Find out how you can begin to start profiling poker opponents (i.e. understanding what your opponents are up to, even without seeing their cards)! This will allow you to come up with tactics (as part of your overall strategy) to exploit them.
- Categorising your opponents is vital to being able to put them on accurate ranges.
- You won’t know the exact cards the villain is playing unless there is a showdown.
- However, you can see their frequencies.
- Villains cannot escape frequencies in the long run.
- Start reading our comprehensive guide to find out more.
The keys to profiling poker opponents
We recommend you think about two main things, when profiling poker opponents:
- Do their ranges, when a lot of chips go into the pot relative to the pot size, skew towards value or bluff?
- Do they embrace volatility, or shy away from volatility?
Are their ranges value heavy or bluff heavy?
- At many small stakes games you will encounter a lot of value heavy players. Players who are value heavy mainly want to put a lot of chips into the pot (relative to the pot size) when they are confident of usually winning the hand. This could be because they have a strong made hand, or a strong draw (often multiple draws), or a combination of these two.
- Usually, when they are not sure whether or not they are going to end up winning the hand, they want to minimise the amount of money they put in. Bluffing their opponents, to deny their opponents their equity, isn’t usually their primary concern.
- Extreme value heavy players, are sometimes referred to as nits or rocks. We would advise staying away from terms such as tight, nit, rock as you want to avoid emotion when profiling poker opponents. It is better to make an unemotional statement of fact – e.g. value heavy, ultra value heavy, slightly value heavy etc.
- Value heavy refers to the fact their ranges that are continuing after big bets, contain mostly hands they consider as value. It does not mean these players are extracting optimal value from their opponents. Infact, in many cases playing a value heavy style isn’t the way to maximise value. Value heavy players could be playing passively or aggressively.
Combating value heavy opponents
- This is not too difficult, which is one of the main reasons you should not be playing a value heavy style yourself. Preflop if they didn’t get in cheap (e.g. they made or called a 3 bet) they often have top end polarised ranges.
- Their ranges shrink massively anytime a large amount of money goes in relative to the pot size, on the flop / turn / river too. This makes any in game analysis much easier.
- When they are putting a lot of money in you can usually assume they think they are strong, so you will need to fold unless you think you are getting the right price to continue (which might be due to implied odds), or think you can get them to fold (which may be unlikely at shallow stacks).
- Of course, when they are not committing a lot of money to the pot (relative to the pot size) you might think they are unlikely to be strong, and consider bluffing (or semi-bluffing) them.
Combating bluff heavy opponents
- You will also encounter certain players who seem to think the main aim of poker is bluffing.
- They will put in a lot of chips (relative to the pot), anytime they think they can win by bluffing (especially semi-bluffs).
- Versus these players you will want to pot control more in position, when you don’t want to be check-raised, and be happy to get the money in with a wider range (as they are not only playing top end value).
Are they playing a volatile style, or shying away from volatility?
- A player who plays a style that results in potential big swings in his chip stacks, can be described as volatile. They are happy to put a lot of money into the pot (relative to the pot size), when it is far from certain if they will end up winning the pot.
- They will often be more than happy to try and play for stacks with draws. These players could also be termed as loose, but as we said above you will want to avoid unnecessary emotion when profiling poker opponents, so we recommend you call them volatile. Volatile players could be playing passively or aggressively.
Dealing with volatile players
- Volatile players will be playing much wider ranges at every point. This gives you much more to think about in game.
- It will also be more difficult to get them to fold when they think they might be able to win the pot in some way.
- Techniques you can use depend on the exact situation. If you are in position you may want to pot control more with certain hands/ranges. You will usually want to try and get value from a wider range of hands. This is because they are not just playing top of range, like the value heavy players).
Dealing with unvolatile players
- If a player likes to shy away from volatility, look for spots (especially when deep stacked) that you can make them uncomfortable. You might be able to get them to fold really strong top pair hands on certain runnouts by keeping the pressure on.
What if they are balanced?
- If all your opponents with neither value nor bluff heavy and they didn’t take on too much volatile or too little volatility, you are on the wrong table!
- If your opponents were actually playing GTO, by definition there would be nothing you could do to exploit this.
- The good news is that no human could be playing perfect GTO in almost any real life situations in full ring hold’em games. Infact, computers can only find the GTO solutions for a situation based on assumptions (e.g. only certain bet sizes allowed). In many situations it takes an awful long time even on a normal modern computer to calculate.
What are frequencies?
Frequencies tell you how often an event occurs. These are all examples of countable frequencies you could use to analyse poker situations:
- Villain 1 has opened 12% of the 495 hands he has been dealt UTG
- Villain 2 has 3 bet 10% of the 115 hands he has been dealt
- Villain 3 has cbet 60% of the time in position (from 90 opportunities)
Some frequencies take more time to be useful than others – this is because the opportunity to perform an action vary. For example, the opportunity to cbet in position, will come up less often than the opportunity to open UTG (comes up every time).
Understanding frequencies is vital to strategy
You won’t know the exact cards the villain is playing unless there is a showdown. But, you can see their frequencies. Villains cannot escape frequencies in the long run.
Let us imagine you are playing live poker, and a villain is seemingly really drunk. However, over a reasonable number of hands you have observed that his frequencies are in line with a good LAG. Less experienced players may be taken in and play incorrectly versus this player. But, you will play him as you would a good LAG.
An example: Exploiting an opponent
- Let us imagine in a live $2/$5 game, a middle position opponent opens for $20. We call on the button (we have $1,000, and cover our opponent).
- On the flop our opponent continuation bets $47 (i.e. the size of the pot). This means we are getting pot odds of 2:1. We need to call at least 1/3 of the time to stop our opponent from doing this with 2 blanks.
- Let us imagine on a given flop, we didn’t have a hand we would normally call a strong opponent. This is because we have other hands in our range that would call.
- Instead of folding, we could also consider his frequencies. We notice that villains mp open frequency is standard, but his cbet frequency is too high. Also, his turn barrel frequency is too low. Plus, once he checks the turn and faces a bet his fold frequency is too high.
- This is representative of a player who thinks he should cbet just because he was the PFR. He is not thinking about opponent’s ranges, or board texture etc. He thinks he always represents a strong hand. When he gets action (and he doesn’t have a strong hand) he is quick to give up.
- What do we do? We call with a lot more hands that we normally do. If checked to on the turn, we usually bet when checked to (and expect to take down the pot).
Frequencies, then hands
- Facing any identical decisions you will have a range of hands you will be playing in the exact same way. For example in a $2/$5 ($1,000 effective stack) 9 handed game, you will likely be opening a particular range of hands (against the given set of opponents on your table) if you are the first to open from the cutoff.
- Let us imagine the button calls. Let us look at our continuation betting strategy. Let’s say we want to approximate an unexploitable strategy. We decide on this particular flop we need to bet 70% of hands (the rest we will check). And, for every 1 ‘value’ hand we decide we need 2 ‘bluff’ hands on this flop.
- We then look at our range going in the flop. Then, remove the combos we cannot have due to the removal effects of the cards on the flop.
- From the remaining combos, we work out how many combos we need to ensure we are betting 70%.
- Then we work out how many ‘value’ combos, and ‘bluff’ combos we need, to ensure the 1:2 ratio.
- Only then, do we select the hands. If you don’t do this your frequencies, may well be out of tune. And, it is you who will get exploited by your more savvy opponents.