Once you’ve learned ABC poker, it’s time to
take off the training wheels. The next level of poker strategy is all about
your opponents and what makes them tick.
Our first article about poker strategy laid
out a relatively simple set of concrete actions for you to use – ABC
poker, in the parlance of our times. We say “relatively” because everyone
in the game, whether it’s online poker or live poker, is at a different level
of understanding. If you haven’t learned what streets are yet, you’re not going to be able to implement ABC poker
right away. That’s all right. Nobody was born knowing the alphabet.
Eventually, though, you’ll have mastered
ABC poker. You’ll have a feel for which hands are good to open from which
positions, when you should fold, when you should raise, and so on. Are you at
that point in your game? Excellent, because it’s time to chuck all that out the
window. The next level of poker strategy isn’t about you – it’s about your
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While you’ve been out there doing your
thing in the NLHE microstakes jungle, you’ve probably noticed that different
players tended to act in certain ways. Many of them were opening incessantly
from every position, and when you got to see their cards at the showdown, they
were opening trash hands. Others were hardly opening at all, and would fold
right away. And still others were betting and raising like it was the end of
Playing ABC poker acts like a buffer,
protecting you from losing too much money while all this chaos is happening
around you. But once you see the patterns, you realize that your opponents have
certain weaknesses that you can exploit. On top of that, more experienced
players can see the ABC pattern in your own game, and sure enough, they’ve been
exploiting you in turn. It’s time to change all that.
In a way, the act of profiling your
opponents has its own alphabet. We tend to stick with a handful of stereotypes
at first; once we get comfortable with this, we can break our opponents down
even further and focus on more specific mistakes they make. For now, let’s go
with five common player types that are widely used in NLHE poker strategy.
Different people might call them by different names, but the following list is pretty
Fish: Players who call too much
Donks: Players who bet and raise too much
Nits: Players who fold too much
TAGs: Short for Tight-AGgressive. Opening a fairly narrow range, folding
a fair amount
LAGs: Short for Loose-AGgressive. Opening a fairly wide range, betting a
The first three types are the players you
want to identify and go after. The other two types are less mistake-prone and
should be avoided when you’re an early-intermediate player. There’s been
something of a debate over the past decade whether it’s better to be a TAG or a
LAG, but it’s kind of a red herring. In poker, it’s always preferable not to
have a type at all. You don’t want your opponents to predict your actions, even
if your actions are “right.”
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So how do you exploit those weaker players?
Well, fish call too much, so your emphasis should be on betting for value. Make
bigger bets with stronger hands and let them call you with their weaker hands.
Donks bet and raise too much, so when you’ve got a decent enough hand, you can
often trap them by checking and letting them bluff into you. Do not bluff fish
or donks. Save bluffing for nits, who fold too much. There are more
sophisticated strategies you can learn for each type, but these basics will get
“Hey, won’t this make me predictable?
Shouldn’t I be more balanced?” Ah,
you’ve been reading ahead, haven’t you? These things only really matter when
you’re facing more experienced players. Fish, donks and nits are at a point in
their poker development (or lack thereof) where they can’t recognize your
strategy and exploit you. That’s why you should focus on taking their money,
and avoid games with better players. Why punch above your own weight if you
don’t have to? Don’t be greedy. Be patient, and keep learning.
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