"UNDERSTANDING AND LEVERAGING PLAYER STYLES"
Learn Texas Holdem poker and how to quickly read a poker player's "style" and you'll be amazed at how it massively boosts your profits. There are basically four different poker playing styles, which can be determined by observing:
Let's start out by understanding the diagram shown in Figure 1.1 below, which shows how to determine a player's style of play.
First, a player who plays relatively few (typically only premium) starting hands is termed "tight", whereas a player who plays many more starting hands is termed "loose".
The second factor to consider is their betting style; that is, whether they tend to be more "passive" and just check/call a lot and rarely bet or raise, or they're instead much more "aggressive", tending to bet and raise quite often.
As we can see here, the combination of the number of hands played and betting style is used to "type" a player. Watch players closely and you'll typically see a pattern emerge in their overall play and be able to type them fairly quickly.
Figure 1.1 shows a "target play zone", the overall area that good players should strive to maintain their play. Most pros will play Tight-Aggressive, with occasional forays into the other quadrants to mix things up and keep everyone off balance, guessing about what they'll do next.
Let's discuss each of these styles in a bit more detail, ensuring you can recognize the styles of play (including your own style, or "table image").
This is the typical "amateur" play style, since these players like the action and just want to play and have fun, playing just about anything that's remotely playable. These players are sometimes referred to as "fish", since they're easy to defeat. They'll often just Check or Call with even marginal hands like Ace-trash, low to medium pairs and they'll call just about everything, hoping to pull something out of thin air. These players are also sometimes termed "calling stations", since they'll call most anything.
Bet into these players whenever you have a decent hand. If you bet too much, you'll probably scare them out, so bet just enough to keep them in the hand, contributing to the pot size and "milking" them for whatever chips you can get them to put in at each stage (flop. turn, river).
Be careful trying to bluff these players, though, as their "calling station" tendency could backfire - if you do bluff them, attack them very aggressively with a significant Bet / Raise in order to effectively bluff them.
These "weak" players are typically fairly easily beaten. They just hang out waiting for great starting hands and big flops, and then they come after everyone all of a sudden. When these players seem to suddenly "wake up" and start betting significantly, get out of their way, unless you have a strong hand, since they probably have a good-to-great hand (that's about all they'll play, since they don't like risk-taking).
These players can "survive" a long time since they don't risk many chips at all. These players are very easy to bluff out of a pot, since they're highly risk-averse (avoids risk-taking unless they have a real, strong hand). These players tend to play "honest" - betting roughly in proportion to the strength of their actual hands, making them easier to read.
This style is typically referred to as the "maniac", since they'll aggressively bet or raise with just about anything and they play far too many starting hands, using their aggressive betting style to make up for their lack of good hands.
Be very careful when you encounter these types, as they can quickly injure you. Since they play so many hands, you never really know when they have a trash hand, a real hand, a draw or a monster. Players like Gus Hansen use this style very effectively, yet can be beaten several different ways, as we'll discuss in a lot more detail in the "Beating Aggressive Players" lesson. Basically, remain patient and figure out how to get under these players' skin and trigger their aggressive response systems, doing so when you're holding a great hand, and they'll often bet heavily into you, exposing most or all of their chips to you!
So, now it's time to discuss our preferred style of no-limit Texas Holdem play: Tight-Aggressive. These players choose their starting hands carefully, and instead of "limping in" (check/call) to see a flop, they'll either Bet or Raise significantly if they do play or just Fold without seeing a flop at all.
On the Turn and River, they'll usually make aggressive Bets/Raises when they hit their hand. These players are typically only risking their chips when they have a strong hand. When they do bet, they bet heavily and quickly build a significant size stack by winning just a few key hands.
This style is easy to spot, so you'll quickly get typed by the other players using this style. To address this, you must occasionally shift quadrants (as shown in Figure 1.1) to throw players off, and deliberately playing as if you're a "maniac".
By raising smartly with strong hands, and then mixing it up occasionally with nicely-timed bluffs, semi-bluffs and blind-stealing, you'll be able to keep your opponents off balance, never knowing what to expect from you.
Truly understanding these poker player styles is essential to winning. Knowing your own style and "table image" is important, as it'll help you predict your opponents' moves, and ensure you profit and win bigger every time that you play.
The "Language" of Poker Bets
We humans are very perceptive creatures. We are able to communicate in many different ways with one another. By saying something, by saying nothing, by shrugging our shoulders, by winking, delaying, etc. These are all forms of communicating and it happens all the time in Texas holdem poker.
Do you realize that when you place a poker bet you are actually communicating something to the other players? Understanding what you are communicating with your betting, and understanding what the other players are communicating with their bets is one of the cornerstones of good poker play.
By mastering this form of poker communications, you will find yourself becoming a truly formidable poker player. If you ignore this betting language, you will consistently lose - it's as simple as that.
When a player calls, it often just means they're limping to see the next card with the hope of improving their Texas holdem hand. When a player checks, it typically means they're not too happy with their current hand, and would like to see another card before making any move. Yes, they could be trapping, but that's the exception, not the rule.
When a player bets, they're communicating that they like their hand and they want some action, so they're risking more chips in order to take control of the action or just take the pot. Whether this communications is "real" or not depends - upon what style of player they are: tight, solid, loose, maniac, etc. and how this player communicates.
If you've been paying attention (like you should be), you'll have a pretty good idea of how "honest" this player typically communicates (bets/plays). Aggressive players who play a lot of hands and raise a lot to drive people out of pots can be generally considered "dishonest" and can't be trusted to communicate (bet) honestly.
Tight/solid players are relatively honest, usually betting more in accordance with the true strength of their hand, making them easier to read most of the time. Learn to read these different player's betting signals and you'll be amazed at how much your game improves.
Decide how "honest" or "dishonest" you want your betting signals to be that the other players are reading from you. Try mixing these signals up a bit so the other players can't quite tell what to expect from you and it'll help by causing them to make more mistakes against you, resulting in bigger winnings.
Now, let's have a look at an example situation. Let's say you're in a game with 9 people at the table, and on the button, so you'll get to act last and have the most information to work with. Your starting hand is good, but not great, such as a 67 spades-suited connector. The action comes around and half of the players have dropped out, and several players have limped in. You go ahead and limp in as well, wanting to see the flop like everyone else. The flop comes: 4s, Jc, 9d - not exactly what you'd hoped for. The first three players check. The 4th player throws out a bet of 3 times the big blind. So, where are we?
Ignoring your hand for just a moment (since we're talking about betting and communicating - right?), everyone except the 4th player communicated that they didn't really like the flop, then the 4th player placed a decent bet. Is he trying to steal the pot or does he now have a pair of Jacks? Since we've been watching these players' style of play all along, and we quickly realize that this is a fairly tight player, we would correctly conclude that this basically "honest", tight player has hit that pair of Jacks.
On the other hand, if the 4th player had instead been playing loose with lots of bets and raises, stealing many pots and pushing people around quite a bit, then they can't be trusted since they're fundamentally "dishonest" with their betting communications patterns.
See how this works? Now, about your hand. You need to fold either way here, since the odds of you making a flush or straight aren't good, and there's an overpair of Jacks that's possible and likely based upon what's being communicated (and someone could also be trapping that checked, too).
So, what are you communicating with your bets? Are you even thinking about that? Before you fire out a bet, you need to consider what "message" you want to send the other players, and make sure your intended message gets through, in order to affect the other players' actions and control the outcomes more often.
What are the others communicating to you with their bets? What kind of "communicator" are they? Honest or dishonest? Consistent or variable? How much do you believe what they're telling you? Are you really listening, or just looking at your own hand too much?
So, Betting Is Communicating. Become truly fluent in this "poker language" and you'll be amazed at how much it boosts your winnings.
Rick Braddy is an avid writer, Texas Holdem
player and professional software developer and marketer for
over 25 years. His websites and
Texas Holdem poker software specialize in helping people
become better Texas Holdem poker players. If you're a poker
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