Profiling opponents – How to categorize players

Profiling opponents

Profiling opponents, or categorizing opponents, is key to being able to put them on accurate ranges and coming up with tactics (as part of your overall strategy) to exploit them.

The keys to profiling opponents

At UnfairPoker.com we recommend you think about two main things, when profiling opponents:

  1. Do their ranges, when a lot of chips go into the pot relative to the pot size, skew towards value or bluff?
  2. 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 minimize 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. In general, we would advise staying away from terms such as tight, nit, rock as you will want to avoid unnecessary emotion when profiling 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 maximize value). Value heavy players could be playing passively or aggressively.

Combating value heavy opponents 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 polarized 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.

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 opponents, so we recommend you call them volatile. Volatile players could be playing passively or aggressively.

Volatile players will be playing much wider ranges at every point, which 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, and you will usually want to try and get value from a wider range of hands (as they are not just playing top of range, like the value heavy 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) and in many situations it takes an awful long time even on a normal modern computer to calculate.