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In life, poker, and most other games, there tend to be three types of players.
One type of player plays because they enjoy the social interactions. They want a social group, which poker so conveniently provides. The second player likes to test the boundaries of the game. In poker, they tend to run optimistic bluffs or make huge folds most players would never even consider. The third player type loves winning.
While you are probably a blend of the three types, it is important to realize who you are playing against in order to achieve your goals.
The first type of player, who plays the game mostly for the social interactions, makes up the majority of the player pool, especially at the 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 often develop a simple system to blindly follow and do not stray far from it.
While most of these players tend to lose relatively small amounts, they provide much of the money that ends up trickling up to the high-stakes games because players who beat the small-stakes occasionally move up and get crushed before returning back to the lower limits.
When you encounter these players, make a point to give them what they want, which are social interactions. Feel free to chat with them about whatever they would like to discuss and be sure to congratulate them on their winning hands. It is mandatory that you do not sit like a statue with sunglasses and a hoodie and completely ignore them. Ideally, you want to make these players as happy as possible while they play in a game they cannot beat.
The second player type gets a thrill out of pushing the boundaries of the game. While these players can be overly tight or loose, they tend to be at one extreme or the other. Some of these players take great pride in folding a powerful hand when they suspect their opponent has the best hand. Others enjoy running insane bluffs whenever they think their opponent does not have the nuts. While most of these players think about the game and are trying their best to win, they usually 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, then apply a lot of pressure. If they bluff off their stack anytime they sense weakness, 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. When one of these players shows their “amazing” play, congratulate them on it and reconfirm in their mind that they should be looking to make these ridiculous plays on a regular basis. These players tend to make up the majority of the middle-stakes players because they are intelligent enough to beat a player using a simple system but are not capable of playing a fundamentally sound strategy that is required to crush the high stakes.
The third player type likes to win. They are not looking for social interactions and tend to not get excited over any individual hand. They show up to play their best every day and go home happy whenever they play well, regardless of if they win or lose. These players make up the vast majority of the high-stakes player pool, even though they make up only a tiny percentage of the entire player pool. You will find that most of these players think at a high level and generally don’t make too many egregious mistakes. You want to avoid playing in games with these players whenever possible.
It is probably obvious, but I am entirely the third player type. I am not looking to hang out and have a good time at the poker table, and I certainly do not get a thrill out of bluffing someone out of a big pot. In general, you will find most excellent players are mostly the third player type of player with a little bit of the second type mixed in. Very rarely will you find someone who is playing purely for social reasons at the high stakes, and for that reason, I have relatively little experience playing against them. Most of the negative expectation players at the high-stakes games are the second player type who simply cannot force themselves to have the discipline required to play a fundamentally sound strategy.
In order to keep your game profitable, you must be nice and make the experience enjoyable for the other players at the table. Winning players trade time for money, and the losing players trade money for an experience. If they do not enjoy their experience, they will eventually quit. While you may not want to talk at the table or be congratulated when you run a big bluff, giving the weaker players attention and letting them you know you see what they are doing will make them happy and keep them at the table indefinitely. ♠
Jonathan Little is a professional poker player and best-selling poker author with more than $7 million in live tournament earnings. If you want to learn how to play fundamentally sound poker and increase your win rate, check out PokerCoaching.com. Click here to try PokerCoaching.com for free.