There are several different poker playing styles, and each player has their own individual quirks that make them different. One of the most famous examples of this is Doyle Brunson’s affinity for 10-2 off suit because of winning two back to back WSOP titles with that hand hitting a full house each time. Sometimes conservative players have a favorite suit for flush chasing, or loose players have a ‘lucky hand.’ I have one friend who always plays 2-5 off suit, and he’s not a good player, but for whatever reason that hand always pays off for him.
But for the rest of us, there are some general ways you can label the types of players you will run into. The first very general description of poker playing styles is loose and tight. Loose players play a lot of hands, will almost always pay to see the flop, and will often chase straights and flushes all the way to the river even with bad hands. At extremely loose tables, all but the largest pocket pairs are less valuable because without anyone folding, you have only a one in eight chance of hitting trips, and so it’s good to get strong drawing hands and dominant pocket pairs. A loose player sees no problem with playing 8-10 suited under the gun.
Tight players are the absolute opposite. Tight players play far fewer starting hands, and are patient enough to wait for the right hands, the right position, and the right situation to make their move. Tight tables are usually less profitable because less players are willing to chase or pay to see the flop, and you are usually playing good hands versus good hands. The one exception is when you find tables of weak mice who can be bullied, in which case if you can play a good aggressive game you have a chance to grind out a good pay day.
Beyond this, there are a variety of sub categories for players. Conservative players rarely bet without a strong hand, and will usually just check or call unless they are very good conservative players. Aggressive players are the opposite and their chip stacks generally fluctuate a lot more, as well. General categories include loose-passive (‘calling stations’), loose-aggressive (‘œmaniacs’), tight-passive (‘œrocks’) and tight-aggressive (‘sharks’).
Poker pro Phil Hellmuth made these concepts easier to understand in one of his books by giving each type of player an animal personality. I’ve found this to be extremely helpful in helping me play a table and make quick judgment calls based on this set up. In Hellmuth’s book, there are five types of animals: Mouse, Jackal, Elephant, Lion, and Eagle. The Eagle is a pro player, so not much to think about there.
A mouse is an extremely conservative player, known as a rock, who only plays the absolute best hands. Always watch out for a raise from them. These are tight-passive players. They will win small amounts of money, but are way too predictable.
Jackals are the opposite. They are loose, aggressive, and will bet with anything, call you with gut shot straight draws, and bluff way too often. Their chip stacks will go up and down violently, but in the long run these players lose money. These are the most likely players to run their mouths off, too. Think loose-aggressive, or maniac.
An elephant is a calling station. They will call you to the river, so never bother bluffing. They won’t lose their chips fast, but bit by bit, and occasionally will get lucky and draw out a big hand, but it is always right to keep betting them since in the long run they will give you chips even with mediocre hands. This is loose-passive.
A lion is what many refer to as a shark. Tight, but aggressive, has good starting hand requirements, but understands pot odds, position, and implied odds enough to know when to take a risk, also knows when to throw away a good hand that got beat on a draw. An all around excellent poker player.
These are the types of playing styles you will run into, and being prepared for them can help you know how to handle these players when you end up going head to head.