Knowing opponents’ traits important in Poker

Every poker player has characteristics or traits that define how he or she plays their hands. Be sure to note your opponents’ traits and recognize your own. Changes may be made along the way so be prepared.

Tight players are extremely cautious in selecting their starting hands. The result is they muck most of the hole cards dealt to them. Their opponents soon identify that trait and adjust their play accordingly. When a tight player open-bets or raises, it is reasonable to assume that he has a strong hand. As a result, the tight player gets very little action when he catches a powerful hand; and he wins only small pots — not enough to make up for the cost-to-play which can be quite significant.

The loose player is just the opposite. He pays to see the flop much too often, investing his chips in too many weak hands. Sometimes he gets lucky and his long shot connects, but not often enough to make up for his frequent losers.

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A passive player rarely raises; he just goes along calling his opponents’ bets. When he gets lucky and connects to a monster, the pots are relatively small. In the long run, a passive player is bound to be a loser.

An aggressive player is prone to bet out and raise/reraise many of his starting hands. He is likely to win some big pots but also loses quite often. He suffers high variability (up and downs) and needs a big bankroll to sustain himself during dry spells.

Other types of players include deceptive players who enjoy bluffing and semi-bluffing with drawing hands. When they catch a monster, they often check-raise and slow-play with strong drawing hands to build the pot.

What about those loose-aggressive players? About 20 years ago, poker guru Dr. Alan Schoonmaker wrote a memorable series of columns in Poker Digest magazine. In one column, he explored loose-aggressive playing.

“You are going to lose money, perhaps a lot of it,” he warns. “You will be very welcome in almost any poker game.” Their opponents love to have losers in the game.

Why do loose-aggressive players lose? This applies to all such players, especially extremely loose ones. Dr. Schoonmaker explains that they must lose because they have the worst possible playing pattern: Being loose, they “give action, but don’t get it.”

They lose too much on bad hands, and do not get remotely enough profit from the winners. And they lose many pots by giving free cards that beat you, including bad beats.

Loose-aggressive players are bound to go home losers. So, what are the benefits? As Dr. Schoonmaker explains, they do not need to study their opponents, count the pot, compute the odds, “or do any of the tiring things that serious players do.” All they require is enough chips “to keep calling.” They “can relax and socialize at the poker table.”

What is my preference? My preferred poker trait is selectively tight-aggressive. Invest only in those starting hands that have a reasonable chance of winning the pot. More recently, I have added a bit more aggression.

A few words about Dr. Alan Schoonmaker:

Dr. Schoonmaker is our poker world’s most eminent poker psychologist. An amazing person, he has combined his love of poker, his psychology background and his writing abilities to develop some of the most widely-read poker strategy books. They are unique in that they are targeted to recreational poker players instead of the professional players. And Dr. Schoonmaker often helps me with my own poker columns. 

About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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