There are several ways to play poker and make money. Different players will approach the game with their own unique personality and style of play at the table. The style that you choose may depend on whether you are naturally aggressive, calculating, or intuitive. If you are particularly good at math and making calculations you may choose to play more of a counterpunching style like Chris Ferguson. If you are naturally aggressive or skilled at reading your opponents, you may play a style more similar to Tom Dwan or Phil Ivey.
More important than how you choose to approach the game in general, is how you approach specific interactions with different types of players. If you play a calling station the same way you play a shark then you are destined to go broke in a hurry!
The following is a list of the top 5 most common player types along with tips for exploiting each style of play.
Top 5 Player Types
1. Calling Station or Loose Passive
Calling stations are the easiest player type to beat. That being said, there are tons of them out there. Also sometimes called fish, calling stations are the low hanging fruit in the poker world. Calling stations play far too many hands, and they almost never apply any pressure. Basically they call and they call a lot.
The easiest way to recognize is a calling station is to look for a player who is playing way too many hands and is rarely or never aggressive. They also go to showdown too often.
The best way to approach a calling station is to bluff less frequently and play for value. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fire continuation bets against calling stations, but you should fire them less frequently and consider firing slightly smaller continuation bets vs. stations. Additionally you can look for thinner value. Essentially this means that you might bet for value with a top pair no-kicker hand on all three streets against a calling station, whereas this is generally not advisable against stronger opponents. Check out our top 5 no limit holdem tips for more information.
2. Rock or Nit
Most reasonable players fall on a spectrum somewhere between Rock and TAG, although pure rocks do exist. A rock is a player who plays a very tight range of hands, and usually plays them aggressively. The difference between a rock and a tight aggressive player is that a rock just about never bluffs.
A good way to exploit a rock is to steal his blinds all day long. When he does enter a pot, assuming you both have deep enough stacks (close to 100 blinds each) you can try to look for hands with strong implied odds and flop a monster against him. Hands like small pairs and suited connectors are perfect hands to take to the flop against an opponent who is likely holding AQs+ JJ+.
Hands like AQ and AK are often trouble hands when facing a rock. The rock is far more likely than your average opponent to show up with AA or KK when you hit top pair. Be willing to fold strong hands if the rock stays aggressive on later streets.
3. Tight Aggressive or TAG
A tight aggressive opponent plays a much wider range than a rock, but still a very tight range. The TAG player, unlike the rock, is capable of balancing his range by occasionally showing up with weaker hands in middle or even early position. A TAG player is also capable of firing multiple barrels with a semi-bluff, and a TAG is usually much more capable of extracting value in position.
TAG players are usually best exploited post-flop with aggression, or pre-flop with solid implied odds hands (just as you would exploit a rock). TAG players make money by beating up on weaker opponents who call too frequently.
Floating is a perfect way to abuse TAG opponents who are typically 1-and-done players post-flop. If you notice someone frequently shutting down after a single C-bet, look for a spot to float them on the flop and take it down with a bet on the turn or river. Scare cards are another excellent thing to look out for vs. TAG players, if a really threatening card hits the turn, try to take your TAG opponent off his strong one-pair hand.
4. Loose Aggressive or LAG
Loose aggressive players play a high risk, high reward strategy. Playing a LAG style of poker can potentially be one of the most profitable styles. The LAG player must be able to master the balancing act required to play a successful brand of loose aggressive poker.
Loose aggressive players raise more hands preflop, are more prone to double and triple barrel, and are more prone to bluffing in general. LAG players use their maniacal image to force other players to play back at them. If the LAG player is able to recognize when his opponent is playing back at him with a weak hand then he is in a position to win larger pots.
LAG players who have an understanding of the game are very dangerous opponents. It takes a great deal of practice in order to learn how to effectively battle against a LAG opponent. You can look for spots to put in large bluffs, essentially trying to out-LAG the LAG, or you can play value poker and rely on the LAG to inflate the pot for you. Ideally you should implement both of these strategies at different times so that you remain unpredictable.
Pick your spots well and understand that it will take time to develop a strategy that you are comfortable with for handling aggressive opponents.
A Shark is a player who plays TAG poker or LAG poker depending upon the situation. He switches gears easily depending on his table image, his opponents’ images, or the flow of the game. Sharks combine the best features of the TAG and the LAG player with a solid understanding of poker fundamentals. Sharks have every move mentioned in the article at their disposal and generally know when the best time to utilize each move is.
There really isn’t a great way to abuse sharks in general. You have to look for specific weaknesses or tendencies in the shark’s game. Some sharks will be more comfortable with certain aspects of the game and prefer to avoid others. For instance, a player might despise playing multi-way pots or playing out of position. If you notice a weakness in a strong player’s game, look to engage him in situations where he is uncomfortable. Similarly try to engage him in situations where you feel the most comfortable. In position, heads up, wet boards or dry, small-ball pots or inflated pots. Pick your spots well and attack when you feel you have an advantage.