Based on the results you get by playing cards, it’s easy to classify poker players into three groups: The broke, the in-between folks & the poker millionaires. The first group is always looking for a new stake, the folks not quite there are trying to rise to the high stakes – the poker millionaires, well, they just usually destroy their villains at the tables and own a few souls. Just look at KingPampo on the stream dominating some mixed games: At some tables, it feels like his villains don’t even have any fighting chance to begin with!
Seriously speaking, how do people end up in each of these groups? The one thing you want to avoid is going broke, but this still happens in the online poker scene. It could be due to sloppy bankroll management or playing against tough opponents (most likely both). On the other hand, what if you prefer an aggressive strategy and love to make big bluffs – but then end up firing three bullets with air against totally clueless calling stations? Well, you sure as eggs aren’t going to end up being a poker millionaire, and it’s unlikely you’ll make money playing the game. You could say that’s like playing paper against a scissors even if you know your villain loves playing scissors a lot. Poker success requires you to adapt your strategy to your current table conditions i.e. putting round blocks into round holes.
Now, is there something you can do to avoid going broke in poker, and potentially take a small step towards being a successful player who wins big money at some point? Absolutely! And this is the reason we wrote this article: To explain the different types of poker players you’ll come across at the poker tables, what are the weaknesses of each type that you can attack & how to bag more chips at the end of the day. Remember, poker is all about the small statistical edges – let’s move forward to help you gain some:
Why do players use different strategies in poker
There’s a wise saying in poker circles that goes something like this: Everyone can play poker in any way to wish, as long as they’re playing with their own money. Hence, there are endless ways to play & enjoy poker – each to their own!
How does someone pick their playing style then? Most things we do in life are automatic: We act a certain way and do stuff because we’re accustomed to it. This is called the power of habit. And it’s especially important when you think about poker: Your character and personality affects your decisions at the tables, especially if you play for fun. As an example, risk-averse people are not too eager to make big bluffs, and risk lovers don’t like to lay down their draws even if the odds are not in their favor.
Even though you could use an infinite number of different strategies in poker, almost all poker players fall within a few archetypes in their style of playing. While all online poker rooms have their own dynamics and feel of the gameplay, the fundamentals are the same wherever you play. Just by looking at a few stats, you can form a picture of how your villain approaches the game. It’s time to learn a framework that helps you to profile your opponents in a matter of seconds:
How to profile opponents in poker
There are two major dimensions that we need to recognize in poker strategy: Aggression & looseness. How do these dimensions work in practice?
In every poker decision, you have the option to be aggressive or passive, meaning you can either Check/Call or Bet/Raise. If we’re being exact, your aggression factor is determined with the formula of (number bets + raises made/ number of calls made), so checking isn’t necessarily the best indicator – you can see some players who regularly opt for a check-raise! Yet, checking and calling is the passive way to play – you’re basically letting your opponents dictate the action. Betting and raising are the actions that put pressure on your opponents, forcing them to either risk more to win the hand or laying their hand down.
At the start of the hand, your first decision will be to play a hand or not to play it. This is where tight and loose players are defined: You play a lot of hands or just a few. Of course you can also play somewhere in between, but players who happen to play just the average amount of hands compared to the rest of the players are very rare. While the line is not clear cut, most players can be easily profiled as tight or loose players just by watching how many hands they play pre-flop for a few rounds. Almost always your loose or tight pre-flop strategy will show up post-flop as well: Tight players don’t suddenly stick with overcards or 3rd pair all the way to the river, while the loose cannons will be ending up on the river with all kinds of hand combinations.
Now that you know the difference between loose & tight players as well as aggressive players & passive players, can you already see the combination of strategies that can be formed? If not, here are the combinations of player types demonstrated in a format of a 2×2 matrix:
In short, you want to be either in the top right or bottom when it comes to a playing style in poker. The best poker players belong to either of these categories, although they might not be at the most extreme ends in hand selection i.e. being super tight or super loose.
The framework is only a starting point for profiling opponents at the tables. Since it is rather simplistic, we’ve gathered a more comprehensive list of player archetypes including their typical poker HUD stats below:
What are the player archetypes in poker
99% of poker players fall into a category that can be defined quite accurately with just two poker stats: VPIP and PFR. VPIP tells you the percentage of hands a player voluntarily puts money into money into the pot with. PFR reveals the percentage of hands someone raises pre-flop when entering the pot.
Let’s talk about the players types and their typical VPIP/PFR numbers at the 6-max poker tables more in detail:
The Setminer ~9/7
Setminers are players that only play pocket pairs to hit a set or big overpair. With this kind of stats, you can’t expect to see them raising without AK or +22. Their plan is to hit a set on the flop, top pair top kicker with AK or a big overpair on a safe board (for example KK on T54r) and try to win a big pot. If they miss, they’re out sooner than you can blink an eye.
The difference between their VPIP and PFR numbers comes from the fact that they sometimes flat pocket pairs against an open raise. Other than that, you can expect them to enter the pot with a raise pre-flop.
Can you win with a setmining style of poker? Yes, but only marginally. They miss many value-betting opportunities by folding good hands pre-flop for no other reason than not having ‘a lock’ on it.
Pros & Cons of playing the Setminer style
The setminer style is easy to play, so you don’t need a lot of practice to learn it. Just stick to superior hands pre-flop and post-flop, and never bluff – that’s about it. It can be a very marginally winning strategy against non-astute opponents.
Setmining won’t make you a poker millionaire though. To become a shark, you need to learn more sophisticated strategies that include some marginal startings hands as well.
Oh, and playing like a setminer can be quite boring. Bring a lot of coffee with you if you go for it to stay awake!
How to win against the Setminer
Raise their blinds a lot & c-bet 100% in HU pots if they flat your open-raise pre-flop. They are going to miss the flop the majority of the time hunting their sets. In case they don’t fold at this point, you can give up the pot unless you have an extremely strong hand – at least stronger than a set!
In a nutshell, don’t play big pots with them and avoid flatting marginal hands in case they open-raise.
The Rock ~13/9
A rock is sort of an evolved version of a setminer. Rocks know that they need to play hands like AQ, AJ & a couple of suited broadways as well. Yet, rocks don’t really fancy bluffing, as their tight hand selection tells you that they’re still quite risk averse with their poker mindset. Most rocks lack a bit of ambition when it comes to making aggressive plays, which sometimes results in them being outdrawn as they didn’t prevent their opponents from realizing their equity.
Pros & Cons of playing the Setminer style
Rocks win a bit more than the setminers, but not by a wide margin. Playing like a rock can make you a marginally winning player though.
The downside is you miss all the fun in poker: The big multi-street bluffs and relentless 3-betting in position don’t belong to the game plan of a rock. The lack of aggression can hurt your results as well.
How to win against the Rock
We advise to play the same type of strategy as against setminers. You can try an occasional 3-bet bluff against these guys in position, since they do open some marginal hands (unlike the setminers). Don’t pay off a rock and you’ll do just fine!
The NIT ~16/14
The next evolution from the previous two tight styles is the nit. A nit understands that he needs to raise more hands in late position and is generally positionally aware & knows to make a light 3-bet or a turn barrel with a draw every now and then.
Besides playing a very few hands, players that refuse to give action or participate in neutral EV or slightly -EV gambling activities are often called nits. It’s sort of a general mindset nits tend to have that unites them: Not giving anything back to the community, but just taking care of their own margins & not caring about the continuity of the game.
We advise you to stop being a nit at the tables as soon as you learn this is not a good way to approach modern poker. While nits do win more than setminers or rocks, they’re generally despised among the poker community for their behaviour. If you want to enjoy poker, don’t become a nit!
Pros & Cons of playing the nit style
You can win consistently by being a nit, but it’s not fun and you leave a lot of money on the table.
How to win against the nit
Steal their blinds, float them in position to take away the pot later & avoid paying them off in big pots. Even if they show you bluff, their frequency of bluffing is too low to justify making hero calls against them.
The Shark ~21/19 - 28/26
The shark can be either a tight-aggressive or a loose-aggressive player. They’re a big winner in their regular game and usually a professional player. Depending on the table conditions, the shark adjusts their strategy to win the maximum off their current opponents.
Let’s take a look at the two categories of poker sharks in detail: The TAG & The LAG.
The TAG ~21/19
The TAG refers to a player who has adopted a tight-aggressive style of playing poker. Most of the winners at online poker sites play this style. With a VPIP and PFR around 20%, these players play steal often enough from the CO & BTN that you cannot simply give up all but good hands when you’re in the blinds.
If you see players with TAG stats, you can assume they are serious players who have studied poker strategy and have a high win-rate to show for it. TAG strategy is quite close to playing good ABC poker with strong fundamentals and good pre-flop frequencies.
Pros & Cons of playing the TAG style
Learning a proper TAG style takes a lot of effort and studying. Once you get a good grasp of it, making it as a poker professional becomes possible.
How to win against the TAG
There’s no single clear-cut way to beat TAGs. We can give a few tips though! You can abuse their opens by 3-betting or flatting your button, but don’t over do it as TAGs will fight back at some point if they notice your FOS with your plays. You can also try raising their c-bets in position, since many TAGs are uncomfortable playing a huge pot OOP.
The LAG ~28/26
Loose-aggressive (LAG) players can be a nightmare to play against, especially if they abuse position well and attack your capped ranges post-flop. They’re sort of TAGs but on steroids: They throw more 3-bets against you, steal your blinds a bit more aggressively & fire more turn and river barrels without having the goods.
Players who have mastered this style of poker can win quite a lot of money. However, sometimes LAGs can go overboard with their aggression – and this is where you have the chance to take their stack.
Pros & Cons of playing the LAG style
Playing a LAG style can give you some headache with the variance, as your results will be pretty volatile. When a LAG is running well, they win much more than their fair share of pots since people will think they’re bluffing.
Vice versa, if you’re a LAG and go through a period of runbad where you lose all flips and bump into flopped monsters of your villains who have the brains to trap you, your graph can look like a falling stone. Sometimes it’s hard to get respect at the tables with a LAG style if people catch on what you’re doing. If this happens, you need to tighten up & revert to TAG strategy for a while.
How to win against the LAG
The OMC ~22/6
Whoever first came up with the abbreviation of OMC, they were referring to old men with coffee and a pretty passive way of playing poker. While OMCs don’t play too tight or too loose pre-flop, they limp way too much instead of raising it up. Hence, they don’t utilize fold equity at all.
If you face a player with this type of stats, you can bully them in position. Most of the time they won’t fight back unless they have the goods.
Pros & Cons of playing the OMC style
By playing like an OMC, you won’t lose much. But, you can’t win much either.
In the long-run, OMCs don’t win in poker due to their passiveness. They’re likely to break-even or lose a bit depending on how good the other players at their games are.
How to win against the OMC
Steal their blinds, isolate them in position & c-bet relentlessly. Back off in case an OMC wakes up and plays back at you!
The Calling Station ~40/15
The calling stations have got their label for a good reason. Whenever you bet or raise, you already know their most likely response. With a VPIP of +40% and not too high PFR, these players have one favorite move: Limping pre-flop and calling any raise. If they managed to see a flop, they end up all the way to the river with the most imaginative holdings: missed gutshots, third pairs or high hands, or whatever they thought was worth playing.
If you managed to grab a seat on the left of a calling station, you’re in for a treat. A payday is likely as long as you play ABC poker against them.
Pros & Cons of playing the Calling Station style
Calling stations are casual players who just want to have a little bit of fun playing cards. So the biggest advantage to playing like a CS is that you’re enjoying yourself at the poker table.
The downside is that you’re going to lose steadily against most players. If you play poker for fun, only bring to the table what you can afford to lose – don’t trick yourself into thinking that by playing bingo at the poker table is going to make you rich someday!
How to win against the Calling Station
The recipe for beating a CS is simple: Isolate them, play ABC poker and don’t bluff them unless you have a really strong draw on the flop or the turn. If they check-raise you on the turn, you can be pretty sure you’re beat with a top pair or an overpair.
The Whale +60/8
A poker whale is a sort of next version from a calling station, but even more loose in their hand selection. Everyone wants to play with a whale, especially professional players! The reason for this is super simple: Whales squander they buy-ins in the most amusing ways: Limping trashy hands, cold-calling 3-bets and 4-bets left and right with no idea of their odds to win, and re-loading their stack as soon as their previous buy-ins is lot (in case they don’t go for a smoke in-between buy-ins!)
The biggest whales in poker are high rollers who have income streams from businesses or investments and are looking to just have a good time playing cards. They don’t mind losing amounts of money that some would consider huge, as it doesn’t hurt their wealth much in relative terms.
Pros & Cons of playing the Whale style
The most obvious benefit of playing like a Whale is everyone is going to have a good time at the table – including you if you’re just out to have some fun. Pretty much the only exception is if someone happens to get unlucky against your limp-call when you hit a miracle flop and gets it in bad, then they might not be in the most sunny mood!
The disadvantages of whales is that they need to reload every few hands if they don’t get lucky. It’s hard to keep your stack intact if you play almost every hand.
How to win against the Whale
To win against a poker whale, just play ABC poker and isolate them with a wide range including suited connectors, suited gappers and high cards. Value-bet thinly and often, and they won’t know what hit them!
The Maniac ~50/38
In short, maniacs in poker are like LAGs on steroids. If you’ve ever come across a maniac at the poker table, you’ve likely seen how heated the action can get quite quickly. Prepare for a crazy rollercoaster including all-in check-raises, 6-bet bluffs, multistreet barrels with nothing and hero calls with hands like K-high. If you’re in a heads-up pot with a maniac, there’s no free showdown available to you!
Maniacs usually have a highly aggressive strategy post-flop to go along with their high VPIP & PFR numbers. They might re-raise you on the flop, turn or river with nothing, just because they want to show you who’s the boss. Launching a large bluff with no outs to improve is a go-to move for a maniac.
Pros & Cons of playing the Maniac style
The advantage of playing a maniac style is that you can actually win some money against players who are too weak to stand up against your constant aggression. If you play fit-or-fold, you won’t stand a chance against a maniac in poker.
Maniacs can often lose even more than the whales, although they might have some decent winning sessions as well. In the long-run, the maniac style is a losing proposition. Good players will tame a maniac easily by trapping them and fighting back in position, leaving the maniac guessing whether they have a strong hand or just a bluff-catcher.
How to win against the Maniac
Play bigger pots with hands like TPGK (Top pair good kicker) or better than you normally would when facing a maniac. Don’t fight fire with fire i.e. don’t re-bluff too much, as maniacs won’t lay their hand down even if they don’t have much. Instead, trap them and be willing to get all-in when the situation calls for it to scoop the pot more often than not!
Poker Player Types FAQ
What are the most important stats for profiling players in poker?
The most important stats for profiling players in online poker are VPIP, PFR, 3BET and AF (Aggression Factor). These four stats give you a pretty accurate picture of the poker playing styles of your opponents at the table.
What is the best strategy for poker?
The best strategy to use if you want to win money is tight-aggressive or loose-aggressive, depending on what types of opponents you’re playing against. Most winning players are TAGs. For a more comprehensive answer to this question, please read our strategy guides found at the poker articles section.
Is poker a luck or skill game?
Poker is 100% about skill in the long run, but a big part of it is luck in the short run. Professional players try to overcome the luck element by playing a massive amount of hands, which makes their statistical edge over opponents to show up in their results sooner or later.
Are poker players smart?
You could say that, yes. Skilled poker players have trained their analytical abilities, math skills as well as psychological aspects of the game including mindset training and tilt control. You can get to the top in poker by having an average intelligence as long as you work hard on your game with deliberate practice. Poker does improve your logical thinking, as you constantly need to weigh the pros and cons of each action you might take at the tables.
How do you beat an aggressive poker player?
The first adjustment you should make is playing tighter against them when you’re out of position. You should also start trapping some monster hands against them, letting them fire big bluffs when they think your hand is weak.
How do you become a tight aggressive poker player?
Your road to playing TAG style poker is very simple: Don’t play a lot of hands pre-flop, but once you do, play your hand aggressively by betting & raising. By playing TAG poker, you can punish any opponent that plays too many hands pre-flop and is too sticky post-flop, as your average holding will be better than their hand.
Is loose aggressive poker more profitable?
Whether loose aggressive poker is profitable, depends on the types of opponents you’re playing against. LAG playing style is characterised by a high VPIP and PFR, as well as betting and raising a lot post-flop. Against tight players, you can win a lot by playing a loose aggressive strategy. However, against other loose players there will be a lot of variance in your results.
Johannes is the Editor in Chief at Beasts Of Poker and is an expert in both live & online poker. Johannes played online poker semi-professionally for 5 years while completing his Master’s Degree in Technology.