Characterizing Your Poker Opponent

Characterizing your opponent is probably one of the most important things you before playing a pot with them.  By characterizing I mean defining how your opponent plays, is he passive? Is he aggressive? Is he tricky? Is he good? Etc

Aggressive vs Passive Poker Players

The most important characterization you can make on your opponent is whether they are aggressive or passive. Aggressive opponents bet frequently, bluff frequently and generally make your life difficult. Passive opponents are much easier to play against; fortunately, most weak players are passive players and will be a great source of your profits in poker.

Passive players rarely bluff. Think the fish that just calls all the time, or the regulars that are weak and tight. These players usually only bet when they have a hand. Likewise, when they raise you when you bet, they almost always have a monster.

By characterizing your opponent as passive before you go to the flop you will avoid making some big mistakes against them post flop. In order to beat these players all you have to do is value bet against them and avoid paying them off when they start playing aggressive. When a passive player starts acting aggressive they have a big hand.

Against aggressive players your decisions become trickier. In general they will put you in more tough spots and make it hard for you post flop. A good aggressive player will value bet and bluff with close to optimal frequencies and will make it hard for you to call down with marginal hands. Against these players there is no way to combat them, just look for weaker players to play against.

However there are some kinds of aggressive players who are over aggressive. Against these players you will want to use their aggression as a weapon against themselves. To beat these players all you have to do is make decent hand and decide to call down (Almost no matter what comes off)

In real terms though, most players will fall somewhere on the passive/aggressive scale and you should tailor your ranges accordingly. The easiest players to beat are obviously the ones at either end of the spectrum, their biggest leaks will either be:

  • Over aggressive: Betting and bluffing too much.
  • Passive: Only betting and raising when they have a strong hand.

Apart from the aggressive and passive characterization I like to make several other sub categorizations.

Aggressive Fish – Pokers Most Lucrative Players

The aggressive fish is my favourite type of opponent to play against. Sometimes these players will have a high VPIP/PFR, other times they will have a high VPIP and low PFR. What makes this player easy to categorize is that they tend to do stupid things post flop. Mainly, they love to bluff and they bet with hugely imbalanced ranges.

Against these players the best way to beat them is to make a strong hand and slow play against them.

Other times their leak will be that they are aggressive but they also cannot fold a weak hand against your aggression. These are the rarest fish of all and they always go broke quickly. Against these players you should just try to make a good hand and then play it fast.

How to Make Money from Passive Fish

Passive Fish are the easiest player type to play against. They are categorized by their high VPIP and low PFR. They also frequently have a low aggression factor, high WTSD and low W$SD.

In general you will want to avoid bluffing all kinds of fish. The biggest leak of the passive fish is that they will call down with weak hands. In order to beat this player, just make a fairly strong hand and value bet large.

Passive fish rarely ever play aggressively. Whenever a passive fish takes an aggressive action (For example: limp re-raising pre flop or check-raising the flop), warning bells should start going off in your head and you should consider folding your hand or at least proceeding with extreme caution.

How to Beat Weak Tight Regulars

Weak tight regulars tend to play decently pre flop. They will raise and call with a good range of hands, they may also 3-bet with close to optimum frequencies. That being said, the biggest leak of the weak tight player is that they play scared post flop.

Weak tight regulars are commonly seen on almost all micro stakes and low stakes cash game tables.

Weak tight regulars are generally scared of calling 3 streets without a strong hand. Some will have a high fold to flop c-bet, against these players you should c-bet very frequently.

These players are all fairly passive in nature, especially when they took a passive action post flop. IE – Any time they call pre flop and raise your bets post flop, you should proceed with extreme caution. Chances are your opponent will have either a good draw or a very strong made hand.

The main weakness these players have is that they don’t like playing big pots with medium strength hands. In order to beat these players, take lots of stabs on the flop and follow through with aggression any time you think they cannot stand the heat.

Likewise, when the weak tight player has the initiative, they will generally not bluff all that often. They may make stabs on the flop, but they will rarely if ever commit to a 3-barrel bluff. Weak tight players are often the best candidates to float, they will raise pre flop, bet the flop and give up on the turn when they don’t have anything. Against this type of player you can call the flop and take away the pot on the turn or river.

Combatting the Tight Aggressive Regular

TAG’s are hard to play against. They will play a strong range of hands pre flop, but unlike the weak tight regulars, TAG’s will follow through on the turn and river very frequently.

Against good TAG’s there is basically no counter to their strategy. They know their ranges are strong and they bet them accordingly. Because a TAG’s range is strong overall, they can get away with bluffing very frequently. Often you will be in a spot where a good TAG triple barrels and you are flipping a coin. It almost doesn’t matter what you do, you lose no matter what. They will be bluff sometimes and value betting a lot of the time also. There is no good result.

The biggest tip I can give you for playing against good TAG’s is simply to play a strong range of hands. There is simply no counter to a good winning tight aggressive regular.

Playing Against Loose Aggressive Regulars

LAG’s are interesting to play against and perhaps the hardest type of player to categorize. The reason for this is that there are many different types of LAG player with different pre flop and post flop styles.

The biggest leak of the LAG regular is that they often play too many hands from various positions. Against these players you can exploit them by 3-betting them with a balanced range. However, you do need to be careful. Just because someone is playing a wide range of hands, doesn’t mean they will always fold that range when raised.

Other LAG’s will play a style of something like 25/20 at 6-max. In my opinion this style is close to optimal pre flop. They will raise a wide range from late position; play fairly tight from EP and cold call not too frequently.

Good  LAG’s like good TAG’s will have fairly balanced ranges post flop and it will make calling them down hard to do profitably.  In order to beat these good regulars you will just have to out manoeuvre them. Call them down when they are unbalanced and have lots of bluff. Bluff them when you think they cannot stand any pressure.

The easiest type of LAG to beat is the over aggressive post flop LAG. Against these players you will want to make a good hand, then just close your eyes and keep clicking call.

Conclusion: Summing Everything Up!

The most important takeaway that you can get from this article is not to pay off passive players when they start acting aggressive.

Likewise, when you are playing against aggressive players be prepared for some variance and call them down when you have to.

At the end of the day it is all about balance, ranges and frequencies. If you understand your opponent’, you will be able to change your play to best exploit their imbalances.