What are the Main Types of Poker Players? Part I
There may only be five actions in poker – check, bet, raise, call and fold – but how often, and in which situations you choose to do each of them helps to classify you as a player-type. Are you only comfortable playing the strongest hands preflop? You are tight-aggressive or, taking it to extremes, heading into “nit” territory. Raise with any two and constantly applying pressure? You’re loose-aggressive; without control, you can drift into becoming a maniac.
To gain a better insight into the vagaries of the game, one must start at the very beginning. Download WPT Global today to your device to get yourself started.
In the next two blogs we’ll look at the main player types you’ll come across at the table, and see how to identify them by their patterns of behavior:
- Tight-Passive: The Rock
- Tight-Aggressive: The TAG
- Loose-Passive: The Calling Station
- Loose-Aggressive: The LAG
- The Nit
- The Maniac
- The Shark
- The Whale
- The OMC
Tight-Passive: The Rock
To play tight means to play a small range of hands. To play like a rock is effectively choosing to sit out unless confident in the strength of your starting hand or made hand.
To play passively is to initiate action (raising and betting) infrequently, while calling and checking much more. A rock does both; they will patiently fold all but the strongest starting hands (whether preflop in hold’em or straight away on third street in stud games), and even then will act with caution unless holding the nuts (the best possible hand available in a given situation) or a draw to the nuts.
A true rock will rarely, if ever bluff, making it easy to read bets for what they are – a genuine sign of hand strength. Making a “hero fold” is much easier against a rock than other player types because if they are playing under 10% of hands, and checking or calling with all but nut holdings, a show of resistance or a rare aggressive action will set off alarms. This is especially true on the river (when ranges tend to be polarized).
Playing passively generally is not advisable for many reasons (you don’t build pots when you make a strong hand, you don’t give yourself the opportunity to win hands often without showdown with semi-bluffs or bluffs), and experienced players will spot a rock after a few orbits at a table.
Tight-Aggressive: The TAG
Tight-aggressive play should not be confused with the patient, predictable behavior of the rock. In poker, “tight” is not a pejorative term. When combined with controlled and balanced aggression, the TAG style becomes tough to play against and many professional players “switch gears” to incorporate shortening and widening their preflop ranges.
A TAG player may generally only play in the region of 15-20% of hands (more if playing short-handed), but pots they enter, they contest. This means that you’ll rarely find them limping in preflop or cold-calling raises (especially out of position), but opening with raises themselves and putting pressure on opponents in a way that their passive counterparts do not. This means that their pre-flop raise percentage will be much higher, even though they may not be playing many more hands overall than tight-passive players.
Beginner players are generally pointed in the direction of tight-aggressive play as being the best style to emulate at first. Incorporated in it is a keen awareness of the power of position – an overall VPIP (standing for Voluntarily Put In Pot – a measure of how often a player invests chips in a pot without being forced to i.e. in the blinds) of 25 doesn’t mean that those chips are being invested under the gun at the same rate as they are on the button or in late position. It is much easier to make decisions with the benefit of seeing how your opponents have acted first.
Good TAG players incorporate bluffs into their play along with the advantage that comes with playing selectively, and in position more often than not. This makes them harder to exploit than other player types.
Loose-Passive: The Calling Station
It is easy to identify the loose-passive players at a table: they will be the ones involved in a high percentage of pots, combining a passive style with a reluctance to fold down the streets. This combination of qualities is a recipe for losing money in the long term, for a number of reasons.
Overly loose play preflop, especially in early position, makes for tougher decisions on later streets. That nagging urge to see every flop (just calling others’ bets and raises, not making aggressive action) leads to both a slow leak in chips and the likelihood that an inexperienced player will hit “a bit of” a board – like second pair, weak kicker – and be unable to stop paying off other player's larger value bets.
Many beginners learn by doing – playing every sort of hand in every position and seeing what happens – but they tend to do it passively with “call” being their favorite button. The biggest mistake to make against this type of player is to bluff too often. Making a sophisticated move that would get the best LAG scurrying to fold simply will not work against a loose-passive player. More often than not, the frustration of being called where most players “should” be folding, is the bluffer’s own fault. Identifying this player type – and trying to stay away from becoming it – is key to making easier money in poker.
Loose-Aggressive: The LAG
Having noted the characteristics of the other three playing styles, it’s easy to recognize those of the last of the four major styles: the LAG. Loose-aggressive players play a lot of hands aggressively, that is to say they will bet, raise and continue to put pressure on opponents throughout betting rounds frequently. Unlike TAG players, their preflop range (the number of possible hands they will play) is wide, incorporating medium-strength and weaker starting hands with the expectation that if they hit, or find themselves in a good bluffing spot, they will be able to maximize profit in hands.
Just as “tight” can refer to both good and bad players, “loose” does not necessarily mean uncontrolled. Playing a high percentage of hands preflop, for example, does not mean playing any two cards from any position.
An experienced LAG player to one’s left can be a thorn in the side: there they are, raising a wide range in position, ready to stab at pots at any sign of weakness and taking advantage of opportunities to win hands with flop and turn bets, rather than getting to showdown. On a table full of tight-passive players, a LAG will hoover up chips simply by being more aggressive.
In the next blog we will look at the other common types of poker players, including the Nit, Maniac, Shark, Whale, and OMC.