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In Part 1 of our lesson on playing styles, I explained that in golf, the “best” swing is the one that gets the ball into the hole in as few strokes as possible. The technical parts of a swing — the club’s plane or angle of approach, the player’s weight transfer, movement, or balance, etc. — aren’t important in and of themselves.
That same logic applies to poker. The “best” playing style isn’t defined by specific technical criteria, but rather by the results it brings to the player and whether those results are aligned with the player’s goals. In golf, the player’s goal is pretty much always to get the ball into the hole in as few strokes as possible. In poker, however, each player may have their own reasons for sitting down at the table: Some may want to grind out a small but steady profit, some may want to simply come close to breaking even while enjoying their time playing, and some may prefer to “gamble” even if it means dealing with large swings in their bankroll.
Because most people who play poker are doing so for recreation rather than income, each of these “goals” are equally valid and understandable. The playing styles optimal for achieving them, however, vary wildly.
In part 1, I introduced the two spectrums we use to measure and identify a player’s style — the Hand Selection Spectrum and the Aggressiveness Spectrum. In part 2, I will teach you how to combine a player’s positions on those spectrums into one easy-to-understand “player type”, and then how to use your online poker site’s “Notes” function to record that type and then tailor it as you learn more and more about them.
Review: The Spectrums
Remember, when we are analyzing a player’s tendencies, we must identify a place for them on each of two spectrums: The Hand Selection Spectrum and the Aggressiveness Spectrum.
I find it is easiest to visualize these two spectrums as the axes of a graph, with the Hand Selection Spectrum laying horizontally (the “X” axis) and the Aggressiveness Spectrum laying vertically (the “Y” axis).
The Hand Selection Spectrum goes from “Very Tight” all the way on the left, to “Very Loose” all the way on the right. The Aggressiveness Spectrum goes from “Very Aggressive” all the way at the top, to “Very Passive” all the way at the bottom.
Following this method divides the graph into four equal sections, which makes it easy to visualize the four most common player types:
1. Tight/Aggressive (TAG)
2. Loose/Aggressive (LAG)
3. Tight/Passive (TIP)
4. Loose/Passive (LOP)
As your experience increases and your understanding of these types becomes more nuanced, the graph may start looking more like this, with each quadrant divided into a few sections, creating more like 8-10 player types:
Assigning a Player Type
Identifying someone’s player type is as simple as combining their position on the Hand Selection Spectrum with their position on the Aggressiveness Spectrum. How many player types you designate, and how you name those player types, is up to you, but here is a fairly simple way to divide the graph along with some of the most common names used for each player type:
Player Notes: Your New Best Friend
Every online poker site — except Bovada/Ignition, because of their anonymous opponent system — has some sort of “Notes” feature built into their interface. Usually, a double or right click on the opponent’s name or avatar will bring up a small box in which you can jot down anything you want, and that note will stay attached to that opponent forever, so if they go away but then end up at a table with you months from now, your note will still be there. This feature might be the most useful and important thing you’ll use when playing online.
The notes feature is the perfect way to take advantage of our simple yet indispensable Player Type graph. By giving each of the player types you’ve designated a name, you have an easy way to summarize almost everything you know about a player into just a word or two. I highly recommend beginning every opponent’s notes section with the name of the player type to which you believe they belong. This way, you always have a way to very quickly narrow down their possible range of hands.
After their assigned player type, I recommend using the notes section for any information you obtain that either cements or possibly contradicts that assignment. Below is a screenshot of a note I have on a certain opponent:
The player in question is labeled “TAG”, which is my name for someone who falls squarely inside the Tight-Aggressive bubble of my chart. TAG is the hardest designation to get from me: I am very stingy with it because I consider a true Tight-Aggressive balance to be the hardest style for a player to achieve, and I want the word “TAG” in someone’s notes to be a serious indicator that I need to watch my step around them.
For this player I have added a few thoughts after the “TAG” assignment. I’ll walk through them with you now so you can see the reasoning behind their inclusion:
1. “Will fold BB to button 3x.” – A player’s habits when in the blinds are one of the first things I look to note. Knowing whether they prefer to stay out of trouble or to always put up a fight can be invaluable, especially in the later stages of a tournament, when just picking up the blinds/antes can be a significant boost to your stack.
2. “Smart.” – High praise, indeed. One thing I always keep in mind is that the notes I place on a player could possibly have a HUGE effect on my decisions during a future hand. I play against so many different opponents that it’s vital I can have complete trust in my notes: I simply can’t allow their to be nuance or mild feelings involved. If I note that someone is “smart”, it can’t be because I saw them do something I was impressed with one time, it has to be because I’ve seen proof that they regularly make good, solid decisions, even in difficult spots.
3. “Will open limp in lots of positions, seemingly w/ speculative hands.” – Remember when I said it was important to include notes that might actually contradict your assigned player type? This is one of those notes. Every player has some kind of hole in their game, even someone who I consider to be “TAG” and “Smart”. It’s important to note whenever an opponent exhibits some behavior that doesn’t quite match with what you’ve previously thought about them. That way, if those contradictory notes start adding up, you can start to reconsider that original read. In this player’s case, I noticed that he seems content to open limp hands from early, middle, and even late position. In and of itself, this wouldn’t necessarily be a “hole” in his game, but once I saw it happening frequently, and saw him fold those limped hands to preflop raises (multiple times), I decided he was probably making those limps with a range a bit larger than a true “TAG” player would/should. Therefore, since those limps may be a hole in his game, I felt it important to jot it down. If, in the future, I see one or two other holes related to his starting hand selection, I can reconsider the “TAG” assignment.
4. “Will get to ~10BB before shovemode hits, even if there are antes.” – Just like paying attention to a player’s habits in the blinds, tracking their decision making when getting short stacked (if you’re in a tournament with them) can be worth its weight in gold. Some players like to start shoving early and often, others seem content to wait until they have just a few BBs. Some will only shove premium hands, others may have any two cards. If you can note a player’s tendencies in this situation, it can greatly help your decision making when you’re faced with a marginal hand that you could easily both call with and fold
Now that you’ve seen my breakdown of my thoughts while note taking, here are a few other screenshots to help you visualize what the process looks like. You want the notes to be fairly short (I prefer to not have to scroll to see the entire thing), very clear, and to only include things you feel strongly about. Notice that any time I write something that may be important, but I’m not sure, I will make it a point to note that with words like “seems”, “fairly”, “could”, or “capable of”.
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