Saturday, April 28, 2012

Player Types - Part 1

Poker is a game of incomplete information. We have limited facts upon which to base our reads. People are actively and constantly trying to deceive us. We don’t always know why someone is betting, checking, or calling. Are they bluffing, or do they have the goods? Do they want us to bet, or are they afraid if we do? Everyone wants you to believe the opposite of what they’re actually doing. In other words, poker may be a game of incomplete information, but this is just another way of saying that it is ultimately a game of deception.

To cut through all this duplicity and start putting players on hand ranges, we have to start by sorting our opponents into different categories. The problem, however, is that there are all manner and variety of players that we encounter at the tables. There are reckless cowboys, timid calling stations, clueless amateurs, and skilled young professionals. Ages range from the very young to the very old. Skill levels also vary, as do the amount of table time a player has under their belt. Some players are aggressive, while others are passive. Some play straightforward ABC poker, while others think FPS and bluffing should be part of every hand. Some players fold nearly every hand that they are dealt, while others almost never fold before the flop.

It seems that there are as many different types and tendencies of players as there are people. Yet if we could somehow sort all these different players into a few basic categories, we’d have a leg up on the process of putting these players on hands. Professionals do this initial “sorting” based on a number of factors, but chief among these are the actions they observe their opponents make at the table. A good pro can figure out what category a player fits into in just a couple laps of the table. They then continuously refine and adjust these initial reads from that point onward. In other words, they pigeonhole their opponents, which allows them to start to understand the types of hands these opponents are likely to play in various situations. As the game progresses, the professional is able to make more and more accurate reads based on this information.

So if we want to learn how to do this "sorting" of players, how do we get started? What are the basic categories of players we'll face? In my humble opinion, there are seven basic subsets into which we can slot our opponents. And these seven categories are based primarily on two actions* that are very easy for us to observe and take note of at the tables: 1) how many hands they play; and 2) how aggressive they are with these hands.

These two numbers are of course "Voluntarily Puts Money Into the Pot" (VPIP) and "PreFlop Raise Percentage" (PFR). In the next blog post (here) I'll tell you what the seven categories are, and I'll explain how these two numbers factor in. Then we can start assigning hand ranges to each player type, and then start formulating ways to counter and attack them.
Understanding who we're playing against--and what their strengths, weaknesses, traits, and tendencies are--is one of the first steps in learning how to beat them.
All-in for now...
*There are obviously other important factors we’ll add to these two as we learn how to make reads (e.g., tricky vs. straightforward, positionally-aware vs. not, playing with "scared money" vs. not, etc.) but we’ll start with these two very basic factors at first: VPIP and PFR.

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