Two Common Types of Poker Opponents and How to Beat Them
We’ve all been there, sitting at a poker table as some insane maniac splashes chips into every pot, bullying his way to a healthy portion of his opponents’ stacks. But what are you to do against this type of player? How are you to make sure you get the best of him? And what about the competent player types we encounter at the table? What adjustments do we, as beginner poker players, need to make to exploit them while keeping ourselves as unexploitable as possible? Well, let’s quickly look at two of the most common types of players found in every single poker room across the world and learn to play against them.
Of all the player-types seen at the poker table, Aggressive Alex is the most ‘boom-or-bust’ of the lot, usually building a massive stack early and running the table over, or making a couple of ill-timed bluffs and getting felted before the rest of the table has even had time to settle in. Most Alexs are either playing on tilt or believe they have enough of an edge over their opponents that they can overcome poor hand-selection, something that is incredibly difficult to do in this day and age at all but the very weakest of tables.
When playing against an opponent like Aggressive Alex, most players try to fight fire with fire by suddenly going outside their comfort zone and splashing right back. But while heightened aggression of our own is indeed one of the keys to battling players like Alex, doing so without a detailed understanding of how to accomplish it will in fact be playing directly into their hands, like fighting an alligator while standing in waist-high water.
That’s why, for most inexperienced players, the easiest way to handle Aggressive Alex is to, as the old poker saying goes, give them enough rope to hang themselves with. We can accomplish this by playing all our value-hands passively – electing to just check/call the majority of them rather than raising or reraising and scaring off our loyal customer. Instead, let Alex do what Alex does best (bet), and simply sit back and collect your winnings. Additionally, since we know Alex is unlikely to slow down at any point, when holding hands like straight draws, flush draws, gut shots and overcards, be prepared to do more check-raising and barrelling (following up one bet with more bets on later streets), including firing a large river bet that will hopefully discourage Alex from making a play of his own with weak holdings. Do this often enough and soon Aggressive Alex will either ego-tilt and spew a buy-in (or three) directly into your lap or will be wise enough to recognize there are easier marks at the table and leave you the heck alone.
Competent Charlie is in a class of players near the top of the poker echelon, generally referred to as a regular or ‘reg’. Considering the day and age we’re in, Competent Charlie likely has an online-poker background and does a fair bit of work on his game off the table, be it through training sites, equity-calculators, or reviewing hands with his fellow regulars. As such, Competent Charlie will generally not be surprised by anything that happens at the table, having seen most common spots many times over the years, and will usually have first and maybe even second-level adjustments for each player type, yours included.
And although there some in-game-adjustments we can make against him, which we’ll discuss in a moment, the real work required to beat (or at least survive against) Competent Charlie needs to happen long before you sit at his table. That’s because the best defense against any solid player is having an overall strategy in place, ideally one striving to be game-theory-optimal (a topic for its own blog). What this means in practice is spending time thinking about as many common poker spots as possible and deciding how to play different types of hands in each of those situations while including both value (good) hands, and bluffs. This is what’s known as being ‘balanced’ and prevents you from being exploited by players like Competent Charlie who are actively looking for any situation where that balance breaks down (for example, if you only ever checkraise strong hands, or if you always check-back your draws on the turn).
In the meantime, if you find yourself at the table with Competent Charlie, the best approach is to not try to be a hero and to focus on playing a solid ABC type of poker while looking to pick your spots against the weaker opponents. Not only will this keep you out of trouble against a solid player but will likely encourage him to look elsewhere for easier edges to exploit. Then, once your rep has been established, you can begin looking to mix in some more creative check-raises with your drawing hands, making slightly wider river shoves, or throwing in a couple extra 3bets in position to make sure you earn back whatever edge Competent Charlie has extracted from you elsewhere.
Practice these adjustments against two of the most troublesome opponents at the poker table, giving aggressive players as much rope to hang themselves with as possible, and playing a tight but increasingly aggressive type of poker against experienced opponents after putting in the work off the table (congratulations, that’s what you’re doing right now!), and you’ll not only find that your reads are coming quicker and more easily in-game, but that you now know exactly how to play against certain player-types the minute they sit at your table. And what could be more fun than that?
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