Knowing Your Opponents
There are many types of Texas Holdem Poker player, and, of course, many levels of experience between those players. Texas Holdem the card game is similar to pushing spaghetti around a plate – some will get more, others will get less and the house always takes a slice. The statistics of cards over time dictate that we all have the same opportunities. The key to maximizing our potential gains is to quickly identify your opponent type and skill level. If you can correctly identify your opponent then you will be able to alter your playing style to maximize your win, and just as significantly, minimize your loss.
Let’s review the various playing styles that you will come across in an average Texas Holdem Poker cash game. Players will either be:
- Tight Players
- Calling Stations
And within these styles you will find a range of aggression that goes from passive to aggressive. What follows are some strategic hints and tips to help you play against each form of poker player in an online environment.
Rocks are the most common type of Texas Holdem Player. They are the easiest to beat and usually are inexperienced new players who think the game revolves around the cards that are dealt. It’s also the most natural playing style and so you will come across them regularly. These are the people you should look to play against. Controlled aggression is the way to proceed. Bet at these players when flops look ugly and they’ll most likely fold. If they re-raise you in return, step aside and let them take the hand, coming right back at them next round. A rock who has been sitting folding the last 20 hands, only to come out betting, is the easiest read of all. If you can’t see them coming then I’d suggest you take up a different game.
Tight players are usually battle hardened. The difference between a tight player and a rock is that they understand the need to come out more often, with the occasional bluff here and there. More importantly they usually use the time spent sitting out, to identify opponent characteristics in order to play their weaknesses. The best of all players sit in this category – Tight Aggressive No Limit Texas Holdem players need to be identified early on and avoided at all cost. Find one and you should re-examine your table selection (yes you should move table). Real life examples of this type of player would be Howard Lederer and Erick Lindgren.
Calling stations present an interesting playing style and are the second most common type you’ll find in online poker. By definition fairly weak, these players rarely take the initiative and thereby have to rely on the luck of running up against an aggressive player while holding the nut or near nut hand. More often than not these people will lose because they are:
1) Playing their cards and not their opponent
2) Have no initiative
3) Regularly rely on card catching strategies
It’s worth pointing out at this stage that card catching is a bad idea in almost any circumstances (except as part of a semi-bluff play).
Maniacs are a rare breed of player seldom seen in low limit or tournament Texas Holdem Poker games. They have no fear of losing, indeed it’ll look like they want to, and it is this that sets them apart from most players online today. Difficult to play against, these opponents rely on your fear of losing your stack to gain chips. Often seen with large chip stacks relative to the table, Maniacs will bet large regularly, and whatever hand you choose to play, it is likely that you will have to be prepared to go all-in with it. No card catching against these opponents – if you try you will be punished.
The identification of Maniacs is easy, as is your assault on their playing style. Clearly the weakness these players have is that they are susceptible to large pocket pairs (AA, KK, QQ, even AK). The difficulty is that you will likely have to wait a good number of cards before you get to play such a hand. Maniacs are far from stupid (they often evolve in experience terms from Rocks or Calling Stations that have read Doyle Brunson’s Super System books and progressed from there. To hit them properly you have to either get lucky early on with the big pair or play enough cards so you are not identified as a waiting Rock (obviously you don’t want them to get out of your way when the time is right).
If you beat an aggressive Maniac once, you’ll find they go on Tilt really easily, which provides further opportunity for the brave. I recall hitting one for $800 from $200 in 3 hands because he went all-in 3 times in a row with no cards at all. He incorrectly judged that I would fold rather than re-stake my entire winnings on each of the next 2 poker hands. Fortunately for me they were fairly solid starting hands in the circumstances but I can tell you it’s not easy going all-in pre-flop for $500 with just King Jack. I’d be mad to do that in any other circumstance but I felt I had a good read on the player type and his hand which turned out to be 92 unsuited didn’t stand up.
Hopefully you’ll observe playing styles and look to pick off Rocks and Calling Stations. If you come up against a tight (particularly Tight Aggressive) player, with no other easy to beat players around, you should move on. I’ve been at many tables where the poor players have lost and left, the good ones remain, and one off those triggers the table’s break up by saying “no easy money here, the only winner will be the rake, lets move on.” If you’ve not had this said to you, or you’ve not made the statement yourself then consider that you may be a fish.