Player Profiling Strategy: The Bad Guys

There are certain types of player you will meet time and again in online MTTs. We show you how to profile your opponents – and profit from their leaks

The phrase ‘play the player, not the cards’ is an all-time poker classic, and for good reason. It’s what the best players in the world do all the time. Good players evaluate the table conditions they are faced with in any given tournament or session and change the way they play accordingly.

In poker you make most of your money from bad players, and for the most part want to avoid the other good players at the table. To this end you need to be able to identify a player’s tendencies quickly and efficiently. While Phil Hellmuth’s ‘Play Poker Like The Pros’ book is not all good, it does contain some interesting thoughts on player profiling. The Poker Brat characterises poker players as animals, dividing them into five main categories: the mouse (rock), jackal (loose), elephant (calling station), lion (tight- aggressive) and eagle (top player).

While we wouldn’t usually recommend taking strategy advice from Hellmuth, in this case he is on to something. Most players do fall into categories, making it easier to profile players than you’d think. Here is our guide to the four main types to watch out for in online tournaments.

Mr Limp

How does he play?

Weak and passive, limping far more often than he raises. Pre flop he’ll be very loose-passive, his most likely course of action being to limp in then call a raise. The good news is that post flop he’s very weak and tight. If he misses he’ll check-fold, if he hits he’ll check-call. Aggressive he is not. This player gives himself the minimum number of ways to win the pot.

How do you spot him?

This type of player will identify himself fairly swiftly as it’s at the beginning of tournaments when stacks are deeper that he can limp with greatest abandon. It’s not particularly hard to spot a serial limper or calling station, as he’ll usually be involved in a large number of pots. However, pay particular attention to pots where he reaches showdown (not that common) and take note of what hands he’s playing and from what position, as there are different types of weak calling stations. Some will just undervalue hands and limp in with hands that most players would raise with, others are just at-out bad and limp with junk that should be in the muck.

How can you exploit him?

Raise Mr Limp often and raise him early – it’s never too soon to start. This player will give up so frequently after the flop that he’ll just bleed chips to you. When he does have a genuine hand he’ll let you know about it and you can either shut down or take him to value-town should you have a strong hand. The best time to exploit this type of player is when the stacks are neither super-deep nor particularly shallow. This isn’t because he is capable of adjusting to stack depth, but because of the other players at the table. When stacks are very deep and you try to isolate a limper, it’s very possible to pick up another caller behind (or a squeeze from an aggressive player), so position in this situation is key. When stacks are shallow, use caution, as they may just limp then call all-in when you shove on them. After all, in their mind they’re invested in the pot. As such, this is a great thing to do with a strong hand but you need to practise avoidance with some of the funkier holdings you’d isolate with when stacks are deeper.

Difficulty Rating: 2/10

Mr Straighforward

How does he play?

Mr Straightforward is your textbook Tag, playing fundamentally sound but highly predictable poker. Although on the tight side, he will usually only bloat the pot when ahead and practise caution when behind. Due to his tight image he can get away with more than he thinks.

How do you spot him?

Mr Straightforward has solid starting hand requirements and is aware of the importance of position. He will play it safe from early position and open up in late position, as he doesn’t like to play pots out of position. He generally won’t empty the clip without the goods, often shutting down if his c-bet is called and he has missed. However, he usually has the goods when playing a big pot. He often has bet-sizing tells, such as betting bigger with hands like A-K, A-Q and medium pairs than with Aces and Kings. In a live setting he’ll often try to educate the masses, dropping in buzz phrases like ‘ranges’ or ‘pot control’. He makes more hero folds than hero calls.

How can you exploit him?

While there are always easier targets at the table, you can’t just avoid this guy. If the Tag player has one major failing it’s his lack of gears. He usually won’t adapt to the players around him or the changing dynamics of various stages of poker tournaments. When stacks are deep and you have position you can see flops with hands like pairs and suited connectors and stack him when you hit big and he can’t release the overpair. In position when antes kick in and he doesn’t loosen up, you can take chips that should be his, as he’ll let you open more pots. If he has position you can steal his blinds more often or simply limp in, as he’ll let you. post flop you can float him more often than looser, wilder players, as while he’s got a high continuation-bet percentage he’ll slow down on the turn and river if he doesn’t have a made hand. Also this guy will generally see a monster in every closet and give players way too much credit, so you can represent hands you simply don’t have.

Difficulty Rating: 7/10

Mr Chaser

How does he play?

Who needs the correct odds when you’ve got a draw and one or two cards to come? Flush draw, gutterball, an overcard – Mr Chaser will pursue the dream to the river every time. Law of averages says he’ll hit occasionally, too.

How do you spot him?

Regardless of the strength of his draw, a pattern will usually emerge in this guy’s play: call flop, call turn, fold river (if draw missed) or check-call river (if he hit). He will rarely semi-bluff you, whether by check-raising or by leading the betting, preferring to try to make his draw as cheaply as possible. as a result, unless he’s hit some improbable draw this player usually fails to maximise value on his hand. as ever, pay attention to any hands that reach showdown and note the cards they’re playing. Some chasers will take a flop with any two suited cards, while others just can’t pass a suited Ace.

How can you exploit him?

If you’ve got a hand then bet it for value. Bet an amount that makes it incorrect for him to draw to his hand and reap the profits – overbet the pot if necessary. On the river if you’re in position and the river completes a draw and he checks to you then it often pays just to check behind and potentially save yourself some money. Sometimes you’ll lose some value, but mostly you’ll only get called by a stronger made hand. Amazingly, most of these chasers will still check the river when out of position if the card has completed their draw. When you don’t have a hand just keeping the pot small is probably your best option, despite the fact that you allow the chaser to draw for free. After all, he usually won’t fold. On the river, if all obvious draws have missed, and you are out of position but confident you have the best hand, you can try to win an extra bet by checking to the chaser and giving him a chance to bluff at the pot.

Difficulty Rating: 5/10

Mr Fast and Loose

How does he play?

Mr Fast and Loose likes to play pots. A lot of pots. He plays with a wide range of hands and isn’t afraid to get a ton of chips in the middle. He wins by getting folds from weaker players who can’t stand up to his aggression and getting paid off when he has a hand thanks to his loose image. However, just because he’s loose doesn’t mean he can’t fold. He’s not stupid and is often a better hand reader than many give him credit for. He’s seen a lot of flops after all!

How do you spot him?

He’ll be the one trying to play like Tom Dwan or Gus Hansen. The pros make this style look fun and effortless, but while it’s certainly the former, it’s not easy and probably not wise in low-limit MTTs. Generally this type of player will be easy to spot as he’ll be in many pots, but unlike Mr Limp he’ll be the one three-betting and raising a lot. It sounds like a broken record, but in a game of incomplete information showdowns are key, and using the ‘instant hand history function’ most online rooms offer is crucial. Oddly, the loose and fast player will often get tricky when he makes a huge hand.

How can you exploit him?

In a nutshell, by having stricter starting hands requirements and by getting to showdown against him. However, having a good, aggressive player on your left can be a nightmare. Knowing how he reacts to three-bets is key, as if he’s liable to fold in the face of aggression then you can just let him do the betting for you when you have a big hand. However, if he’s more the type to fight aggression with aggression then it pays to bloat the pot with a strong hand, as it’ll be ahead of his range. Do not try to play Mr Loose at his own game unless you’re willing to go to the felt with a wide range of holdings, as he certainly will be. As other players adjust to him note that they’ll be three-betting him lighter, so you can adjust and four-bet lighter in return.

Difficulty Rating: 8/10

Don’t Level Yourself

Even bad players get good cards. Even though a player might have shown themselves to be a calling station or the loosest player you’ve ever seen, never forget that the most important information you have available to you is what is happening in the hand in question. If you don’t remember this you may end up being the donkey. Also, don’t try to label and profile everyone at the table – the good players will change as dynamics such as stack size alter. For example, many players are tight until the antes kick in and then they will open up.

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