Today I will tell you how I classify opponents into six types and how I adapt to each of them.
Over the years of playing online, I have gained a wealth of experience in confronting a variety of types of opponents, and when I switched to offline, I found that my classification works there too. I have six main categories, each of which is further broken down into subgroups. I need to be clear about what type each player at my table is, and I try to categorize them as quickly as possible based on their hand lines and the cards they show on showdowns.
Category #1 is the easiest to define and adjust – nit. They are distinguished by exceptional tightness. Opening too narrow, defending narrowly, 3-betting narrowly, being passive post-flop, and generally only investing with strong hands. The degree of this tightness can vary – there are nits that are super tight, and just a little tighter than the norm. Mentally, I mark them in red: when there is “red” in the pot, you need to be careful!
There are two ways to win money from such players. First, you need to play as many small pots as possible against them. Their main mistake is not being active enough with medium-strength hands. So relentlessly attack their blinds, especially from late position. It is possible to go very far beyond the boundaries of the optimal range because your opponents defend less often and too rarely go on the counterattack. We want to bluff small sizings a lot and take down a lot of small pots without a fight.
Secondly, when such a player starts to get active, we have to fold tight! It is very important! Don't be afraid to overfold their flop check-raises or big-sized barrels. These folds will require a lot of discipline but will help you beat the nits consistently and confidently. Top pair with a weak kicker on the turn, Villain bets big? Just fold. Disciplined folds against nits separate top players from second-tier regulars.
Category #2 is not the opposite of nits, but just another type of weak passive player. I'm talking about phones. Phones put in too many chips with weak hands. They like to watch flops, play post flop, and pay on draws. They don't like to fold pairs and don't fold well on the river. Their global problem is attachment to marginal hands and weak bluff catchers, poor understanding of situations when their opponent's range is too strong and you need to overfold. There are many such players among amateurs and especially offline. They lack patience, they want to be in the thick of the action all the time.
What can we do against them? It is clear that – to gain, to collect value. And while we can't control the RNG to get hit with the nuts more often, we can greatly expand our range and bet much thinner against phones.
Against a strong player, you would check, but against a phone that can call second or third pair, some hands make good draws. Therefore, my main exploit in the game with phones is thin value bets. I narrow my bluff range, but I get a lot more aggressive and don't mind big sizings. I also 3-bet more actively with hands that make up the top of the calling range against strong opponents – all sorts of KJs, ATs, etc., because the phone will go to see the flop with QTo, JTo and pay post-flop bets, being dominated.
Players of this type are easier to recognize than the rest – they go into every pot and often reach the showdown. They want to feel like heroes, it's hard for them to appease their egos. I think you will quickly find them at your table.
Category 3 brings together a rather large and diverse group of players, whom I call strong regulars or simply tough guys. You can't call them great players, but they don't make obvious mistakes. They worked on the theory and try to play correctly. You should not expect creative solutions from them, and they are highly likely to make mistakes typical of the field. There are a few bugs in the current metagame that are common to most players. These are not gaping holes in the strategy, but small inaccuracies, well, or medium ones, but they are not so easy to discern. I would summarize them like this: in standard lines, big guys show intuitive hands too often. When they bet three barrels, they will easily find the right combinations of value, but if they haven't worked on the situation on purpose, they won't be able to pick up the right non-intuitive bluffs, so they will end up with a big value skew. Or, for example, river check-raises – they will almost always have value there. Strong men play with dignity, diligently, but predictably, don't make blunders, but their line ranges are too intuitive. I associate yellow with them. I mark my opponents in yellow most often. If we take a typical table of a typical $5k EPT Main Event, most of the players at the table will be "yellow".
Let's now talk about the more fun side of poker and people who like to ship loads of chips with crazy hands. Category 4 – loose-aggressive players. They may play differently, but they share a common philosophy of poker: they believe that you need to win a lot of pots to win. They are constantly fighting for the pots and regularly go beyond the range, becoming looser and more aggressive. I mark such players in pink, which signals that creative solutions can be expected from them. They will open wider, 3-bet wider, and fight for smaller pots more. This is not the worst approach, and it is quite difficult to play against such opponents. You won’t get far on autopilot with them, you need constant concentration. For a long time, I myself belonged to this category. Fighting for every pot is my philosophy as well, and I'm constantly looking for ways to exploit my opponents as well.
In general, this is a difficult style to both perform and counter. Loose-aggressive players can be both very weak and very strong. In my opinion, this style has been mastered by many Brazilian regulars. They often play marginal hands, come up with complex lines and creative raises, check-raises, invent small pre-flop 3-bets, and generally successfully exploit tough guys who are often unaware that they are losing against such opponents.
How to beat them? A strategy that works very well is that you don’t make decisions motivated by your ego. To put an opponent in his place, to prove something to him – this is definitely not worth doing against them. Try to figure out where they deviate the most from optimal play and play good, solid poker. Let them attack where they shouldn't, and in time they will outmaneuver themselves. Extending the draw range works well, and against particularly straightforward ones that attack every weakness, provocative bets and slow plays work well. Especially slowplay. This is the main weapon against players who bluff too often.
If you take your loose-aggressive style to the limit, you get category #5 – maniacs. I single them out in a separate group because they always go out of range and grab any opportunity to show aggression. When the card hits them, it begins to seem that we are outplayed and destroyed and that it is impossible to fight them. They really exert strong psychological pressure. However, the recipe for dealing with them is quite simple: if they are always aggressive, I will just check a strong hand or make a small bet with it to provoke a raise.
In general, against a maniac, we are doomed to win huge pots with our value hands, and this will pay for all the overfolds that we make preflop and post flop. Narrow your pre-flop raise-fold and 3-bet-fold ranges, remove the weakest hands from your post-flop calling range and collect value. You really shouldn't be afraid of maniacs. Play good poker and let them bluff.
Category No. 6 is “orange”, top regs. Why orange? This is my favorite color. They are well-balanced players with excellent gameplay. There are few people who I put an orange mark on, only the best of the best wear it. Their key feature is that their game is constantly evolving and improving. They successfully adapt to different styles, come up with good exploits on the fly, and they have a very solid base. For example, I’ll name Timothy Adams, a regular participant in Super High Roller tournaments. It seems that you can’t call him passive, but at the same time, there are no weak points in his strategy, and he is very good at picking up keys from other players.
There is no easy recipe against such opponents. I try to play as close to the GTO as possible and show my best poker. I closely follow their lines and cards at showdown in order to learn something from them. And, of course, I try to drown out the voice of my ego. Attempts to outplay them, going beyond the boundaries of what is permitted, will not lead to anything good. Many have fallen into this trap, playing against me, desperately trying to punish me, outwit me, andbe sure to win a big pot from me – and it cost them dearly. Don't repeat their mistakes!
Here are the six main categories that I use while playing. As I said, at the next level, the classification becomes more complex – there are subtypes and transitional types. But when I first meet an opponent, I try as quickly as possible to classify him into one of these six categories, to understand how he thinks during the hand and how deeply he understands poker. All this is very helpful in choosing a counterstrategy.