The third of a multi-part guide series designed to take readers from having little to no knowledge of poker to being a profitable and competent virtual money low stakes player.
This part gives you a helping hand in categorising the types of players you are likely to face at the table. What the signs are for each, how they’re likely to play their hands, and how you should generally try to play against them.
I tend to avoid what I consider to be “generic” classifications such as “tight aggressive” as I find them somewhat ambiguous. Tight can be a good or a bad thing, as can aggressive. Some top professionals could quite reasonably be called tight aggressive players, but at the same time players who have a narrow range, land mid pair on an A-K-9 board, and keep betting their King to the river despite being called all the way by another player are tight and aggressive, but not good players.
As a result, my classifications are more stereotypical caricatures that give an idea of the sort of behaviour you can expect from them, and the sort of weaknesses they are likely to exhibit in their play. Feel free to make your own classifications too. I have three weak player types which are all variations of “fish” (the common poker term for those suckers you get to bait in and take money from), two “neither weak nor strong” types, although one of those generally loses lots of money, and two “strong” types.
Fish 1 – The Calling Cod
Cod players tend to overvalue any hands they land, and don’t pay enough attention to what other players are likely to hold. They’ve landed mid pair and they will call you all the way to the river even if the betting involves more than one other player. They’re very keen on any aces regardless of whether they are suited and will quite happily call pot sized bets with two overcards.
This is not to say that you have them beaten whenever they call your bets. They do recognise hand value, and it’s very possible that they’re calling with top pair and a great kicker. You can’t necessarily pin them on an exact holding, they just have a very broad range of hands to call with. You don’t need to do anything special to be profitable against Cods, just remember when you have a strong hand (like two pair or trips) you’re probably best and can get them to pay off a lot of bets with single pairs.
They tend to earn their money from having good hands and calling overly aggressive players betting into them and just assuming that they’re being called by a Cod with a weak hand.
Bluffability: Low. Their tendency to call makes it very hard for them to be bluffed off a hand. They’ll have to be on very little to fold, which means most of the hands they fold they’d have been behind on anyway.
Fish 2 – The Timid Tetra
Tetras tend to be very passive. They rarely raise pre-flop, even paying just the big blind with cards like A-Ks. They tend to call bets rather than re-raise post flop. Believing that they should only be aggressive with the “nuts” (the best hand possible at that point in time) or at least hands close to it, any tetra calling your bets should start ringing serious alarm bells. It’s very possible to get a Tetra off mid pair post flop with even a small bet, so repeated calling means they have at least a strong hand. They will often pay the blind to see the flop, but rarely more than that without very strong cards.
Being profitable against Tetras is mostly due to having your fair share of the chips from their folds. They tend to earn their money by other players not recognising that “when they call, they have a hand, and it’s a good one”. For example, other players betting heavily with two pairs against a Tetra with a straight, not realising that the only call they’ll get is when they’re beaten.
Bluffability: High. Tetras don’t like to “draw” much and won’t recognise the difference between facing a bluff and a real hand. Either they’re strong and they’ll call, or they’re not and they’ll fold.
Fish 3 – The Betting Bass
A betting bass believes that they can win half of their pots purely by pushing everyone else into folding. They understand the basics of hand value and are unlikely to play bad hole cards or pursue clearly missed hands, but they have a noticeable “betting reflex” (tendency to bet when other people don’t). They will be raising a lot of pre-flop hands to steal pots cheaply.
If a player has a habit of betting most flops when it gets checked to them, they’re probably a Bass. Being profitable against a Bass is the easiest of all if you have the patience to continue only with good hands. You will often have to pay more on average to see a flop, but if it lands well, you don’t even have to think about bet sizing as Bass players will basically handle all the betting for you. If your hand is particularly strong you can re-raise them hard on the river and will get a very wide range of hands to call you (most likely any decent pair or better), but pots will generally get large without much effort.
Bluffability: Fairly low. If they have a bad hand they’ve probably already decided to get away from it, and if they have even a half decent hand they’re likely to believe that they are the best.
The rocks are neither good nor bad players. They are simply as solid as their namesake. They will rarely throw money at lost causes, and they’re less likely to be pushed off a hand than a Tetra. When they bet, they have a hand, and it’s normally good. When they check or call, they’re likely on a good draw, although a check could just be a modest hand like an average medium pair, and they generally know when bets from other players are likely to mean they’re beaten.
Being profitable against rocks requires paying enough attention to have a fairly good estimate of the strength of their hand. They’re likely to fold to any bet if they’ve completely missed. A pre flop raise normally means a very strong starting hand (like the three-star rock hands in section 2), and a post flop raise is a “get out of there fast” signal unless you have a straight/flush/full house already.
Bluffability: Fairly high. They recognise the strength of their draws and have a good feeling for the strength of their hands, but they don’t tend to read other people’s bets as bluffs. They tend to only play in pots with good hole cards, so they will typically miss flops with low value cards.
Maniacs make poker tables interesting. They have a huge betting reflex, they like to gamble, and they love the feeling of going all in with 5 people and landing their magical straight.
Being profitable against a maniac means folding everything that costs money unless it’s very strong. If they’re going all-in every hand, call with any ace, or with a king and a kicker of 10+, or pocket 8s and above. Otherwise only play two pairs on the flop or better if that’s when they start their betting.
Bluffability: None. Literally none. They’re paying attention to the value of their cards but ignoring anything you might have played with or bet with previously. They will get excited at literally any draw or pair and play it like it’s the nuts and will naturally see any other bets as other people equally willing to bet on almost nothing.
The dangerous end of the table
The following two player types are my “good” player classifications. These can be just decent players hanging around at low stakes tables all the way up to the very best professional players in the game today. There is no magic “How to be profitable against these players”, as you must basically be at least as good as they are and have the cards to win with.
What’s important is recognising that they probably are one of these types of players and treating them with care accordingly, and not get involved with them for big money unless you’re pretty sure you’re going to have them beat.
Foxes spend a very large amount of time evaluating other players and play them accordingly. Foxes make very good money against any loose form of fish and are very good at not giving money to rocks on a good hand.
Their actions will depend both on table position and the people that they’re playing against. Signs of a fox are players who seem to mix up being aggressive (particularly against players you’ve identified as Rocks or Tetras) with playing passive and calling with strong hands against heavy betting from others.
Other signs of a fox could easily be something subtle like betting the flop, getting called, slowing down by checking the turn, and then raising someone else’s bet. Hard to put on a hand, easy to fall into a trap, and learning whether they’re bluffing largely depends on correctly predicting what type of player the fox thinks you are.
Bluffability: Average. If they think you’re aggressive or likely to overplay weak hands, you’re much more likely to get called by them when you have a better hand. If they think you’re a rock, you can almost definitely bluff them off a pot or two.
However, as soon as they start to see playing in a pattern that doesn’t fit their evaluation, their evaluation changes to fit your play. You don’t target foxes for winning chips unless you’re playing at the sort of tables that have no fish, in which case you probably don’t need this guide.
Sharks spend their time sniffing for victims and targeting them mercilessly. They’ll generally dodge the more aggressive players at the table, playing against them only when their holdings are very strong, and in which case will happily re-raise bets hard.
However, against the more passive players on the table, they’ll push and push, betting with literally nothing once they have a good feel for what ranges of hands the passive player would need to have to consider calling.
If you’re still playing like a rock and have a shark playing straight after you, get a new table. They’ll raise pre-flop when you limp, and they’ll bet whenever you’re in a hand, have checked, and they think you don’t have something great.
If you want to stay at the table, be prepared to re-raise their bets with nothing at all a few times to hold them back. If they start to feel their aggression won’t automatically work, they’ll resort to focusing on other victims and only play you with solid hands.
Bluffability: Average. Same as with foxes, bluffing a shark will depend on what sort of player they think you are. If they think you’re passive or solid, a re-raise will be treated very seriously and you’ll be able to succeed with some bluffs.
Do it too often and they’ll stop assuming you’re strong each time. If they think you’re aggressive, they’ll already have folded anything bad and will only call you with something strong.
Player recognition reference chart
Calling Cod: Rarely folds, rarely leads with bets, calls with fairly weak hands
Timid Tetra: Often folds, including pre-flop. Rarely leads with bets or raises.
Betting Bass: Often bets, even with weak hands. Calls often.
Rocks: Rarely bets, calls when strong, folds quite often.
Maniac: Bets and raises often, even with weak hands. Rarely just calls.
Foxes: Calls often against Basses. Re-raises often against maniacs. Hard to read.
Sharks: Bets often against Tetras and Rocks. Will bet and fold to re-raises sometimes.