Poker playing styles

Poker playing styles

In this article, we are going to review the main existing poker playing styles and the methods of their identification. Poker is not just a simple card game, it is a game between people where cards are involved. As you progress and acquire poker skills, you will come across situations in which you really understand how convincing this statement is.

Regardless of whether you play online or live events when you keep watch over opponents’ decisions you can catch some kind of tendencies both psychologically and emotionally, that eventually will help you to determine the best playing style against them.

You must have often met such a concept as LAG or TAG in poker. This refers to a definition of playing style at the table. But if you even figured out that LAG is a loose-aggressive player and TAG is a tight-aggressive one and there are also the tight-passive and loose-passive players, it doesn't mean you fully understand the essence of this concept and know how it could work for your benefit. In this article, we will help you to understand not only who TAG is in poker, but also we tell you how to play against this type of player as effectively as possible.

Poker is a play of observation. For this reason, the first step towards the identification of players’ style is an observation for their common tendencies. Such a factor is a key element for achieving success in poker.

The studying of opponents’ tendencies is considered mandatory, particularly if you are planning to become a winning player. Each action made by opponent means something. Why did player make x-raise from that position or just call? It should be highlighted again and again that you must always keep watch overplay, particularly if you are not in the play (that can be in most cases) in order to understand what your opponents are thinking about and how they will act.

Poker players can be divided into two main categories that would determine their poker style. These categories are tight style against loose one and passive style against aggressive one.  

Tight style against loose one

The first category depends on the starting hands selection:

  • The tight player usually plays a small number of only the strongest hands.
  • The loose player plays a wide range of hands.

The title of “tight” or “loose” refers to the selection of starting hands and not the manner of their playing. Everything depends on the fact whether poker player will play with narrow (tight) hand range or wide (loose) one. Generally, the cautious players choose the tight style because of fear to lose their entire stack. The loose play in poker is more “creative”.

Passive style against aggressive one

The players’ passivity or aggression lies in their readiness to take a risk.

  • The passive players try to avoid confrontation and play with a fear to lose.
  • The aggressive players make the raises more often than calls and are not afraid to jeopardize their chips.

The opponents’ passivity or aggression also depends on your play against them.

How to determine the player’s style?

When you keep watch over your opponents you can classify them based on the facts that you see.

The first thing to do is to determine the type of opponent: tight or loose. If the opponent folds the most part of his hands, you should assign him to a tight category. If he has a tendency to play a large number of hands, then it means that this player chose a loose poker style for himself.

The next stage is to determine his passivity or aggression. Does he make a call or check more often than raise or bet? Then you should assign him to a passive player category. If he makes a lot of bets and raises, it means that this player is an aggressive one.

Based on the above-mentioned categories, we can identify the 4 main playing styles:

  • tight-passive
  • loose-passive
  • tight-aggressive
  • loose-aggressive

The knowledge of these common characteristics can help you understand the opponent and his cards. If a loose-aggressive player makes bets and raises, that doesn’t mean he has a strong hand in contrast with a tight-passive player. He seldom makes the raises and re-raises and does it only with the good hands.

Let’s consider 4 main playing styles in more details:

What is a nit in poker? Usually, a typical tight-passive player doesn’t play many pots. He calls preflop in the case where he is dealt a favorable hand.

If the attentive opponents notice him at the table, nobody will enter the game on his initiative, that’s why the tight-passive player will not be able to earn money with a good hand. Such types of players are called a “rock” or a “nit” and their common playing style may also be considered as a “weak-passive” one.

They are easy to be bluffed. Often, they fold weak or even middle-strength combinations on a doubtful board and seldom make the bets themselves because of fear to lose.

Those players who figured out the weak and predictable opponents would always search for situations where they could exploit them just because the tight-passive players fold too much against aggression.

The loose-passive players like to limp in many pots. They call raises just to see the flop and they stay in the play each time they hit something even if these cards are inferior. They rarely take the risks or become aggressive; they pertain more to be a “calling station”. Their approach to the game is to watch and let the other players take a risk. Particularly often these players are found among newbies and they play on micro-limits.

It is easy to identify the loose-passive players and also make them your target. It’s better not to try to bluff the calling stations but if you have a strong hand you should bet for value and get benefit from them.

Usually, the tight-aggressive players do not play many pots. They are selective and mainly play the strongest starting hands. Compared to the tight-passive players, the tight-aggressive ones will play their cards firmly. They are patient and wait for a good opportunity to strike and also they are not afraid to make the bets. The best TAGs are often called the “sharks” because a tight-aggressive playing style is usually an effective one regardless of the betting structure or changes in play.

The most observant opponents will avoid a confrontation with TAGs because they will consider that their hand is the strongest one and will fold under the pressure.

The loose-aggressive player will raise or re-raise with a large number of hands on preflop and will bet on the most flops. It is extremely difficult to make reads on them because they play a fairly wide range of hands. There are very experienced poker players in No Limit Hold'em who applies a loose-aggressive style fairly effective. They use the chips as a weapon and constantly put pressure on their opponents. They bluff with a high percentage and it is difficult to play against them.

However, there is a “maniac” at the very end of a loose-aggressive category. Apparently, he makes the raises unreasonably. The maniac’s tendency to overplay his hands means that you will probably show a profit in the long run against such players’ type.

Here is a question that is often asked by online players: “How to determine the opponent’s poker playing style in accordance with HUD data?” It’s quite simple to do so. In order to roughly determine the player’s style you only need to know his main stats such as VPIP (the frequency of entering the game), PFR (the percentage of preflop’s raises) and AF (the aggression factor). Usually, all these indicators are in all the standard HUDS.

For example, those players who choose a tight-aggressive style use quite a narrow starting hands chart and usually play only the premium hands. It means they seldom enter the game but in the meantime, they play their hands aggressively. That’s why their VPIP is low but PFR is quite large.

Our simple table will help you to roughly determine the opponent’s playing style in online poker.

If you have sufficient quantities of the hands played with an opponent, then you could draw some conclusions about him.

Once you assign the players to a particular category, then you are ready to move into the next stage - to determine the degree of their cunning, or vice versa its absence.

It's not always easy because the players often drift between the trick and total frankness. Nevertheless, it is a very important step because since your assigning opponents to a particular category you can begin to interpret their action more accurately.

For example, let's suppose that a tight-aggressive player makes a raise on preflop from early position. If it is a “straightforward” tight-aggressive player, then you can assign him a strong hand such as a premium pair. If you figured out that he is very tricky, then he could bluff or semi-bluff by raising with two strong cards or with an ace.

The main key is an observation. You really need to keep watch over players and pay attention to their tendencies. Also, you should understand what type of the players your opponents are and what kind of decision they tend to make. It helps you to play more profitable.

Keep in mind that poker is an aggressive game, especially with regards to Holdem. If you don’t want to be an aggressive player you shouldn’t play at all or at least don’t expect to win. There are plenty of conflicts in poker and this game is not for the weak. That’s why an aggressive poker playing style is very important for success.

It is the main point of the game we're dealing with when start to play. We try to “beat” the other players and to get the money. Jack Straus once said: “I will bankrupt my grandmother if she plays poker with me”.

There are obvious moments where it is good to cheat or just simple to call a preflop with a premium hand or make check-call of a strong hand on the postflop. Even the aggressive players do it, but the big difference is in the fact that they mix their game, unlike the tight-passive players who just only make calls, although they should probably make a raise because of fear to lose. According to the popular proverb: “Nothing ventured, nothing gained”.

The main disadvantage of a passive style is in the fact that you could win the pot only with the strongest hand. The aggressive poker playing strategy gives you 2 methods to win the pot – when you have the strongest hand and when you force your opponent to fold the best hand and to give up the pot.

For example, with the application of an aggressive poker style on the preflop you could continue your aggression by betting that depends on the flop’s cards. You will often win the pot even without hitting the board.

We have already discussed the importance of aggression and the reasons why it is almost always considered to be the best poker decision. A good solid strategy with tight and aggressive play has usually rewarded a profit. There are experienced players who successfully adapted a loose-aggressive style in the game. However, a tight-aggressive approach is usually the most profitable for most players. This style is considered undoubtedly to be the best method for newbies because it teaches good habits such as patience and discipline. A tight-aggressive approach also works well as “default position” and players often get a strong skill when start playing this style.

Finally, you should choose the style that is both the most profitable and appropriate for you. The playing style in many ways is determined by your personality out of the table. Some people can play in a manner that is unusual for them in everyday life, but most people will get back to the habitual type. That’s why our best advice for you is to determine the style that works well for you and also to gain experience.

It is important to note that the best players adjust their style to the opponents and circumstances. If you play at the table that is full of the tight players, you should feel more confident and play loose, but if you play with aggressors then tight play will be the most effective strategy.

You should always keep watch over the opponents’ play and action and also adjust your playing style if it’s necessary. That's what good poker players do.

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Sunrise Editor
Cardmates journalist, news editor and translator since 2016. Specialization: poker news and review of events.
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