A Different Perspective on Poker Players

Most analysis of poker players divides them into four groups: tight-passive, tight-aggressive, loose-passive and loose-aggressive. While these are four different exhibited behaviors, they are not really descriptions of states of being. Here, we look at the real identities of poker players.

There is no such thing as a tight-aggressive player.

There is no such thing as a loose passive player.

In fact, not one of the words loose, passive, tight, aggressive has anything to do with anything having to do with exactly who any poker player is or ever was. Those words describe consequences of players’ selves – byproducts of a player’s actual identity running up against a circumstance of cards. Calling a player tight is like calling a kite the wind – the kite’s flight is evidence of the wind but does not comprise the entirety of it.

Players actually fall into 3 categories. Meaning that if you take the time to look beneath people’s general actions (they are betting a lot pre-flop, they are folding a lot on the river, etc., etc.) and into their deep motivations, you can see that everyone falls into one of these three classes. They are:

People who see chips as money

People who see chips as tools

People who see chips as time

At some level, every person who plays poker believes, in their heart of hearts, that chips represent one of these three things: time, tools or money. That is what motivates their decisions. Players are not merely conforming to some category, magnetically required to behave tightly & passively or loosely & aggressively – they are humans and they desire.

As players see their own chips in one of those three manners, so too do they view the other chips at the table as such – someone who sees chips as money sees every chip on the table as a bit of money, not just their own. This means that each player’s specific perspective of chips informs their respective desire for chips – if they see the chips as tools they want more tools and so on and so forth. This is where our analysis begins:

The Effect of Desire on Style:

• Chips as Money: Players who see their chips as money want to win big quickly and walk away. They are likely to be very active in the early goings of a table, especially in late position. They are looking to get their money and go spend it so they are not there to screw around (at least not in the early goings.) If they get beyond the flop, chances are all of their chips are going into the middle. Connectors, suited Aces and suited connectors look like block of solid gold Google Stock. They will play passively with pairs as they are more prone to see the flush in suited cards than a full house or set in a pair – and remember, money players are looking for monsters early on. Value bets and showdowns with monsters are the calling cards of the succeeding money player. Later, 30-40 hands in, these players knuckle down and start getting tight to protect their investment. Unless they are on a blind (in which case they will get extremely aggressive to again, protect their investment) money players will become stop-go poker players (players who either go all-in or do nothing.) Time and subtlety are generally lost on a money player who’s stuck in neutral or reverse. This is because as any player plays and fails to succeed, they become myopic and over-focused on their different chip-notion, as it were (time, money or tools.) So a failing money player will become ruled by money rather than be merely full of desire for money just as a failing tool player will become ruled by tools or the desire to make plays.

• Chips as Tools: Players who see their chips as tools generally take their time when they first sit down. They may not play in the first 10 hands, choosing instead to identify the players around them. Think of these players as contractors – before a good contractor starts banging away in someone’s bathroom, they take a careful look at what’s around and identify where their time and tools would be best used. Surprise and occasional aggression are the calling cards of a tools player. Think about it – a tools player is looking to do things with his chips. He is looking to cause other players pain, to force them into tough decisions – he wants to use his tools as opposed to the money player who is looking to make good on what he has – to get value for his flush. When games get shorthanded and deep into a tournament, tools players will become hyper-aggressive. Tools players are not likely to get up until then have accomplished something great – either a major bluff or a great call. This is the game to them, and they won’t be satisfied until they win at it. If a tools player gets short-stacked they will also become very aggressive. This is because they see themselves as only having one good tool left, only one chance to do something with a bet. While these players are likely to have any two cards in a pot they are rather predictable when you look at the action ahead of them. In general, they will bet if a number of players have folded ahead of them just as they will have selected one or two other players at the table that they are going to re-raise no matter what. Figure out when a tools player is likely to have seen an opening to use a tool, and then act accordingly.

• Chips as Time: Time players are smilers. These are the people who are drinking, talking and know every one’s name. They are governed by impermanence – they know that everything ends someday and they are just trying to hold on for as long as they can. They are likely to seem reluctant to call a bet – because they don’t want to call a bet. They want to hang out for as long as they can and have fun. These players are fascinated by players’ hole cards and will always ask what someone was holding if it isn’t shown, especially in hands in which they were uninvolved. Everything is at some point academic to the time player. These are the players that cash in tournament after tournament but never seem to win any. They are also prone to becoming wallflowers should their luck turn. They will fold many hands in a row without a second thought if short-stacked. They will merely call pre-flop with strong hands, hoping to risk as little as possible. They are almost without exception, the friendliest type of poker player.

Desire Rules All

It is important to keep in mind that some people are stupid. Seriously. It is important to keep this in mind because if you start to think that someone is smart, you can outthink yourself. Try to remember what each player wants and why they want it – Are they in a bad mood? A good mood? Are they broke? Do they look cracked out? Look at what someone is first, but then look at why someone is. Poker is a game of hidden motivations – analyze what someone is doing but don’t stop there. If you want to know what really makes the kite fly, you have to look at the wind.