Playing Styles in Poker
Playing styles in poker define starting hand ranges a player plays pre-flop and how aggressive they play them post-flop.
When people play poker, the way they play can be defined as their 'playing style'. Some people are actively trying to play a certain style but some players, usually weaker ones, are playing a certain style without realizing it.
We'll be looking at the different types of poker players we'll face at the table and how we can beat them.
What Are The Four Poker Playing Styles?
The four poker playing styles are:
In Texas Hold'em poker, playing styles are defined by the range of starting hands they play preflop and how aggressively they are played post-flop. Every poker player that you will come across can be plotted somewhere on the chart below.
Loose Aggressive (LAG)
Loose-aggressive players play a lot of starting hands and they play them aggressively both pre and post-flop. At the very end of this spectrum, we find the 'maniac' who plays pretty much every hand and plays them hyper aggressively.
If you have a maniac at your table fasten your seatbelt as you'll be facing a lot of aggression but if you can get a good hand you can call down to win a big pot.
People who play the 'LAG' style are more often than not losing players - usually either drunk or wealthy enough to not care about the money - but there are some professional players who can make the 'LAG' style work for them as they have the poker knowledge to be able to play a wide range well on later streets.
It's more common to see a 'LAG' style used in tournaments where picking up chips is vitally important to staying alive in the tournament.
Tight Aggressive (TAG)
Tight-aggressive players are more selective about the hands they play pre-flop but when they do enter the pot they play aggressively. This is the most common style you'll see a winning player use.
Players who usually play the 'TAG' style are players who are experienced in the games they're playing and play them regularly. Most professional players play some form of this playing style but will vary it depending on the type of game they're playing in.
This style is widely used so expect to see it in every format. However, the format you'll most commonly see the style used in is cash games, where being fundamentally sound is critical to being a winning player.
Loose Passive (Calling Station)
Loose passive players will play a wide range of starting hands but won't play them aggressively, usually limping in pre-flop and doing a lot of calling/checking post-flop. These players want to play a large percentage of their hands up to the river.
You will only find weaker players using this style as it is nearly impossible to win long term using this strategy. The players that end up playing this style are called "calling stations" as they don't fold a lot and tend to call down a lot of hands post-flop.
There isn't a good reason to play this kind of style - if you find yourself playing like this then take a break and change it up!
Tight Passive (Rock)
Tight passive players will play a narrow range of starting hands but won't play them aggressively at all, doing a lot of limping pre-flop and checking/calling post-flop.
This is another strategy used by weaker players, usually people who are scared of losing and don't want to put money in the pot without having a very good hand. At the extreme end of the spectrum, you have the hyper nit who will only play the top few percent of hands pre-flop and will only continue post-flop if they have top pair beat.
The only reason to play this kind of strategy is if you're playing in a game full of maniacs, where you'll know if you make a big hand they will inflate the pot massively for you - but even then it's likely playing a 'TAG' style will be more profitable.
How Are Poker Player Styles Defined
When we define poker playing styles we look at the range of hands someone plays pre-flop and how aggressively they play post-flop. We do this to get an overall feel for how a player plays, pre-flop has the fewest opportunities for passive actions and people are beginning to realize more and more that raising is superior to limping so it can be hard to tell a player's playing style from pre-flop alone - which is why we take note of post-flop actions.
Tight vs Loose (Pre-Flop)
Pre-flop action is the first round of betting, where you have the option to fold, call, or raise. Competent players will be folding the majority of their hands and opening the pot for a raise if the action has folded to them, but some weaker players will limp in instead.
What is tight?
While competent players will fold the most of their poker hands, there is a point where you can fold too many hands and become what is called 'tight'. Now your starting hand requirements will be different from each position, but if you're playing less than 15% of the time on average, then you are likely playing too tight.
What is loose?
On the other hand, you don't want to be playing too many hands pre-flop as it's hard to sustain a good win-rate playing such a wide pre-flop range. While how loose you play will depend on the game you're playing in, if you find yourself frequently playing more than 30% of hands then you are likely playing too loose.
Now there isn't a perfect number of hands you can play pre-flop to become a winning player - it will all depend on the game you're playing in. Playing a loose style will win you more money when the game is playing very tight pre-flop, and playing a tighter style will win you more money when the game is playing loose.
Aggressive vs Passive (Post-Flop)
Post-flop action consists of all the decisions on the flop, turn, and river. We look at how often a player is betting/raising compared to the number of times they're calling/checking/folding to get an idea of how aggressive or passive they play.
What is aggressive?
Aggressive players do a lot more betting and raising than they do calling or checking. These players put pressure on their opponents by putting them to a decision with aggressive actions. Winning players will either use a tight-aggressive or loose-aggressive playing style. However, while aggression is good, there is a danger of going too far and becoming a maniac which is not a profitable playing style.
What is passive?
Passive players do a lot more calling and checking than they do betting or raising. They take a lot of passive actions, hoping to either see a cheap showdown or have their opponents build the pot for them. The majority of players employing this strategy consistently are losing players, as they don't win enough pots before showdown and fail to build a big pot with their best hands enough to be winning long-term.
Aggressive playing styles will almost always win more in games than passive playing styles. Being aggressive allows you to win the pot before showdown and also allows you to build bigger pots with your best hands. There are select game types where playing passive is best - for example, if you have a maniac at the table you can play passively knowing that they will bet almost every time for you - but in the long run, knowing how to play an aggressive strategy will see you win more money at the tables.
Why Do Poker players Use Different Styles?
Different types of poker players think about the game differently and want different things from playing which translates to their playing style. If we think about two players who are new to the game - one wants to become a good player and win money in the long-term, the other just wants to gamble and have a good time, do we think they'll play the same?
These players are going to play extremely differently - the first will likely play a tight passive game, scared to lose any money and the second player will play a loose aggressive/passive style, wanting to get as much action as possible.
Styles can also relate to your level of discipline and your risk tolerance. Some players, when they're faced with a situation they're unsure of are more likely to take a passive approach to minimize their losses whereas some players will take a more aggressive approach to try and maximize their gains. As poker is a game of risk management, your individual approach to risk will likely inform your playing style when you start playing.
Identifying these playing styles at the table is more than just being able to use poker lingo correctly, it's knowing that the way your opponents play will impact their pre-flop range and the lines they take with certain hands post-flop. So once you know the poker playing style your opponent is using, it needs to influence how you hand read against that opponent.
What Is The Best Texas Hold'Em Playing Style?
The best poker style depends on the game you're playing in, and how the other players at the table are playing. It's common for new players to want to find the 'best' strategy but the truth of the matter is there is no 'golden style' that will win every time. You need to be good at playing a range of styles to best suit the game you're playing in.
Some playing styles are unequivocally bad for almost all games (e.g. loose passive and tight passive) but there are some styles that are usually good but would being bad in certain game types.
For example, if you usually play a LAG style but are in a game full of calling stations, your bluffs aren't going to work anywhere nearly enough for this style to be profitable. It would be better for your win-rate to switch to a TAG style that focuses on getting max value when you have strong hands.
How To Play Poker Against Certain Styles?
When trying to find the right style to beat a specific opponent you need to look into the weaknesses of their playing style and find how best to exploit that in the way you play. By looking at what your opponent is doing wrong, it will become clear how you should play to make the most money from them. Let's look at some examples.
Things your opponent could be doing wrong and how to exploit them:
- Overfolding pre-flop - raise their blinds more and fold more when they do VPIP (voluntarily put money in pot).
- Playing too many hands pre-flop - 3bet a wider range for value, remove some of the worst hands from your opening range
- Too aggressive post-flop - trap with your good hands and let them bluff into you.
- Too passive post-flop - fold more when they show aggression and value bet when they check.
- Overfolds post-flop - bluff a lot on the flop but give up when they call.
- Calls too much post-flop - reduce bluffs and value bet a wider range.
Following these simple exploits will help you build a strategy based on your opponent's weaknesses.
For example, if someone is playing a tight-passive style then we know they're not playing a lot of hands pre-flop which we can counter by aggressively raising their blinds and overfolding when they enter a pot. We also know that they will be passive post-flop so we can overfold when they show aggression and we can value bet our good hands when they check.
Be mindful that you are likely going to be playing at a table with multiple opponents who all have different playing styles, so you should consider all your opponents left in the hand when you make your decisions.
Poker Playing Styles - FAQ
We've collected and answered some of the most frequently asked questions about poker playing styles.
What is a "rock" in poker?
A "rock" is a type of player who plays very few hands preflop, only playing the very best starting hands.
What is a "nit" in poker?
A "nit" is a type of player who plays very few hands preflop and continues to be tight whilst playing postflop.
What does "aggressive" mean in poker?
Being "aggressive" means that you are making a lot more bets/raises (aggressive actions) compared to checks/calls (passive actions).
What does "passive" mean in poker?
Being "passive" means that you are making a lot more checks/calls (passive actions) compared to bets/raises (aggressive actions).
What does "tight" mean in poker?
Being "tight" in poker means to play a very narrow range of hands preflop compared to the average, generally no more than 10% of hands.
What does "loose" mean in poker?
Being "loose" in poker means to play a very wide range of preflop hands compared to the average. For example, playing over 40% of hands would be considered loose.
How to beat poker players using a random playing styles?
Most people who play a 'random' style will be playing way too many hands preflop and will be calling down too light post-flop so tighten up your preflop range and value bet aggressively post-flop.
What playing styles do professional poker players use the most?
Most professional poker players employ a TAG (Tight-Aggressive) style, however, some employ a LAG (Loose-Aggressive) style and still win - the key is to be aggressive.
By now you should be able to identify and counter the different types of playing styles you will come across when you're at the tables so you can maximize your win-rate.