Player Of The Month
July 30, 1986
Full Tilt Poker
The online phenom they call "durrrr" was relentless in his pursuit of success, and was constantly challenging himself and his competition to become more proficient. After having his first losing year in 2009, Dwan came back in 2010 looking better than ever. Currently the online pro, and newest member of Team Full Tilt, is up over $3 million dollars in online earnings for the year.
Defining a poker player is a tough task. Not because it’s hard to find the right diction, but because the characteristics of poker players vary so differently. While there are certainly defining traits, regardless of where a person fits along the spectrum they usually don’t stay there for long. Because poker tends to be an evolving sport, our best hope is to create a general guideline for the types of villains we can expect to encounter at the felt.
With poker becoming more and more popular we’re witnessing growth in the number of people participating both online and in live poker settings. It’s exciting to see both the population of recreational and professional player types surging, and with the progressing statistics comes the need for a well thought out plan of attack. When you sit down and play a poker session, it helps to define a player by his habits, and then put them in a general category which you can then recall for future decision-making. There are endless amounts of qualities for the modern poker player, but here we’re going to comment on some of the most prevalent.
Arguably becoming the most common type of player you’ll notice in a typical poker game, the ABC player has taken what he’s learned from reading books, magazines and watching television and applied it to his repertoire. They understand many of the basic concepts of poker strategy; they play hands of immediate value, they play hands with implied odds and they also exercise knowledge of position. They likely know that betting is better than checking, although they may display glimpses of both aggression and passivity at times. For the most part, they comprehend that poker is about having quality hands and playing them with confidence, although they may not be overly concerned with balancing or adjusting their play.
While it seems mean or even misguided to categorize a type of player with an age group, more often than not you’ll find older players (maybe 40 and up) playing this style, or a slight variation of this style. We definitely don’t want to take that generalization too far, however.
ABC players exude the necessity to make consistent gains, and fortunately enough for them this strategy is usually enough to make them a winner. Depending on their competition, they may even become a big winner over time if the player pool they’re involved against is very weak.
One of the problems involved with being an ABC player, however, is that it’s very exploitable. While the average recreational live player may not notice your tendencies, the smartest players in a game have little resistance in attack an ABC player’s biggest weakness – predictability. Usually when an ABC player bets, they have a hand, and good players can exploit this by simply folding, or playing back when they know their hand is stronger. ABC player’s rarely (if ever) bluff, making them easy to read. It’s not that their strategy is terribly flawed, but it lacks the creativity of other styles that apply maximum pressure on opponents. It’s also worth noting, that while ABC players can make money long term, their win rate isn’t close to what the best players at their stake are earning.
If you believe you fit in this category, the best advice would be to simply mix up your play, but not to extremes. Playing an ABC style is a great starting point, and if you can build on some of the habits you’ve learned you can become a big winner. Try mixing in more bluffs in spots where you could easily represent a hand but taking a similar line. Utilize the image of an ABC player – rarely bluffing. If the other players at your table have a firm belief that you never bluff, take advantage of their trust by deceiving them. You shouldn’t go bluffing all the time, but hypothetically you should be able to get away with it much more often because of their faith in your predisposed playing style.
On the flip side, take advantage of the ABC player by staying out of trouble. They’ll win a lot of small pots, but you’ll win the bigger ones that they can’t get away from.
More formally known as the tight-aggressive, this player usually has a firm recollection of various poker concepts, including a few more in-depth topics such as three-betting, equity calculations, and poker odds. Growing in number as well, players who have worked their way through a few different stakes and have mastered the basics of poker are now looking to start maximizing their profits. Because they no longer worry about making standard decisions such as hand ranges or bankroll restrictions, they’re free to focus on more intricate and valuable information such as player tendencies, hand-reading, and game selection. While every player has a weakness, what separates a TAG from several other players is that he or she is usually able to dissect the problem analytically and correct it.
As their name indicates, you’ll be able to spot a TAG by their aggressiveness. Gone are the days of limping into pots, calling passively and slow-playing. While they will still use these tactics, their primary weapon is betting. They’re not afraid to open raise, three-bet in position, or re-raise a continuation bet because they having an understanding of what their opponents are holding, and the frequency at which they’re holding it. Their aggression tends to win a lot more pots, and the pots they win are often much larger because of their inherit desire to inflate it.
It’s not that the tight-aggressive player is always bluffing – he’s just much more aware of his surroundings and prefers to put pressure on his opponents and steal pots because of their unwillingness to continue without a great hand. Being a TAG has become one of the most effective approaches to becoming a winning regular, and remains as the most popular player type amongst professionals today.
But you wonder there must be a downside to being a TAG? Of course! There’s a downside to almost everything. Smart TAGs are capable of minimizing their weaknesses, but there can be a few glaring characteristics that are hard to avoid.
Because tight-aggressive players have a unique formula for success, they can sometimes have trouble straying from it. For example, because they know so much about ranges and positional advantages, they can construct strict ranges for themselves which they rarely deviate from. While it’s difficult in and of itself to know exactly what hands a TAG is betting with, smarter players can estimate and analyze a TAGs range with good enough accuracy to exploit their tendencies over time.
Some TAGs also can’t help but to be too aggressive, which can also be a costly mistake.
Overall, TAGs have tremendous upside by maintaining a winning strategy any staying out of trouble. Great TAGs capable of playing well both pre and post-flop will be wildly successful. In order to lift your game into the level of the professional, you’ll likely require a bit more overall knowledge of the game, familiarity with deep meta-game concepts and most importantly experience. Most of your time should focus on theories away from the table, so in-game decisions become trivial.
Exploiting the TAG is a bit more difficult, because they appear to have most things under surveillance. But as we’ve mentioned, no player is perfect. Use this player’s aggression against him; slow play a bit more, play small ball poker and trap when necessary. To really get inside their head, try to construct hand ranges for them by watching their open raises from position. You can use this information to make decisions on what you should do both pre and post flop when they make an aggressive decision.
TAGs are capable of making folds if their aggression is mimicked or they face resistance, but use this approach with restraint.
Arguably the most profitable way to play poker, the loose-aggressive player copies many of the characteristics of the TAG but with one obvious difference – they play more hands. Playing “loose” simply means you’re more willing to get involved with a speculative hand, but because of their fortitude to gamble they become much harder to predict. A creative and talented LAG is capable of doing it all – play post-flop, pre-flop, fold and extract thin value – and these traits are required because their tendency to play hands of modest strength will put them in much tougher positions. Playing hands of questionable value before or after the flop require a well thought out plan, and in order to manage this strategy effectively you should know how to react in almost any situation.
It’s a nightmare to play against this type of player, because their style frequently requires adjustments, and they rarely implement one fixed scheme. While a TAG will also adjust, LAGs do this much more consistently because of their opponent’s adjustments to them. Most people at the table hate the LAG because he’s always involved in pots, rarely backs down and is hard to pinpoint. In turn, even on the driest or seemingly harmless boards the LAG could be holding the nuts because they’re capable of having many more possibilities. They either lose moderately, or win a boatload of cash, making them extremely dangerous.
Ultimately the LAG player type should be the model of what players should strive for. You’ll maximize your deception and your profits because most players will have to make well thought-out adjustments to counter your style. If played efficiently, only the most keen observant can counter what you’re doing.
Nonetheless – and I’ll try to put this as nicely as possible – many players will fail at playing the LAG style effectively because it takes a complete understanding of poker knowledge and player tendencies, along with other facets. Experience is the best friend of the LAG, but this can come with an enormous price tag and steep learning curve. If you have the time, patience and bankroll to take your game to the next stratosphere, certainly do it. However, there are many other styles that are profitable and easier to employ, so if you feel more comfortable elsewhere don’t feel obligated to reach this level.
Countering the play of a loose-aggressive opponent will be tricky and cumbersome. But what you should notice immediately is that they prefer to play a lot of hands, and they play many weak ones. You should take advantage of this by 3-betting them religiously, because if they have a weak hand, they should be more willing to fold it. Good LAGs will adjust to this approach, but it’s a nice beginning to getting them to slow down.
You’ll need to pay attention to more subtle details of a LAG’s game, especially their continuation bet frequency. Weird inconsistencies such as playing a lot of hands (which are mostly weak), and then c-betting a lot is a bad correlation which we could easily exploit by 3-betting the flop or floating.
One of the toughest adjustments you’ll likely have to make (but won’t like) is calling down LAGs with modest to weak holdings. They’ll be putting pressure on you to fold, but you’ll often have to take a stand to avoid becoming exploitable yourself by folding too much.
Long story short – professional players have it all, and then some. They play a multitude of games, study away from the table, have experienced nearly every situation and explore even the rare possibilities. In order to become professionals, they had to have crushed the game for awhile, and in order to do so you need to be a complete player.
Professionals, while they do stand out from the bunch, aren’t always immediately recognizable physically, or even through their playing style. Professionals come in all different shapes and sizes, but remaining consistent is their results. They’re long term winners, be it in the cash game or tournament scenes, or a combination of both. You’ll find them everywhere, because they play full-time and they often move up or down in stakes. Since they do this for a living, they need to be where the action is, and depending on the table or environment they could play for several hours spanning into days if the conditions are profitable. They can easily sense an exploitable opportunity, and professionals pounce on these chances because they’re aware that can be slim and far between.
To fit in this category, you’ll likely need a particular set of skills and determination to become the best player you can be. Motivation is the key reason that professionals progress through their careers, as the grind of poker can become tedious and daunting. The money and fame is glamorous, but the lulls and bouts of fluctuation can drive a person insane.
Mental and physical health is a must for the professional, as the long hours can take its toll on the body. They’re so well-versed in in-game strategy already, that they ultimately become more concerned with maintaining their edge and not growing complacent with their results.
It could appear that the Iveys, Dwans and Dukes of the world have it all under control, but even world-class players have room for improvement in the advancing niche that is poker.
Saving the best for last, a fish is defined by having less than adequate knowledge of the game of poker (to put it mildly). Known for their questionable play and behaviors, this is usually the easiest type of player to recognize. They may not understand even the most basic element of poker, such as small and big blind, or they may find themselves acting out of turn. They don’t always have to be novices, and they can even be regular players who just never understood the appropriate approach to the game. Regardless of their experience, these types of players will almost always be losers over the long haul, and will typically be the short term losers at your table too.
It’s a reality that fish will be any experienced player’s best opportunity to make money. While the terms origin is a bit uncertain, its assumed that the term was handed down from the poker term “shark,” otherwise known as a very skillful player. Sharks typically feast on fish in the aquatic food chain, and you could make a strong argument that this is where their correlation began. Looking at things another way, fish are easily reeled in by fisherman – a loose metaphor for good players extracting value from a poker session.
While every player should realize that they need to get involved in hands with a fishy player to make a profit, you’ll want to proceed with caution. Yes, even fish can be dangerous or elusive if you throw out inappropriate bait. Because fish can be overly aggressive, too passive, calling stations, and a multitude of other bad traits you should put these players in one of those category to know how to proceed against them. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach for bad players, since they can be dynamic in style you’ll want to adjust by playing in a way that completing contradicts what they’re trying to do.
In example, if you’re playing against a fish who clearly hates folding when he hits a piece of the flop, you shouldn’t be bluffing this guy much. Think about it – if his primary goal is to get to showdown to see if he has the best hand, why would you allow him to prove himself right? It may sound nitty, but never bluffing the calling station would be the perfect approach. We would want to extract maximum value, because when they have a hand we’ll have a better one.
On the flip side, if you were against a fish that plays too aggressively, or takes the LAG image way too far, you will have to comfort of waiting for big hands, or alternatively making really light call downs. Since our fish enjoys betting, even when they don’t have anything, we’ll need to adjust by deciding whether or not our hand is valued enough to commit to. We’ll need to go with our instincts a lot, but it should pay off since our opponent is a pure maniac.
I believe that even the worst fish with the most terrible habits can become strong players, but it summons the most effort and resolve. Many aspects of a fish’s game need to be revisited, and it may take awhile for them to work out all the kinks. As a good starting point, they should follow some fundamental guidelines for hand strength and positional awareness. Bet sizing is also a big tell for a fish, so restructuring how they wager will be beneficial to their improvement overall.
Exploiting a fish isn’t hard, but you should know which types of fish are in your game first. In general, play more pots with them, bluff less and fold more when a player who is typically quiet finally starts betting into you.
I hope most of this information was useful. And be sure you work on your game so you don’t ever stay in one category for too long! Keep evolving, and you’ll become an expert at the game of poker in no time.