Know your opponent. It’s a rule of thumb in any kind of controlled conflict in which people are pitted against other people, from chess and sports to war tactics and political debates. Poker is no different. As you become a more regular player, you’ll begin to notice that poker players often fall into categories of playing style, and if you learn to recognize these characteristics, you will find your ability to read an opponent improve immensely.
“It’s a great battle, and it really is a battle, and there are people from all walks of life, you know, never judge anybody at the table: A man can be the greatest poker player and he might know all the numbers, but he might get beaten by a really savvy kid who works in a grocery store; and that’s what’s so great about this game.” -James Woods.
The most important thing you can do when learning this game is simple: pay attention. Players will often switch up their style, but overall, they’ll have tendencies, and they’ll show them eventually. Most experts agree that playing styles can be broken down into two groups, and players are made up of a combination of these groups. They are tight vs. loose and passive vs. aggressive.
Tight Players: These kind of players usually only play a small amount of hands in a game, and those hands are usually good ones.
Loose Players: Predictably, loose players are prone to playing a much higher number of hands in a game.
Passive Players: Usually more timid players, passive players won’t take as many risks.
Aggressive Players: These are the raisers at the table. They play like they aren’t afraid to take risks or make bluffs.
Being familiar with these 4 playing styles is just the beginning of understanding the different kinds of players, who are usually combinations of those 4 traits.
Tight-Passive Players: This player, often called a “rock”, is the kind of player who doesn’t bring much action to the table unless they’re holding a strong hand. They aren’t known for being bluffers either, so if a tight-aggressive player is playing their hand, be very careful.
Loose-Passive Players: These players, often called “fish” are considered one of the easiest types of players to beat, so you should spend your time learning how NOT to be a player like this if you want to be removed from the “fish” category. Known for playing a lot of hands, and making calls simply to see the flop, these players don’t take risks, and aren’t big raisers.
Loose-Aggressive Players: One of the more difficult players to play against, as they are often wildly unpredictable. They play a lot of hands, and are prone to raising and re-raising. These are also the most likely type of players to bluff, which can lead to their downfall by more skilled and patient players who recognize their patterns.
Tight-Aggressive Players: This player is often the most patient at the table, and like tight-passive counterparts, won’t play that many hands. They’re likely holding out for an unbeatable hand, and when they get it, they’ll bet aggressively to pressure less confident players out of the hand. It is this type of player that earns the “shark” moniker, so if you’re at a table with them, you’ll be handing them most of your chips unless you play your best.
All these types of players have their strengths and their weaknesses, and one of the best skills you can develop is learning to recognize the different types at your poker table.
“If you’re playing a poker game and you look around the table and and can’t tell who the sucker is, it’s you.”
– Paul Newman