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Poker Strategy: Knowing Your Opponent

Poker Strategy: Knowing Your Opponent
by Loki Luchs of

Many people wonder how they can learn more about their opponents. Since we're all different, how is it that we can categorize a person’s style of play in the short time that we spend playing with them? While every person plays in their own style, there are two factors that are usually considered when you are trying to understand how they play. The first factor you need to figure out is what kinds of hands they play. There are some players who will play every single hand, regardless of what they have. These players are usually called “loose.” By knowing that a loose player will play any two cards, you can assume that on any given hand, they probably don't have much pre-flop. Some players, however, are very selective about the hands they play. These players are referred to as “tight.” A tight player usually plays premium hands that are more likely to win the pot. If a tight player is playing, they usually have a strong starting hand.

The other main factor that you want to consider is your opponent’s betting style. Some players are afraid to bet or prefer to let other people do the betting for them. This betting style is called “weak.” A weak player usually doesn't initiate betting. In many cases, they will call any bet you make, but will very rarely bet into you. The opposite style of betting is referred to as “aggressive.” This betting style prefers to bet or raise on any given action. An aggressive gambler usually will start the betting cycle and will often raise the action.

One of the most important things to realize is that there are MANY winning styles in poker. However, they have to be used at the right times! Some styles are (generally) considered to be better than others.

The first style of play is a loose, weak gambler (LWG). This type of player is often referred to as a “calling station.” A calling station plays a wide variety of hands, but doesn't usually bet when they make their hands. A calling station is easy to identify, because they are the ones who are loose enough to call pre-flop with a 3-6 off suit and will typically make river calls with bottom pair or ace high. This is not usually considered a winning style of poker. In rare circumstances, though, it can be. If you are playing in a game with all loose-aggressive gamblers (players who also play any two cards and bet regardless of whether they made their hands), you may be in an okay situation. Your opponents will be betting on nothing most of the time, so if you hit a hand, the typical LWG slow-playing may let you be a winner. This is, again, a rare circumstance. You generally don't want to be a LWG. To beat a calling station, the best strategy is to have a real hand. Don't bother to bluff because they'll call you with almost anything.


Another style of play is called tight/weak (TWG). This player, usually called “a rock,” plays only the absolute nuts. An easy way to identify a rock is by paying attention to which players haven't played a hand in two hours. If this player raises preflop, they usually have QQ or better. Being a rock can be a good way to beat a table full of calling stations. If you're only playing the best hands, you're going to win most times when you do play. This makes the rocks very predictable. The problem is that if you're not betting into the pot (or everyone folds WHEN you do), there isn't going to be much money after your long wait. Another problem with being “a rock,” is that if you start with AA, you might have problems folding when you're beat. As most experienced players know, pocket rockets are usually good for winning a small pot or losing a big one.

A third style of play is known as loose/aggressive (LAG). This is easily the most dangerous style in poker. A loose aggressive player, also called “a maniac,” might have any two cards on any given hand. They will also be betting any two cards on any given hand, regardless if they have a monster or a 9 high. The obvious benefit of this style is that it makes them almost impossible to predict. By keeping the weak players folding, the LAG wins a lot of small and medium pots by sheer aggression. Also, when maniacs inevitably make a real hand, they usually get paid off because they bluff so often. Furthermore, when they make a huge hand with that 3-6 off suit, it’s likely that they will break the rocks who have waited so patiently for their pocket aces. The problem with the maniac’s style of play, however, is that they stand to lose a lot of money on any given session. Since they're playing almost every hand, they're fighting every other player who may be patiently waiting for real hands. When they win from bluffing, they win less money from the smaller pots than the pots they lose when they get caught. Another big flaw for a maniac is when a calling station keeps calling big bluffs with just enough to win. None-the-less, this is still a very common style of winning play. Many top professionals choose this form due to its frustrating affects on their opponents. In tournaments, many players will play a LAG style so that they will either get an early chip lead or get knocked out early enough to spend time in the lucrative cash games that come together. The risk of getting knocked out doesn't bother these players because it keeps them from spending 3 days trying to make the money, only to get knocked just before the money.

The final common style of play is also one of the most effective. A tight/aggressive gambler (TAG) is generally a formidable opponent. They are generally patient enough to wait for the premium hands and always bet/raise when they are in the lead. A TAG plays enough hands that the opponents’ will give credit during a bluff, but also wins the majority of the hands that they show down. Looser players make bad river calls or loose pre-flop calls only to lose or fold, maximizing the profit of the TAG. This is a winning style of play in most cash games and tournaments. Most professionals recommend that novices learn to play this style first, before branching off into different styles. The danger is the same as the rocks, where it is often a maniac with a real hand that is going to cripple them. The best way to play against a TAG is to avoid showing down without having a real hand. Bluff less against them when they are betting into you, but don't be afraid to take a stab at the pot when they check to you. A good TAG will let you have a small pot when they miss a hand.


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