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Combating Different Poker Playing Styles

Dominic Field

Nov 17, 2022

Poker Playing Styles

There are four main playing styles into which the majority of poker opponents will fall. In this article, we’ll explain in detail the various player types you’ll encounter at the table. But perhaps more importantly, we’ll talk a little about how to effectively play against each of these poker playing styles.

Defining Poker Playing Styles

You can define your and your opponents' style of play by realising the most common betting patterns. The general breakdown of these patterns highlights the differences between tight vs. loose players and passive vs. aggressive.

Tight vs. Loose

A tight player is prone to playing very few hands that are very strong too. A loose player is almost the direct opposite of that, playing a considerable variety of hands. It's worth mentioning that tight and loose approaches do not necessarily reflect the style of someone's game but, more accurately, the range of hands they are willing to play.

Both tight and loose players can be aggressive and passive in their playing style, and this is why we also distinguish those aspects of one's style.

Passive vs. Aggressive

Whether someone is an aggressive player or a passive one depends largely on their risk tolerance. What characterises aggressive players is their willingness to put themselves in more risky situations, raising more than calling and making more unpredictable or bold moves.

In contrast, passive players will play more conservatively, avoiding too many confrontations.

So, by observing your opponents, you can recognise their preferred game style and choose your strategy accordingly.

Remember that the types presented here are only a starting point in your journey of learning about various poker player types. Many people mix styles or choose strategies that are new and less common. The best thing about poker is that it keeps you on your toes, but with more experience, you'll be much more successful in identifying these approaches and knowing how to deal with them.

The Four Types of Poker Players

When categorising poker playing styles, there are two things to consider. Firstly, how tight are they? How often do they get involved with pots, and what type of hands do they play? Secondly, how aggressive are they? So how frequently are they betting and raising?

You’re sure to meet all kinds of weird and wonderful poker players at the table. But when you boil down their different personalities, they can all be classed as one of the following four poker styles.

1 - Tight Passive

You may hear them described as “rocks” or “nits,” but Tight Passive players all have the same two things in common. They are extremely picky about their starting hands, happy to wait patiently for a premium hand before entering the pot. But they’re also quite afraid of action, rarely playing back at raises and constantly looking for reasons to fold.

If you can see that someone plays less than 20% of their starting hands, it’s fair to assume they’re tight. If they’re engaging with below 10%, they’re full-on nits. But it’s the PFR (Pre-Flop Raise) stat you should pay the most attention to in order to determine whether or not they’re passive. These players will play a lot of their pots by simply limping in, after all.

As poker playing styles go, the Tight Passive opponent is a pretty good one to have at your table. Particularly if they’re seated immediately to your left, as you’ll constantly be able to pick off their blinds. You should raise much more often from the button or small blind whenever that’s the case.

Another point to consider with this playing style is that Tight Passive players are difficult to bluff. Yes, they are scared of conflict. But if they are involved in a hand, they tend to have a monster. So continuation bets and outright poker bluffs are almost always pointless. They might not raise you, but they will certainly call you down a lot of the time.

2 - Loose Passive

Loose Passive Poker PlayersIn short, these are the best types of poker players to come up against. Like the Tight Passive style, Loose Passive players are also scared to go to war. They won’t bet and raise too often and if you see them 3- and 4-betting, you can assume they’ve got the nuts. 

However, the big difference with this playing style is that a loose player gets involved with a much higher percentage of holdings. As such, they’re not only playing strong hands like their Tight Passive cousins. They want to play constantly and take a lot of flops, plus they fall in love with their hands easily. Often, the Loose Passive player is new to the game and is something of a calling station.

These types of poker players are the most easily exploited. But whatever you do, don’t bluff them! They are extremely curious and want to play every hand to its conclusion. They’ll justify horrible plays as “keeping you honest”, so only bet when you have the goods. And be prepared to find yourself outdrawn often, too.

The best approach is to simply bet for value. This type of poker player is unlikely to be paying too much attention to your bet sizing. So do whatever you can to get the maximum value on every single street. And feel free to bet more thinly, since they're going to call you down with Ace high anyway!

3 - Tight Aggressive

The Tight Aggressive style is seen as the most optimal way to play poker by many students of the game. Although it’s possible to be successful with other poker playing styles, many of the world’s best are Tight Aggressive players. Particularly when it comes to tournaments. 

Those employing the TAG style will seize the initiative at every possible opportunity. You won’t find them limping into a pot and they call less frequently post-flop. Slowplaying is a tactic they rarely employ. And since they are tight, they don’t tend to bluff too often, favouring semi-bluffs where they still have plenty of outs.

Although Tight Aggressive players are usually experienced and well-balanced, you can still find exploits. For instance, since aggressive play works much better in position, they’re happy to give up their blinds more than you might expect. Just be careful when they come back over the top of you. Because, unlike passive players, they are smart enough to play back and make sure they don’t get pushed around.

Of all the poker playing styles, these are the most respectful of position. So you can certainly 3-bet a little lighter than usual against a TAG whenever you have a positional advantage. If you can take the initiative away from them, you’ll make them uncomfortable. Similarly, they like to make a lot of continuation bets, so bluff raising from time to time can be a profitable maneuver. 

4 - Loose Aggressive

The last of the four poker playing styles is the Loose Aggressive opponent. These guys love to play a wide range of hands and hate to miss out on any action. But because they are so aggressive, such a player is going to be betting and raising far more frequently. 

It’s important to clarify that playing loose with aggression doesn’t necessarily make someone a maniac. While these players do exist, and they play almost every hand, the Loose Aggressive player is smarter than the maniac. Their aggression is selective, rather than coming from drunkenness, being on tilt or other factors which can lead to maniac play.

A true Loose Aggressive player is probably not going to play more than 30% of starting hands. It’s just that they’re happier to play out of position and to push thinner edges than a Tight Aggressive player. And you can be absolutely sure that they’ll raise from the button every single time. 

It can be very hard to play against a LAG player, so the best strategy is often to simply switch tables. Especially if you are prone to tilting. But if you want to take them on, it’s best to do so post-flop. They are trying to exploit weaker players, so they’ll bet each street to encourage folds from players with marginal hands. But they too, only have marginal holdings a lot of the time. So if you’re brave and play back, you can emerge on top.

Finally, while slowplaying is almost always a bad idea, against a Loose Aggressive player it can pay dividends. Let them build the pot for you, whilst also maintaining an element of control. The last thing you need against a LAG is a rising war.

Why Do Players Use Different Strategies in Poker?

The why of it all is fairly easy to explain. After all, playing poker can mean different things for players, depending on who you're asking. Some just want to have a good time with their friends, let out some steam after work, and not think too seriously about the game.

Other players aim to improve their skills, win money in the process, and beat their opponents every time. Chances are, these two people will demonstrate different types of poker styles.

Sometimes, game styles will change depending on what type of opponents and hands you're dealing with. This is mostly true in the case of seasoned poker players, who are great strategists and can quickly recognise the playing style of their opponents and adapt to it.

But most often, the choice of poker play style will be determined by one's risk tolerance. Players' playing style is all about how they respond to the risks they're facing. Some people have a tendency to be more careful and passive when dealing with uncertainty, while others have more expertise and trust themselves more, resulting in loose aggressive betting patterns.

What Style of Play Should You Adopt?

First and foremost, it's crucial to remember there is no one-fits-all solution here. True, there are strategies more effective than others, but in most cases, the choice of the game style will depend on the hands you were dealt and the opponents at your table.

A winning player is often the one who can quickly assess the situation and match their strategy to what's going on in the game. For this reason, most experienced players often mix various styles during the play, staying flexible and responsive to their opponents' moves.

Saying that most people would agree that playing your hands aggressively is the best way to win the game. Passive players rarely achieve good results, sticking too closely to safe and predictable patterns. They are either afraid of making any bold moves or too inexperienced to conduct them. In a lot of scenarios (especially when they are tight players), they'll engage only if they have strong hands pre flop, so it's good to be mindful of that.

One of the best poker player types is the TAG style, which focuses on getting the maximum value out of your good hands.

Poker Playing Styles: Conclusion

So there you have it—four basic poker playing styles any poker player should be aware of. You should now understand the four main poker playing styles and know how to respond to each one. The key is to figure out quickly how tight or loose they might be, or how aggressively they bet and raise. Once you have that information, it becomes very easy to exploit your opponents at the poker table.

Different Types of Poker Players FAQs

How many poker game styles are there?

There are four main types of poker players: Tight Passive, Loose-Passive, Tight Aggressive, and Loose Aggressive. They are known under different names, including Calling Stations, LAG, Rock, and TAG.

What does "aggressive" mean in poker?

In poker, an aggressive playing style means that you're willing to play hands a lot more often than calling or checking. You're prone to facing more risks at the table.

What is the best poker-playing style?

As a tight game is recognised by many as a very important factor in poker success, the TAG style of play is thought to be the best poker playing style. Tight Aggressive players play aggressively but will avoid too many bluffs and put themselves in less favourable positions.

Such an approach may not be ideal for every single situation at the table, but it's effective enough to make this strategy a reliable one for many professional and amateur players.

What is the most profitable poker style?

TAG strategy offers the highest rates of success, therefore being the most profitable poker style.

What playing styles do professional poker players use the most?

Similar to previous questions, the answer is the TAG approach. This strategy is considered to be the most effective and reliable, so many professional players adopt it in their game styles.

It's important to mention, though, that it's not the only successful strategy one can incorporate. Some players have a considerable amount of success with the LAG style of play as well (although it can be a signal you're dealing with an inexperienced or intoxicated player, so it's imperative to take the context under consideration).

The common denominator is the aggressive strategy, which prompts more unpredictable betting patterns and getting outside of your comfort zones. Most winning players stick to the TAG style, but you will encounter some that engage in the Loose Aggressive style as well.

What is a donkey player in poker?

A donkey player in poker is a player who makes a lot of mistakes. These players are inexperienced and don't have well-thought-out strategies. They may avoid folding when they're dealt weak hands, or gamble with incorrect odds. These players are usually very easy to spot by more experienced players.