When Swimming With Sharks, Identify their Swimming Style


Maybe you have been sitting in a low limit session for a couple dozen hands. Play in this pool has been a more or less comfortable and casual affair, as one might expect from a $.05/$.10 table. It has not been a short session, a few players have come and gone, but of the five or so long session players luck has not yet decided, as of yet, on whose lap it will sit. Down sits another player named something conspicuous, like Red Rover. ‘Hello Red Rover’, everybody says in an amiable fashion. ‘Hello’, Red Rover answers back, ‘delighted to be here.’ A couple dozen hands later you and the other five are left scratching your heads as Red Rover slowly but surely emptied your chests. Do not be fooled. This was no accident.


It is hard sometimes for players of improving skill to resist fishing for the easy money even it means an evening or two of low limits. Just like in real life, where fish play sharks will prey. However, do not lose heart! Let this anecdote, or your own experiences, motivate you to improve your game so that the next time a Red Rover comes to the table you will have them pegged. Unlike sharks and fish, a poker player is not born, they are groomed. The first and best thing you can do to groom your skills is learn to identify the different online poker playing styles: loose-passive, loose-aggressive, tight-passive, or tight-aggressive.  Initially this skill will help you to avoid the sharks so as to change tables or log off when Red Rover swims on in. Later, with time and practice, it will allow you to identify your own style, adjust it, and exploit the many Red Rovers of the online poker world. 


If you are new to poker, chances are you are a loose-passive player –otherwise known as an ATM (how flattering!). Mainly the loose-passive player’s mistake is lack of experience and lack of knowledge. Without calculating or considering pot or implied odds, the loose-passive player will call far too many bets hoping the luck of the draw will do all the work. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for loose-passive players to assume, as a matter of course, that their opponents are always bluffing and so take it upon themselves to call all the raises. This style of online poker is really a recipe to lose.


The loose-aggressive player is the quintessential bluffer. Even with only marginally strong starting hands they will raise in order to intimidate other players. Moreover, these players are difficult to cow, as they are often ready to go all in when pushed. In the short-term this style often serves its player well, and can even infect loose-passive players with an aggressive bluffing bug. However, these types cannot hold-up in long sessions and will eventually lose much (if not all) to tighter, more patient players who simply know better.  


Tight-passive players are almost unnaturally patient. Also called ‘chickens’ these players fold constantly, and will generally only play starting hands such as AA, KK, QQ, JJ, or AK. While this sounds like a formula for failure, this tactic tends to be profitable, but only marginally so. In a certain sense, the tight-passive player plays tortoise to the loose-passive hare. Clearly if a chicken calls, raises, or (worst of all) re-raises, they have an awesome hand. 


Last and certainly not least are the tight-aggressive players, a.k.a. rounders, or sharks. Sharks will generally lurk and wait for a good hand or until she or he identifies a weakness in other players to bluff through or otherwise exploit. These people have a handle on implied and pot odds, and will only go into hands with both in their favor. In long sessions these people easily clean the loose players. If you feel a shark significantly above your skill level is at the table your best bet is to leave. Your second best bet, however, is to mix up your playing style just enough to confuse them. If your ploy works, the shark will probably find you unreadable and go away to other, less informed waters.



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