usually due to a lack of understanding of the game. It would be a mistake to try and bluff a calling station. Even if this type of player occasionally folds a hand because it is too weak to call a bet, there is still a very high probability that we will get called by a calling station even with hands that can only beat a bluff. So in terms of expected value, a bluff can never be played profitably against a calling station. Instead, when we have really strong hands we should bet more than we usually would as we have good chances of getting paid off.
TPW (Tight passive weak)
The tight passive player will only play a very small number of hands. Although there is basically nothing wrong with this characteristic, such players tend to play strong hands weakly by calling most of the time rather than raising or betting. So this type of player will often have the strongest hand in the beginning, but later on he will be drawn out by another player because he didn't raise or didn't raise enough to protect his hands against weak draws. Tight passive players are weak not only because they are predictable when it comes to starting hand selection (they only play premium hands), but also play them so cautiously that we as an opponent are under no pressure to fold. Hands with draw potential can be played very profitably against tight passive players because we will get more opportunities to complete our draw than usual. Moreover, we will often get paid off since our opponent will rarely have a bad hand.
TAG (Tight aggressive)
Tight aggressive players select their starting hands and play them aggressively. TAGs are usually strong players who want to get paid off when they have good hands and will not even contemplate playing marginal hands. We should avoid playing against TAGs with hands such as A-9 or K-T (depending on our position even hands such as A-J or KQ) since these hands tend to be dominated by the hands of the TAG, which is an unfavourable and undesirable starting position. Bluffs on the other hand will gain value against tight aggressive players since in general they will only continue playing when they have a really strong hand.
LAG (Loose aggressive)
Loose aggressive players have a much broader range of starting hands than a TAG, but they also play their hands aggressively. This kind of player is very unpredictable. LAGs will occasionally win very big pots because they may hold hidden monster hands due to their loose starting hand selection. On the other hand they invest chips in a lot of pots where they are often forced to fold. There are players who are very successful at deploying this tactic because they exactly know where they stand. This type of LAG is classified as strong. The majority of LAGs is however weak, will simply play too many hands, and likes to bluff opponents out of the pot. Strong hands should be played extremely aggressive against LAGs while monster hands should be played slowly as LAGs will do the betting for you (see "rope-a-dope").
Maniac (Loose hyper-aggressive weak)
The so-called maniac is a special type of LAG. Maniacs are loose and hyper-aggressive players who are either on tilt, i.e. are no longer able to play their best poker or have gained an incorrect understanding of the game. In contrast to LAGs, maniacs are weak, nevertheless dangerous, but they are still welcome guests. They will frequently and gladly push all of their chips into the middle to shock their opponents and have the potential to play every starting hand. Every once in a while they will win a very big pot, but most of the time they will simply pay off their opponents with their exaggerated raises. In the long run maniacs can be seen as ATMs. We should wait for a situation in which we have a strong hand to monster hand against a maniac and then either wait for his all-in or actually make a small bet ourselves as the maniac will often try to force his opponents out of the pot by bluffing.
But please note: We should avoid maniacs when shot-taking, i.e. trying our luck at a limit that is actually too high for our current bankroll. Maniacs will guarantee big pots in almost every hand, but won't necessarily lose every time. And even a maniac sometimes has a monster hand. So we need to show some patience or have luck on our site – otherwise we will quickly lose our own stack.