Sports & Games

Poker 101: How Do You Read Other Poker Players? Learn to Discern the Difference Between a Tight Play and a Loose Play

Written by MasterClass

Aug 1, 2019 • 4 min read

Poker players are classified into categories that describe how they play. Fundamentally, this classifies how tight or loose they play. This designation is not as straightforward as you might think. Player types can behave differently depending on which stage of the hand you are at.

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4 Different Types of Poker Players

When you know nothing about a particular player, your first aim should be to categorize them into one of four player types.

These definitions are only a starting point for you to begin categorizing players you have never encountered before. As you play more hands, your reads will become more specific.

  • Tight-aggressive
  • Loose-aggressive
  • Tight-passive
  • Loose-passive

What Is a Tight-Aggressive Player?

A tight-aggressive player is one who plays a limited range of starting hands preflop, and follows an aggressive strategy postflop. In no limit texas hold'em cash games, this roughly translates to open raising 20% of hands, or slightly less.

  • This is the ideal style of play for an improving poker player to aim for. Playing too many hands in a loose fashion makes postflop strategy much more difficult.
  • Aggressive poker is also a more profitable strategy than passive play, provided you don’t take it too far. Aggressive players are the hardest for other players to deal with.

What Is a Loose-Aggressive Player?

A loose-aggressive player plays exactly the same as a tight-aggressive player except they open raise more hands preflop. This style is thought to be slightly more profitable than tight-aggressive, but also more difficult to handle.

  • If you play wider ranges preflop and postflop then you put yourself at a higher risk of making mistakes. The upside of this is that your opponents will also be pressured into making many mistakes.
  • Many world class professionals follow this strategy, but be aware of the dangers if you decide to emulate them.

What Is a Tight-Passive Player?

Tight-passive is a sub-optimal style of play. The difference between a passive style and an aggressive style is to do with being proactive. An aggressive style will win many pots with a second best hand through bluffing, while passive play will not.

  • If you are not being aggressive enough, you are effectively only playing half of the game. Poker is not only about winning the most with your good hands, you must strive to win pots against weak opponents when you know you have the worst hand.
  • Often, this type of player will play too tight preflop, sometimes with very little more than an opening range of premium hands. You must be careful when dealing with such an opponent—marginal hands that you continue with against other players can get you into trouble quickly.
  • Tight-passive players very rarely bluff so you must adjust your own strategy accordingly.

What Is a Loose-Passive Player?

This is the player type that you ideally want to be facing. A loose-passive player will play a lot of hands, with many large mistakes. Most players that fit this bill can also be classified as a calling station. This means they hate to fold post flop when they have any kind of a made hand, including bottom pair or even a single overcard.

  • A loose-passive strategy has nothing good going for it. If you play with such a style, it will be impossible to avoid losing money over the long run. In an online poker game, you can spot these players easily if you are using a heads-up display (HUD) because they tend to play more than 50% of hands.
  • To maximize your profits, you must make the most of your opportunities against this player type. Most of your profits will come from bad players. Against good players, of your own level, you will mostly just pass money between each other. Against bad, passive players a decent pair will nearly always be the best hand and you should extract the maximum value possible. Money left on the table is exactly the same as money you lost by making a mistake.

Why Is Understanding the 4 Types of Players Important?

A default strategy will protect you while you collect information about your opponents. However, your aim should be to maximize your win rate which requires you to know in-depth how your opponents play. This cannot happen quickly, but what you can do within a few orbits of the poker table is to start classifying the players into the above four categories.

It is important that you go through the process and pay attention to every detail that you notice during play. If you don’t spend time watching your opponents, while they are watching you, then they will have a clear advantage. Poker is a game of incomplete information. The more information you have, the better quality decisions you will be able to make.

Once you have categorized a player you can start to make some assumptions about how they will play in certain situations. Maybe you can spot an opportunity to extract extra value by making your bet sizes larger against a loose-passive player. Or you might be able to make a tight fold against a tight-passive player you have never seen bluff.

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