Understanding different poker player types

March 20, 2013  

In poker, and most other games, there tends to be three types of players. One type plays mostly for the social interaction. The second player likes to test the boundaries of the game. In poker, these players tend to run insane bluffs or make huge folds most players would never consider. The third player loves winning. While you’re almost certainly a blend of the three types, it’s important to realize who you’re playing against to extract the maximum amount of profit in the long run.

The first player (social type) makes up most of the player pool, especially at small and middle stakes. These players tend to not care if they win or lose, as long as they don’t lose too much. They tend to develop a simple system of play and generally don’t stray from it. While most of these players tend to lose relatively small amounts, they provide much of the money that trickles up to the high-stakes games, as players who beat the small stakes occasionally move up and get crushed before returning to small stakes.

When you encounter these players, make a point to give them a bit of enjoyment at the table. Feel free to chat with them and be sure to congratulate them on their winning hands. It’s mandatory you don’t sit like a stone and ignore them.

Ideally, you want to make these players as happy as possible while they play in a game they can’t beat.
The second player type gets a thrill out of pushing the boundaries. While these players can be overly tight or overly loose, they tend to be on one extreme or the other. Some take great pride in folding a powerful hand when they suspect an opponent has the best hand.

On the other end of the spectrum, some of these players like running insane bluffs whenever they think it’s profitable. While most of these players tend to be thinking about the game and are trying hard to win, they often get so far out of line that they become greatly unprofitable. These players are fairly easy to play against once you figure out their tendencies. If they fold when you apply a lot of pressure, apply pressure. If they bluff off their stack any time they sense weakness, try to look as weak as possible when you have a strong hand. All you have to do is set a trap and let them fall in it. When one of these players shows their “amazing” play, make sure you congratulate them and reconfirm they should be looking to make these ridiculous plays as often as possible. These players tend to make up most of the middle-stakes players, as they are thinking enough to beat a player using a simple system but aren’t capable of playing a fundamentally sound game that’s necessary to crush high stakes.

The third player type likes to win. They’re not looking for social interactions and tend to not get excited about individual hands. They show up to play their best every day and go home happy whenever they play well, win or lose. These players make up most of the high-stakes players, though they make up only a tiny percentage of the player pool. You’ll find most of these players are thinking at a high level and generally don’t make too many mistakes. Obviously these are the players you want to avoid whenever possible.

It’s probably obvious, but I’m entirely the third player type. I’m not looking to hang out and have a good time at the poker table and I certainly don’t get a thrill out of bluffing someone out of their seat. In general, you’ll find most excellent players are mostly the third player type with a little bit of the second player type mixed in. Rarely will you find someone who’s playing purely for social reasons at the high-stakes games, and for that reason I have relatively little experience with them. Most of the negative-expectation players at high stakes are the second player type.

To keep your game profitable, be nice and make the experience enjoyable for the others at the table. While you may not want to talk at the table or be congratulated when you run a wild bluff, showing the weaker players attention and letting them know you see what they’re doing will make them happy and keep them at the table.

— Jonathan Little, a representative for Blue Shark Optics, is the author of Professional Tournament Poker Vols. 1 & 2, owns the poker training site FloatTheTurn.com and 3bet Clothing, plus check out his iPhone app, Instapoker.