If You Can’t Adapt, Adopt

April 25, 2013 Matthew Ebner Poker psychology

Every game has its nuances. Some play tight, and some play slow. Some are full of beginners and some are full of action. Some games are all about the money and others are played just for fun. One of the hardest skills to acquire as a poker player is the ability to adjust to the game at hand; the ability to tighten up in certain spots and play aggressive in others. For some it is natural and others impossible to learn. Luckily if you play your cards right you don’t have to.

Sometimes it is better to choose the game that suits you, rather than suiting yourself to the game. Picking the game is actually pretty easy. The hard part is assessing what type of game is best suited for you. It is just as important to read your own game, as it is being able to read the other players at the table. Being self-aware goes a long way in game selection and knowing when to get up once the game has changed is equally important.

Every player is unique, however many of us put ourselves into categories. The most used descriptions are tight, loose, passive, aggressive, math based, psychology based (read based) and maniac. You probably describe yourself with at least one of those words. After determining your style of play, the question becomes what game is best for you.

Tight/Loose

Each game has tendencies, tight players like loose players, and loose players like loose players. Nobody wants to sit in a game where everyone is waiting for the nuts. Some ultra aggressive players will say they like playing in tight games, but in reality if they wanted 90% of hands to end pre-flop they wouldn’t play so many. So if every type of player wants an action game, where does the difference come in? It isn’t about the individual players as much as the culture of the entire table.

Tighter players want to be in games where 3 or fewer players are going to the flop each hand. They want to be able to continuation bet even when they miss and know that in most instances they are betting with the best hand. Tight players are more geared for cash games where the stakes remain the same and patience is rewarded. A tight player likes consistent players who stick to a certain style and can be predictable.

Looser players want to be in games where multiple players see each flop. Ideally most hands are limped or small raises are made and the majority of the action happens post-flop. Looser players understand that they play enough hands that they won’t hit every flop and want to be a part of as many hands as possible so that when they do hit, they can get paid. Looser players may want to avoid limit games and take advantage of games where all the money can go in on their big hands.

Both tight and loose players should also be aware of the other players around them it is advantageous for both to be to the right of tight players and the left of loose players, but tight players may find it advantageous to sit to the right of loose players and limp re-raise when the opportunity strikes.

Passive/Aggressive

Most avid poker players describe themselves as aggressive. They describe other players as either being weak (passive) or maniacs (super aggressive). The truth is that people do this in all parts of their lives, they consider themselves the mean, people are either smart or dumb and you generally fall slightly above average. For this article I consider players who check draws and call with sets passive and those who bet and raise with these same hands as aggressive. There are exceptions and this is only a small sample of what these words encompass but the point is to try to label yourself as a certain “type” of player.

Passive players tend to wait until all the cards are out before placing or calling big bets. They lose hands they might otherwise have won and don’t throw away chips on long shots. Ideally passive players want to play in games that are pot limit in nature. They can control the size of the pot early and exploit it late. Passive players are targets in tournaments, but because of the aggressive nature of most players, early on they may actually gain an advantage through their play. However as the stakes rise, their chances of success plummet. Passive players do especially well against maniacs.

Aggressive players like to lead the action and to get the last bet in on every street. They want to gamble on coin flips and push draws. Tournaments are structured for their nature where stealing antes and blinds becomes essential. Certain aggressive players have trouble adjusting when playing at a table with both passive players and maniacs. It is important to know when two players may be squeezing you. Both players may have weaker hands than you individually but together may have you drawing virtually dead. If you have a straight flush draw you are close to even money against an over-pair or a higher flush draw; but against both you lose a lot more than you win.

Math/Psychology

It is important to have both a mathematical understanding of cards and a psychological understanding of people when playing poker, but players commonly divide themselves into one camp or the other. There are game structures advantageous for math players that minimize the psychological factors and games that rely less on pure stats and more on situations.

Math players can play on the computer at multiple tables at once or in real life at a home game or casino. Their game doesn’t change much from venue to venue, just so much as the numbers dictate. Math players would be wise to stick to limit games; it decreases variance and makes all decisions monetarily equivalent. Certain math players like tournaments because there is added value in many situations that are counter intuitive to most individuals. However cash games decrease variance and present equal value situations from hand to hand. Math players may also prefer games like seven card stud where more cards are seen and more calculations can be performed.

Psychological players are best off playing short handed, ideally heads up. The fewer players in the game, the more hands they tend to play and the more decisions they have to make. In short handed games it is more important to know if your opponent will call or fold in a given spot then what cards they may have. The advantage obviously goes to psychological players in pot limit or no limit games. Bluffs are much more effective when the outcome is more significant and not just paying off one more bet.

Conclusion

It is important to understand all of these game styles. You will play against all of these types of players at one time or another. But adjusting to your opponents is only part of the game; an even bigger one is playing to your own strengths. Whether tight, loose, passive, aggressive, math based or read based; you can win. My best advice is to do what comes naturally.

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