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In Playing Styles, pt. 1 and Playing Styles, pt. 2, I taught you how to use the Hand Selection and Aggressiveness Spectrums to evaluate your opponents’ playing styles, how to use those evaluations to assign each of them a player type, and how to use your site’s notes function to keep track of their type and their unique habits.
Now, to wrap up this three part series, we’ll discuss how to use all of that info you’ve collected to exploit your opponents’ weaknesses.
In general, you’ll see the “optimal” way to attack an opponent is by adopting a style opposite of theirs on the chart. Loose-Passive opponent? Tighten up and make sure you have the best of it. Tight-Passive opponent? Run him over.
The Player Types
I know you haven’t forgotten the charts (right?) but here’s a refresher, all the same.
(1/3) The four basic player types created by combining an opponent’s positions on the two spectrums.
(2/3) A slightly more detailed chart, reminding us that assigning an opponent one of the four basic types doesn’t necessarily paint a complete picture, there are many different “shades” present in each of the four quadrants.
(3/3) The most detailed look at the types, illustrating how someone’s position within each of the player types can range from mild to severe.
Loose-Passive Opponents (LOPs)
By far the easiest opponent to exploit, which is why the most extreme versions of them are the true definition of the term “fish”. LOPs are characterized by playing too many hands and playing them passively, usually choosing to check and (if they have to) call bets from their opponents (hence the term “calling station”). They chase their draws (even when it’s not advisable to do so), call down with weak “made” hands, and many times even “slow play” their strongest holdings like limping or min-raising preflop with AA and check-calling their flopped sets with middle pairs (intending to check-raise on the turn or river).
If you find yourself at a table with one or more LOPs, don’t go anywhere: You’ve hit the jackpot, but only if you know how to deal with them. Remember, the defining characteristic of LOPs is that they fundamentally do not understand the game. They don’t think math is important (or they do, but their ideas about how to use it are completely wrong), they think — and say — things like “the hand don’t really start ’til the flop!”, and they think their chasing is justified because “everyone sucks out on (them)” and “you never know what could come next”. They’re idiots.
Because of their obsession with seeing as many cards as possible, the most important thing for you to do is to keep your game simple: Don’t get fancy or creative and don’t try to make advanced moves. You want to take advantage of their biggest weakness, which is their tendency to call when they should fold. READ THIS: The important part of that sentence is “when they should fold“.
It’s important that you not get involved with one of these players if you aren’t confident you have the strongest hand. They aren’t going to go away when you apply pressure (they’re calling stations, remember?), so trying to bully them with continuation bets or semi-bluffs is only going to cost you money. When you have the best hand against them, bet it, and do so aggressively. When you do not have the best hand — for instance, when you completely missed the flop but would normally continuation bet anyway — consider just checking behind them. Remember, if they are super strong there is still a good chance they’re going to play passively to try to trap you into betting: Don’t abide them.
Make your postflop bets pot-sized: If they have a drawing hand, they’re going to call, and you want to make sure it is mathematically incorrect for them to do so. Making “baseline”-sized bets and giving them better pot odds just reduces your edge — remember, the only things that matter are our decisions in the hand, so you want their call of your bet to be as bad a decision as possible for them. The LOP is going to put money into the pot, so make sure he puts in as much as possible when you have the best hand, and that he puts in as little as possible when he has the best hand.
Tight-Passive Opponents (TIPs)
One of my favorite types to play against, the TIPs — or “nits” — are characterized by their overly-careful approach to the game. They don’t like taking risks, they don’t bluff, and everything scares them: Think Woody Allen in Annie Hall (or Woody Allen in anything, really). They only even consider playing premium hands, and when they do enter a pot they’re only thinking about all the things that could go wrong.
I love nits because their style is one that can and will never be able to exploit me. I consider myself to be a tight-aggressive player with very few holes in his game, but no one is perfect, and in my case I think a weakness I have could be that I lean a little too much toward the “tight” end of the spectrum. I think my biggest mistakes involve my tendency to fold preflop — opting to play it safe in marginal situations — when it may be more profitable (in the long run) to play. The straightforward style of nits, however, makes it almost impossible for them to force me into an incorrect fold: They’ll never put a bunch of money out there if they aren’t very, very sure they have the best hand, making their ranges super small and making it easy for me to gauge my strength relative to theirs.
The nits’ biggest mistake is folding when they should be playing. Therefore, the optimal way to play against them is to run them over: Bet and raise like a maniac, constantly forcing them to put more of their money at risk, and they will cower. Your cards are almost irrelevant: They aren’t going to play back at you with less than the goods (until you push them to their breaking point, lol), so if they do show any strength it’ll be easy for you to look down and decide where you stand.
An important point here is this: Don’t be afraid to fold to them. It might make you look like a weakling to the others at the table (you’d have to be to back down to Woody Allen, right?), but that’ll only prove they don’t know anything. The nit isn’t gonna start trying to push you around just because you folded to him once: Believe me, he’s just relieved you went away — his heart is still pounding thinking about it, in fact. If you try to attack a nit with a LAGgy style, but don’t understand this point, you’re just begging to be blown up in a big way, which leads me to our next style…
Loose-Aggressive Opponents (LAGs)
In keeping with our theme here, the best way to “attack” a LAGgy player is to “nit up”, or use a more tight-passive style. The “passive” part is much more important here than the “tight” one, as a loose-passive style can also be effective against a LAGgy opponent if that opponent is situated far enough to the “loose” end of the spectrum.
The LAG’s biggest mistake is betting and raising when they should be folding. If you’ve followed along thus far, you should then be able to deduce that the safe way to proceed against them is to only get involved when you have reason to believe you have the strongest hand. That way, their habit of putting tons of money into the pot will bite them in the ass when you use it to let them hang themselves.
I don’t condone “slow-playing” very often — I find it to be overly fancy and to lead to much more harm than good, considering the average opponent can be crushed just as easily by straightforward, solid play — but against a truly LAGgy opponent it can be the most deadly approach available. It’s simple: Since you know the LAGgy opponent is likely to bet and raise, just let him. Let him run you over hand, after hand, after hand, surrendering a big blind to him here and there. Have a marginal preflop hand in LP with him in the blinds? Open it for 2.5-3X. If he actually folds, great: You’ve picked up the blinds. If he comes back over the top of you, just go away: It has cost you a few BB but given him the confidence he needs to start bullying you every chance he gets, and that’s just what we want.
Once that image/dynamic has been established, you can “nit up”: Continue cautiously, let him get used to betting and raising and forcing you out, and wait for a premium hand. Don’t worry about the little bits you surrender to him here and there, you’re going to get it all back in one big swoop when you make the nuts and check-call him into doubling you up.
Tight-Aggressive Opponents (TAGs)
Well, good luck. As you may have guessed, the TAG is the toughest opponent to face of the whole bunch — there’s a reason a tight-aggressive approach is widely considered to be the “optimal” way to play profitable poker.
Unlike in our other cases, the way to attack a TAG is not by simply adopting the opposite style (loose-passive, in this case). Doing that would just turn you into the “fish” and allow the TAG to dominate you the way I advised in the LOP section, above. Seeing as the TAG style is so effective against every other style on the board, the only way to really beat one is to “out-TAG the TAG”.
No one is perfect: Everyone has a hole in their game, even the most solid players you’ll face. I outlined what I believe to be my own weakness just a few paragraphs ago. Here it is, in case you forgot:
“I consider myself to be a tight-aggressive player with very few holes in his game, but no one is perfect, and in my case I think a weakness I have could be that I lean a little too much toward the “tight” end of the spectrum. I think my biggest mistakes involve my tendency to fold preflop — opting to play it safe in marginal situations — when it may be more profitable (in the long run) to play.”
The way to beat me is to play solid poker, matching my TAG style, but to make sure you take advantage of my tendency to fold a little too much preflop. Force me to commit more money in earlier stages of the hand, when I have less information at my disposal, and I’ll only have two ways to proceed: I can continue to play it safe — in which case you’ll be able to keep exploiting me — or I can try to plug that hole in my game by mixing it up more preflop, which will make me uncomfortable for awhile and may force me into big mistakes.
My last two exits from our Elite Poker Club events are proof of this! I was trying to work on this hole in my game by opening up my preflop range and the ranges I assigned to my opponents, and in both events I overextended myself preflop with AK, only to get busted by AA and KK, respectively. In both cases I committed my stack preflop in spots I normally would have happily folded, all in the name of embracing uncomfortability and plugging this hole.
Identifying your TAG opponent’s weakness is crucial. It is only then that you can devise a strategy to exploit them. Be on the lookout for any habits they may have that move them from the perfect center of that “Tight-Aggressive” quadrant on the charts. In my case, I’m a bit to the left of the perfect TAG (and maybe a bit above it). Others will be a bit below it, to the right of it, or any other combination.
Whichever direction they move from “perfect TAG”, you need to move yourself in the opposite one. I’m a bit left of it, so you need to be a bit right of it — playing a few more hands preflop so that I face more resistance and have to make more decisions.
Identifying your opponents’ playing styles and knowing how to adapt your game to them is crucial if you want to play profitable poker. In all cases, a Tight-Aggressive style will be effective, but to maximize your edge and truly dominate your games, you need to know how and when to leave that TAGginess behind in favor of an approach that exploits each of their greatest weaknesses.
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