Poker Playing Styles

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Everyone has their own style of playing poker which they develop as they learn the game. Broadly speaking peoples’ playing style is very much governed by their personality. If you are quiet and reserved person, chances are that you’ll be quite tight and somewhat passive at the tables. If you’re extroverted and love to be the center of attention, you’re more likely to play a loose and aggressive style of poker, and be inclined to act as ‘Table Captain’, dictating the action and being involved in lots of pots.

Poker playing styles can loosely be divided into four categories based on how many pots the player gets involved in and how aggressively they play when in a pot. The four styles and their characteristics are as follows:


These are typically the worst type of poker players. As the name suggests, they’re in a lot of pots and don’t exercise good starting hand selection before the flop. Generally these will be the type of players that have no respect for the power of position in poker, and will be as likely to play a pot from the under-the-gun position as from the button. Typically in a short handed cash game, a player would be described as having loose-passive pre-flop game if they have a VPIP (voluntarily put money in pot) of 30% or more, together with a PFR (pre-flop raise) of 10% or less. They’ll be doing lots of open-limping and limping behind, and calling lots of raises with speculative hands.

After the flop, their passive nature means they’re much more likely to be checking and calling than betting or raising. Often times if a loose passive player flops a good draw, they’ll play passively and call down to the river hoping to hit, rather than semi-bluffing to take advantage of their fold equity. The only time you’re likely to see a loose-passive player bluffing is on the river when they miss their draw and realise the only way they can win the pot is to bet. If a player like this is putting a lot of money in the pot it usually means they have a very strong hand, or what they perceive to be a strong hand, which in some cases can be as weak as top-pair. It’s up to you as their opponent to figure out what they think constitutes a strong hand!


These players are also called ‘nits’ in the poker world. They’re the type of player that won’t be in a hand unless they have a very strong hand, and if you’re up against one, you better make sure you have a hand close to the nuts if they’re showing much interest in the pot. The tight-passive player will be very selective pre-flop, typically only playing AA, KK, QQ and AK in early position. They’ll usually understand the fact that they can open up a little bit in later position, but it’s very unlikely that you’ll find them trying to steal the blinds with K4 off-suit. A tight-passive player in a 6-max ring game will typically have be entering less than 15% of pots and usually won’t be raising more than 10% of the time. Tight players will occasionally limp in, but will often fold to a raise, particularly if they’re going to be out of position.

After the flop, you have to remember that the tight-passive player’s hand range is usually going to be very strong. Some particularly tight players won’t even continuation bet when they miss the flop and they will generally play very timidly post-flop and usually shut down if they see a draw hitting when they have a strong hand like a set, meaning they miss out on a lot of value. The way to win money from a tight-passive player is continually pound them with aggression, while at the same time recognising the occasions when they do have a strong hand that they’re willing to go all the way with.


When poker strategy was undergoing a revolution in the early to mid 2000’s, the tight aggressive style was universally accepted as the best way to play poker. The style involved being selective with your pre-flop starting hands, particularly when you were likely to be out of position, but to play fast and hard on the flop, getting maximum value from your strong hands, but keeping your opponents off guard by constantly bluffing and semi-bluffing and firing turn and sometimes even river continuation bets without a made hand.

Typical characteristics of the tight-aggressive player are firstly that they are very aware of position. They will play the vast majority of their hands in position. At a 6-seater cash game, a tight aggressive player will typically have a VPIP of 20-25% and a PFR of 15-20%, but if you look at these stats broken down by position you’ll see they might only be playing 12/12 under-the-gun, but 40/30 on the button, and will typically stealing the blinds upwards of 50% of the time if it’s folded to them on the button. They will also be 3-bet bluffing their opponents before the flop quite regularly, particularly in steal of cut off vs. button situations.

A second characteristic of the tight-aggressive player is that they follow up their aggressive pre-flop game on later streets. Instead of calling with their draws, they’ll be more likely to check-raise late position openers and in general will be raising continuation bets very often. Good tight-aggressive players will have a great feel for when to keep up this aggression on the turn and river, and when to shut down. The only difficulty with playing the tight-aggressive style is that because your preflop hand range is relatively tight, particularly in early position, good opponents will find it somewhat easy to hand-read against you, and you’ll find yourself in tough spots, such as being left in no-man’s-land on a low flop when you raise in early position and face aggression.


The loose-aggressive style is the hardest style to master, but the most effective should you be able to do it. If you look at all of the big name high stakes cash game pros like Tom Dwan, Patrik Antonius and Phil Ivey, you’ll notice that they all play an extremely loose and splashy style and they end up playing huge pots against each other with very weak hands. The key to being able to play the loose-aggressive style well is to understand how people are reacting to your maniacal ways. Typical stats of a loose-aggressive player in an online cash game would be a VPIP greater than 30% and a PFR greater than 25%. This type of player can and will show up with any 2 cards from any position and this makes them very difficult to play against. You may think that when you call an under-the-gun raise with AQ and the flop comes Q64 that you’re relatively safe, but the loose-aggressive player can show up with a hand like 64 in this position meaning you’re crushed, but because of his aggressive nature he can also show up with 57 or 35, or an out-and-out bluff. The difficulty in putting a loose-aggressive player on a hand is what makes them so difficult to play against. A good loose-aggressive player will have his aggressive play well balanced between value-bets, semi-bluffs and pure bluffs and will be equally likely to have any of the above at any given time.