How to profile players at the poker table

Team Moshman and coach Christy ‘casy151’ Keenan gives a crash course in player profiling in sit-and-gos

As a poker coach, one of the things that makes sit-and-gos endlessly fascinating is their fluidity. The challenge is to articulate why Move X in Situation A is great, but why it sucks in Situation B, not to mention C, D and E.

Factors such as ICM and relative stack sizes are obviously important, but a fundamental consideration that often gets overlooked is the good old fashioned read. If you have a grasp of your opponents’ tendencies, you can incorporate some non-standard lines to exploit them. To this end, I’m going to run you through the stats and characteristics of some typical sit-and-go opponents, and some good counter-strategies with which to combat them.

First and foremost, however, you must be using a HUD. For a sit-and-go player, a quick glance at your opponents’ stats may be the deciding factor when considering what to do. Let’s look at some common opponent types, and their telltale stats, for sit-and-gos with a minimum buy-in of $15.

The mediocre reg

We all know this guy. He mass multitables and peddles the nuts until the mythical 10BB ‘push-or-pass’ threshold. In the early levels, the Mediocre Reg will play tight, with VPIP/PFR/3Bet stats somewhere around the 9/6/2 mark.

(Note that all numbers presuppose a minimum 100-hand sample size.) In six-max SNG s, expect these numbers to be closer to 12/9/2.5. Towards the middle stages, the gap between VPIP and PFR will narrow and his three-bet percentage will increase dramatically as the re-shove becomes a potent weapon.

This player will re-shove hands like 7-7 and A-Jo, which would have been folds in the early stages, as he prefers to just get it in and avoid tricky postflop situations. As the bubble approaches in nine-man games, his limping and three-betting will decrease, as the rising blinds will dictate playing largely push-or-pass poker.

The Mediocre Reg will know his push/call ranges quite well, but will make some fundamental errors due to the volume of tables he plays or an inability to adapt to the ever-changing stack dynamics. He will also overvalue some hands such as weak Aces. In six-max, he will continue to play preflop as much as possible and is unlikely to run complex bluffs. He likes his decisions to be straightforward, so his lines will be rather unsophisticated. In other words, strong means strong and weak means weak.

Counter strategy

Assume that the Mediocre Reg’s range is tight. In the early stages he will only three-bet big pairs. Even hands such as A-Q, A-K and T-T, which could be difficult to play postflop, will often not warrant a three-bet until the middle stages when he can re-shove them. Feel free to help yourself to his blinds at all times as anyone with a ‘Fold BB’ stat of over 80% is fair game. Small-ball is the optimal strategy against this player. In the endgame, a very effective strategy is to steal his blinds with min-raises, right down until you have 8BB.

Let’s say you are in the small blind with the Mediocre Reg in the BB. You both have even stacks of 10BB, and you look down at K-5o. A quick estimate tells you that he will call your shove with 19% of holdings (3-3+, A-2s+, A-5o+, K-Ts+ and K-Q).

If his re-shove range looks very similar, then it is actually more profitable to raise-fold than to open-shove. He will almost never call your raise, due to his fear of playing postflop with a marginal hand and a million other tables requiring his attention. You can thus min-raisefold from the SB all day long.

The lag gambler

This fellow is great to have in the game, but relieving him of his chips can be a delicate operation. Over the long-term, he donates a steady stream of money into the good players’ accounts. However, he will bulldoze the field just often enough to convince him to keep redepositing.

In a nine-man sit-and-go, his early-game stats might even be as high as 20/15/5 (for PFR/VPIP/3bet). In six-max SNG s it isn’t too uncommon to find a 31/22/7 over a large sample, meaning he’s raising nearly a third of all hands! The LAG’s game plan isn’t sophisticated, and can largely be summed up as: ‘I have a hand I like, so I’m going to play it.’

He loves A-x hands and pocket pairs, often set-mining in the mid-to-late game when it is clearly unprofitable. Expect him to defend his BB liberally. Anyone with a ‘Fold BB’ stat of under 70% is playing far too loose and spewing chips by getting into awkward spots out of position with marginal holdings. Postflop, expect him to overplay draws, get tenacious with any pair and play top pair with a mediocre kicker like it’s the nuts.

Counter strategy

One of the biggest donators I know in the mid-stakes six-max games c-bets 93% of flops, folds to a c-bet 42% of the time, and wins at showdown only 50% of the time over an enormous sample.

In other words, pot-control is not in his vocabulary and he loves to bloat the pot. To combat this sort of player you are going to have to play bigger pots than you’d like to when your hand is marginal. A-T on a board of A-Q-9-2-3 rainbow will be ripe for three streets of value, as the LAG Gambler will call you down with crappy A-x and Q-x hands. You will have to be brave:

T-T on K-9-8-2-2 rainbow may require you to call three chunky bets, as he is capable of barrelling J-T, A-9, 6-6 and plenty of thoughtless bluffs. Do not chase draws, as he is prone to making pot-sized bets, thus denying you the correct price. Preflop, it can be a good idea to raise your monsters larger than usual into his BB, for he will defend wide regardless of the price.

The top reg

Bad news: this guy is tough. He has won a lot of money at the sit-and-go tables and he will not be intimidated at the bubble. The toughest factor of all is his chameleonic nature. The Top Reg can turn it on, nit it up, rep the nuts with air and rep air with the nuts.

Unfortunately, the sit-and-go player pool is so small since Black Friday that good players like this are unavoidable. I would never sit at a table with more than three other Top Regs in a nine-handed game, and two in a six-max.

Running into only one per table during peak hours should be considered a decent game. A Top Reg in nine-man will generally be playing stats of around 15/12/5 overall. Unfortunately, Top Regs exist in many guises, particularly in six-max where stacks play deeper.

One of the very best players in the mid-stakes six-max games plays 16/8/3.6 in the early game, loosening up to 19/12/5 across all levels. Although these stats look somewhat on the passive side, it is because he is an outstanding postflop hand-reader and likes to keep pots small preflop by calling rather than raising.

My stats are around 22/18/6.3 overall, and I am not considered to be among the laggiest of the six-max Top Regs. Another absolute beast at the six-max tables plays 18/16/6.9 overall, which is the epitome of tight-aggressive poker.

I could go on, but I’m sure the message is clear by now. The Top Reg comes in different shapes and sizes, but there is one telltale sign that he is in your game: his stack is a magnet for the weaker players’ chips.

Counter strategy

Unfortunately, there is no simple method beyond hard work. Become a meticulous note-taker and review your Hold’em Manager records regularly. I have information on some opponents that would make Rebekah Brooks jealous, and yet the Top Reg will adjust his strategy so quickly that yesterday’s notes could already be outdated.

The most important advice I could give is this: ask yourself how the Top Reg views you. Are you the type of rock against whom an 8BB raise-fold will work? Are you capable of running multi-barrel bluffs? Review your own stats: do you have a high ‘Fold to 3bet stat? Is your ‘Fold BB’ below 75%, and your ‘Fold to c-bet’ above 60%? If so, the Top Reg will already have marked you as a weak/passive player whom he will be trying to exploit.

Let’s use the same example as the LAG Gambler: you have air and the Top Reg holds T-T on a K-9-8-2 rainbow board. You have fired at the flop and he has called your c-bet. Is your ‘Bet river’ stat below 30%? He just might call that second barrel, safe in the knowledge that he won’t face a big bet on the river. As such, you are going to have to grit your teeth and pull the trigger on occasion. This isn’t because you have suddenly become a maniac, but top players will know your tendencies so you’ll have to throw the odd curveball to avoid being exploited all day long.

Now start adjusting!

At the sit-and-go tables, moving through the gears has become an art form. The Top Reg will bully the Mediocre Reg mercilessly, constantly putting him to tough decisions and pouncing on weakness. However, he will avoid tangling with a LAG Gambler with a high ‘Went to showdown’ stat without the goods.

Versus this opponent, it will only take the Top Reg one hand to stack him due to the LAG’s mindless aggression with marginal holdings. In order to hang up your Mediocre Reg boots and pull on your shiny new Top Reg sneakers, you are going to have to learn how to increase the tempo at crucial moments and lie low when facing resistance.

Study hard, read articles and watch coaching videos, but most importantly review your own game and work out what your stats are telling the rest of the table!

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