You’re a unique individual. Just like everyone else.
In all seriousness, the game you bring to the table is not going to be like anyone else who has played the game before or like anyone will play in the future. That sounds like destiny rests on your shoulders and while that might be a little dramatic for someone who plays with friends on a Friday night, nonetheless it’s important to know that you have your own style.
Now, you may not know your style. Worse, you may be trying to emulate someone else’s style (which you definitely need to stop right now.)
You might also know your style, but want to refine it or give you particular brand of magic its own name.
Have no fear, because I am going to talk all about poker styles. I will talk about why it’s important to know your style, how I define styles (because there are several ways to do it, I can only give you mine), and then we’ll talk about tools for you to figure out what your style is.
It will be fun, but it should also make you a better poker player.
Why Poker Style Matters
If you have read any of my posts, you’ll find that I try to think very deeply about the game of poker and how to play it. If you’re new to my particular style, by the end you will understand that I will (over-) analyze many facets of the game.
With that said, one of the things that I have thought about for my own game and watched with others is that idea of “style.” It’s probably not the best word since style can mean a lot of things. Unfortunately, I don’t mean the clothes you wear or the cut of your hair when you play (believe me, I am not qualified to judge any of that.)
Instead, when we talk about style, we’re going to talk about a unique player’s set of tendencies and preferences when they hit the poker table.
Don’t worry, though. At the end of the day, the particular details of your style aren’t better or worse than anyone else. What is important is that you understand your style. If you find you are more of one type than the other, that’s great. Play that to that and that alone. Don’t try to play to a different style because you won’t feel comfortable and you won’t enjoy the game as much.
What Attributes Make Up Your Poker Style
A given player’s style, at least as far as I am concerned, is comprised of three distinct elements:
- Aggression vs. Caution
- Sneaky vs. Straightforward
- Risk vs. Reward
Every player falls somewhere on this scale in that they are either tend to be more aggressive or they play tight. They are either sneakier or they don’t try to fool the other players. Finally, they either will comfortably take the big risk or they will calculate the reward in every situation.
Also, keep in mind that these are not yes/no questions. They’re more like a range from 1 to 10. In other words, a player is not Aggressive or Cautious. Instead, they are a 7 in Aggression, which means more often than not they play aggressively.
Let’s look at each of these factors in a bit more details.
Aggression vs. Caution
In brief, aggression vs. caution could mean a lot of things, but for style, aggression vs. caution is a measure of how often a player spends her chips to stay in the game.
More aggressive players are more likely to wager chips and continue playing. Tighter players do not.
Sneaky vs. Straightforward
When determining style, sneaky vs. straightforward refers to how often a player will try to trick the table.
Sneaky players are more likely to bluff, semi-bluff, run gambits, etc. A straightforward player does not.
Risk Vs. Reward
Finally, a risky player doesn’t mind taking chances on a bad hand or on a big pot. A reward player is far more calculating in what they’re going to do. Risk is highly correlated with Aggressive players (and often sneaky players), but really this refers to a player’s ability to stay in the game when (literally) the chips are down.
A Risky player will stay in the game with little thought. A Reward player is far more concerned about thinking through the odds and makes decisions according to their own internal numbers.
How to Find Your Poker Style
To figure out your own style, you’re going to have to play poker. (It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.)
When you play to figure out your style, you have to turn off your internal narrative about who you are and what the last poker article you read told you to do (except this one, of course.) I have seen wonderfully aggressive players who were sneaky little you-know-whats and took stupidly huge risks at the poker table who were timid and wouldn’t risk two dull pennies away from the table.
I’ve also seen players who watch a video and read a book and try to change their entire poker style to fit what some pro did. You have to stop all that and really listen to yourself.
When the cards come to you, do you want to bet often? Is staying in the game the most important thing to you? You tend towards Aggressive playing. On the other hand, if you are fine mucking even a borderline hand, that’s great. You are probably rate higher as a Cautious player. That doesn’t mean you won’t bet to stay in a hand sometimes, but you are less likely to do so.
If you take great pleasure in bluffing your opponent or value betting their chips away, you might be more Sneaky than not. If you are more likely to play the cards you have straight and avoid any fancy traps, congratulations. You’re a more Straightforward player. If you are Straightforward, you still need to lay a trap (that’s poker), but don’t worry if you want to do it less.
Finally, if you’re middle name is YOLO or “Ah, [bleep] it” is your catchphrase, you’re going to have a higher Risk score. If you are more cerebral and want to know the numbers, Reward is more your game. Reward players must still risk, but they will do so only if they feel the time is right.
Again, though, which of those you are and where you fall on the scale doesn’t make you more or less likely to win. Playing against your preferences may keep you from winning and enjoying the game, though.
Instead, what you need to do is find your style and then find books, bloggers, vloggers, etc. who support that style.
Style Recognizes Style
Once you know your style, you can start to figure out everyone else’s style, too. Start with watching folks on TV because you’re likely to get a larger number of hands you can observe. Still, watch what they do and see how they play.
Then, take those skills to your favorite poker table and practice them there. Find the Aggressive players and the Cautious players by seeing who plays a lot of hands. Realize that you can probably trap Aggressive players, but you cannot bluff them (and vice versa for Caution players.)
However, anytime they do reveal, look carefully at what they had and reconstruct the match. Did they bluff? Did they value bet and take chips? The more Sneaky a player is, the less you can trust your read and the more you need to take that into consideration.
Finally, the Risk players will be the ones who think less and bet more and higher amounts. The Reward players are slower and part with their chips more grudgingly. The good news is that Risk players are a risk to flame out. Let them do it. The Reward players, on the other hand, require observation, but if you can get them at the right time, you can sucker them into giving up a lot of money.
Ultimately, the focus of finding your poker style is that I want you to be comfortable.
I learned early on that style matters from playing video games. While I thought I wanted to rush my opponents with lots of little units as fast as I could, every time I did, I felt off. It was only when I realized that I liked to hit big bases with big tanks that I could sit behind did I start to enjoy the game more.
Poker is the same way. I really want to be Aggressive, but if I do, I start to feel off. That’s why I tend to play tight. I also play Straightforward so that I don’t end up risking chips on a silly gamble.
You have to find your style and when you do, you will find that the game just feels better for you.