Poker Playing Styles; advantages and disadvantages: Preflop

by PokerAnon ~ March 1st, 2012. Filed under: Basics of poker, Instructional posts.


This is a modified repost of something from years back. I’ve made a few revisions and additions, but it’s a good review.

This is a collection of poker plays, separated into preflop plays and postflop plays. It’s a different way of analysing players according to what actions they have in their playbook. Rather than limiting myself to the four general styles and using the maniac, rock, calling station labels or the loose versus tight and aggressive versus passive grid I wanted to just list common plays so that I might apply them to individuals that I run across.

It’s not comprehensive and the thinking level is not particularly advanced. The list is designed to consider micro level no-limit holdem players, from 0.01/0.02 tables up to 0.25/0.50 and tournaments up to $10 + 1 buy-in levels. I’m looking for things that players at these levels will do consistently and in most cases a number of times within say 50 hands or so. Most of these things you could define and note within a few orbits at a table.

These characteristics are not mutually exclusive. A loose-passive player may limp AA from early position, but a tight player may also do so. But a frequent limper is going to be more often the type of player to donk postflop whereas the tight player rarely gets involved postflop, and when he does he’s usually the one raising. Or, a player who normally bets postflop may also slowplay any good hand (actually this is pretty common). For most players you can probably apply two or three characteristics from the preflop list and two or three from the postflop list and then you pretty much have their game figured out.

Like most players that have played for a while I’ve at least tried most of these plays or styles at one time or another. Good players will keep as many in their arsenal as they find useful. But most players have a limited understanding and language and will use their favorites or the ones that they are most comfortable with over and over again. That’s the advantage of keeping on the lookout. That’s what makes beginners exploitable.

I’ve tried to come up with a couple of advantages for each, and a couple of disadvantages or risks with each. There is no attempt to explain how to make these plays; this is written for the purpose of recognizing the plays. I haven’t gone into details about how or how not or when or when not to use them, though in a few instances where I rarely use the play I’ve theorized what the play means.

Categorized plays; Preflop

Limp, and often; Stats: High VPIP, low PFR

  • GOOD: can flop big hands with connectors/suited cards, such as trips/two pair/flushes
  • SO SO: cheap way to see lots of flops and play lots of hands
  • BAD: can lose lots of blinds being raised off hands
  • BAD: will flop lots of marginal hands that can be tough to play multiway

Limp strong but not premium hands; AQ/KQ/AJ/AT; Stats: low PFR or big gap between VPIP and PFR

  • GOOD: can flop TPTK and be a surprise winner against blinds or other limpers, beating second best hands
  • SO SO: can fold cheaply when missed flop
  • BAD: will miss most flops and may be bet off the best hand (even Ace-high may be the best hand)
  • BAD: miss value by not building the pot preflop when ahead or by limiting the competition
  • BAD: can be costly if you don’t have the nuts because you think that you have underrepresented the hand and you can overvalue it postflop

Limp big hands; either trapping with AA/KK or afraid to raise with AK/QQ/JJ (especially if multiway low level)

  • GOOD: can win big against top pair on the flop
  • GOOD: can 3 bet/shove if raised preflop
  • BAD: miss value by not increasing the pot preflop
  • BAD: gives off big reverse implied odds to unexpected flopped two pair/set

Open limp from mid/late; Stats: High VPIP, low PFR, more common the lower the buy in level

  • sometimes combined with high postflop bet frequency, postflop bets are often tiny amounts designed to take down pots that no one has any interest in, or overbets of the pot to make sure that no one will call
  • occasionally done with the intention of trapping with big hands. These players are desperate to get value for their big hands and because there are only a few players behind them they want to make sure someone plays by open limping. I see this done with big hands more often in tournaments when the table is short.

Tight, play very few hands; Stats: low VPIP

  • GOOD: stay out of trouble with more difficult hands
  • GOOD: get lots of respect when you do play
  • BAD: lose a lot of blinds to more aggressive players
  • BAD: never flop disguised hands
  • BAD: gives off reverse implied odds if opponents read the tightness and we can’t fold to aggression/trapping

Raise lots of hands; Stats: high PFR

  • GOOD: takes down lots of small pots
  • GOOD: gives aggression lead post flop
  • GOOD: if done with a wide range can flop disguised hands
  • BAD: against good players they will increase the amount of reraising and trapping that they will employ against you
  • BAD: gives off reverse implied odds if you can’t fold. I’ve seen a lot of players tilt when opponents start playing back against their aggressive style
  • BAD: may have to play big pots out of position with marginal hands if a lot of raising is done from early positions

Raise/steal from late position/SB; Stats: high steal percentage, much higher PFR in late position than early, similar to raising most hands, but might not be as predictable

  • GOOD: if done from late position gets isolation and position
  • GOOD: disguises hand range. You could have 96 and flop two pair, or hold AA and they think that because you steal often you have something weaker
  • SO SO: eventually players will get tired of your steals and will start playing back against you so you have to have a plan for adjusting

Lack of positional awareness; Stats: usually high VPIP and/or PFR combined with even rates from all positions

  • GOOD: disguises hand strength
  • SO SO: get to see lots of flops
  • BAD: get trapped playing weak hands out of position
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