Poker Strategy: Player Types

Jason Lake

Saturday, February 8, 2014 6:48 PM UTC

Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014 6:48 PM UTC

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 opponents.

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Why Abandon ABC?

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 the world.

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.

You’re So Typical

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 much industry-standard.

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 fair amount

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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Balance Schmalance

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 you by.

“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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