Sunday, November 20, 2011

Categorizing Categories

The most important step in RED-i is the first one: Reads. And one of the most basic building blocks to becoming a great hand reader is the ability to categorize your opponents. If your opponent is a LAG, for instance, his opening range UTG is going to be very different than that of a Nit placed in the same seat. The same type of difference is true when you raise in EP and get cold called by a TAG in LP versus when you get the same response by a 40/5 calling station; the two calling ranges are radically different.

But how does one categorize all the different types of villains at a table? Without specific reads, notes, or tells on an opponent, we don't have a lot to go on. Therefore, we have to start with some gross generalizations, and then narrow down our reads from there as we accumulate hands and see how each player acts in different situations.

For instance, things like initial buy-in stack size can be a big hint. If someone buys in for 50bb at a 100bb online game, more often than not they are weak-tight players. If they buy in for 20bb, however, they just might be professional short-stackers. Also, do they have the auto-rebuy feature turned on? If so, they are more likely to have a clue about the game than someone who doesn't.

Or imagine that you sit down at the local casino and the player to your right is a septuagenarian with a worn-out VFW hat squeezed onto his bald head. Without knowing anything else, you can probably assume he's going to play a very different style of poker than the twenty-something kid with the neon Cardrunners ball cap tipped on backwards. Will this be true in all cases? Of course not, but it's more often correct than not. Stereotyping your opponents like this is a reasonable bootstrap method to start the long process of reading and ranging them.

So why bring this up? Answer: I recently watched a training video in which the pro stated there were six basic types of players you can face at a poker table:
  1. TAG. These guys are the traditional "regs" or regulars you see online. They often have 6+ tables open, and they're playing a very tight-aggressive style. A typical set of stats for this player is 20/17 at 6max table, and 14/12 at a full ring. They tend to be very positionally-aware, so putting them on a range in EP is relatively easy. LP, however, is a different story, as they open up their game and steal relatively widely. This style of play is considered the "best" for most aspiring professionals looking for solid, relatively low variance win rates. 
  2. LAG. These guys can also be regs. Stats are in the range of 24/20 at 6max and 18/16 at full ring. The numbers can be higher, but as you begin to creep too far upward, the variance of their win rates tends to get large, and you often see these guys crash and burn due to tilt. That said, this is the style of play that returns the greatest win rate-- if done properly. Again, if they're winners they will be positionally-aware, but the range of hands in EP is significantly wider than their TAG brethren; they're capable of raising UTG occasionally with suited connectors and gappers in an effort to balance their range. By far, these are the hardest players to go up against. FWIW, I consider myself a (non-optimal) LAG player, with typical monthly stats in the range of 27/20 at 6max.
  3. Nit. These guys are also known as "rocks" or "nut-peddlers," with numbers down around 10/8 and below. You can usually steal mercilessly against them, but watch out when they enter a pot. Putting them on a range is relatively easy, and playing against them is even easier. They'll tend to make steady money over time, just not from me :-)
  4. P-Fish. The "P" in this label stands for "Passive." The more traditional name for these guys is "calling station" or "ATM"s. They're easily spotted by big gaps between their VPIP and PFR. Numbers like 30/10 and 45/5 are typical. Putting them on narrow range can be challenging, as they often show up with middle or bottom pairs, under-pairs, naked Aces, etc... The secret to playing against these guys is to take them to value town when you hit; they make calling mistakes, so bet them hard when you have a hand. They can't be bluffed, however, so be careful.
  5. A-Fish. The "A" in this label stands for "Aggressive." They range from standard A-Fish all the way up to Maniacs. Typical stats are 45/35 or 60/40. Ranging them can be tough. Like a P-Fish, you generally cannot bluff them. Unlike a P-Fish, however, they don't tend to make calling mistakes. Instead, they make betting mistakes. If you have a hand, let them take the lead in betting and value-own themselves.
  6. Unknown. Self-explanatory. You have zero stats on this guy and don't know how to play him or her. As a default, I assume they're somewhere between a P-Fish and a TAG until proven otherwise.
I need to think about this more deeply, but at first blush I kind of like this approach. There is no single type of P-Fish or TAG (because players fall on a wide, continuous spectrum of possibilities), but these six types seem to match my experience at the micro- and low-stakes tables.

Of course, these stereotypes are not the end-all/be-all when ranging your opponents. Notes, tells, reads, and detailed stats are much more important. But until you've played a thousand-plus hands with someone, these six categories aren't a bad place to start, in my humble opinion.

All-in for now....

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