When we first sit down at the table, how do we gather as much information about how our opponents are playing as quickly as possible? This is a question you’ll ask in every session you play, and every time a new player sits down. In this episode, James ‘SplitSuit’ Sweeney dives deep into how to read opponents and their actions for answers. He discusses how to profile players, from their appearance and demeanor all the way to their betting frequencies and sizing.

Featuring: Shaw & Sweeney

So how many hands before a player moves from unknown to known? So 30. Within 30 hands you should have a decent idea what kind of player type they are. You should have an idea if they are a nit, if they’re playing TAG, if they’re gonna be an absolute fish. You should have a basic idea of that within 30 hands. In a live game where you’re playing 10 handed this is three orbits. So again you should have that information pretty quickly within the hour. 100 hands. Within 100 hands you should be confident in your player type read and have some basic information on them. So you should have some basic frequency information if nothing else. Even if in that first 100 hands no hands went to showdown so you don’t have that information you should still have some basic information. Otherwise they are just playing way to nitty and even if that’s the case, say they’re just playing ultra snug, they’ve only played two hands in that 100 hands well that is information right? You have information that they are an ultra nit and it is gonna be extremely easy to play against them.

500 hands. After 500 hands you should have seen some showdowns for sure and you should’ve gathered some more advanced information and created a really solid player profile that’s almost certainly correct. After 500 hands you don’t have someone who played like an aggro fish for 500 hands then over the next 500 they play like a nit it just doesn’t happen. So over 500 hands you should be really confident in the player type and the player profile you’ve developed. Now in live games you’re gonna see about 30 hands an hour so you’re not gonna have the same information that most online players have. Online you can play 1000 hands an hour without breaking too much sweat so you can develop some really, really good reads and information on players quick. In live you don’t really get that. But that being said in live games you get a trade off right? So you’re trading volume for extra information because you can see your opponents, you can listen to your opponents and I cannot stress enough how valuable it is to listen to them and you can interact with them outside of a chat box.

So in live games again you may not get the sample sizes, which as an online player I love those sample sizes, I love being able to look at my HUD and then look at my pop up and see okay well they have some massive issues on turns. I don’t get that information in live and the sample sizes are never there but there’s tons of other information available and we’re gonna talk about that. So how do we characterize a player based upon his or her appearance? So I’m gonna say some stuff, I’m going to preface this by saying these are solely my opinions and I’m also probably not gonna talk about some of the things that you think you should talk about here and I’ll explain why at the end. So should you? Should we judge people based upon their appearance? So in live environments, this is the first thing you see and in poker, this is a game of information so every bit of information is something we should use. So we see them, that is in face information and yes we should use these kind of appearances to our advantage. But we need to take this with a massive grain of salt and be prepared to change your assumptions quickly. Looks can be deceiving, we’ve all heard that phrase and it’s extremely true when we’re talking about live poker.

So let’s go down the list. These are the five major things I focus on when making assumptions on appearance. First is age. So I’m just gonna kinda share my own opinions here. If I see someone who’s old I default assume that they’re nitty. If I see someone who’s middle-aged I very quickly try to determine are they just taking time away from family? Instead of them going to the bar do they go to the casino or card room to play? I try to say, is this a family person or is this a solo bachelor person? And then if they’re young there’s a lot of variability because young players can be extremely good, young players can be extremely nitty and they can be playing with college money that maybe they’re not even supposed to be there in first place. So one of the major things that I’m looking for against young players is how they value money. If they’re just kind of there to dump then yeah I’m just gonna assume they’re probably stupid aggro and we’re gonna have a lot of fun. But if they’re there and they’re protecting every last dollar they have well money means a lot to them and because of that I’m gonna put them to a lot of decisions where they’re most likely gonna find fold buttons because the money means too much to them.

So clothes, are they dressed flashy or are they dressed conservatively? Now business attire is a very good sign for us. So if I see someone who comes in and they look like they’re dressed in business attire whether it’s suit on or they look business casual, I usually assume that they’re not gonna be a great poker player and again if you do meet this and you are in fact a good poker player just again please try not to take offense to any of this stuff this is just my opinion. The reason why I say this is because someone who comes in like that is someone who almost guaranteed works 40+ hours a week, which means that if they’re doing that and if they have a wedding ring on that means they probably don’t have a ton of time for poker study. If they don’t have a lot of time for poker study chances are they’re definitely not gonna be good players right? How could they be? It takes a lot of study to get good at this game.

So look for things that indicate they probably don’t study poker and again the average person by far and away does not but if there’s any like guaranteed things you can look at that give that away like someone who has paint all over their skin and at the table is talking a lot about work. They’re probably a painter, probably pretty fair, chances are they’re working a ton of hours per week ’cause painters do and for us they’re probably not gonna be very good because where’s they’re time for study? Even more so when you see again that kind of stuff with a wedding ring on. The wedding ring usually implies that they don’t have a lot of time for study and stuff, which is kind of the assumption I make there. Also look for accessories, things like watches, sun glasses, I rarely give anyone who wears sun glasses in a poker room respect. I just default assume they’re gonna be a goofball who cares more about looking cool than playing well. So that’s something that I use for myself. If you do wear sunglasses again not trying to be insulting that’s just my default assumption.

Watches, I’m looking for big watches, if someone’s wearing some really stupid gaudy mega face watch I look very quickly to see is this the kind of person who’s playing loose within the first orbit or playing very tight? Because that’s usually a very polarizing accessory and rings, things like wedding rings, things like that. I definitely look for demeanor, demeanor’s gonna be a very, very big one. So one of the big things I ask myself is are they chatty and if they are chatty keep them talking. Even if you’re an introvert like myself for whatever you do keep that person chatty and happy ’cause that person is not here to play good poker, that person is just here to shoot the shit and have some fun. So keep them happy, because if they’re happy they’re gonna come back and continue doing it and they’re not gonna feel as bad when they dump money. So keep them chatty, also it never hurts to become their best friend they often, especially if you’re sitting next to them it’s not uncommon for them to start showing you cards, there’s other information that benefits from that.

Another thing is I look for people that are unkempt, so if someone looks pretty dirty is that someone who’s probably gonna be a great player? No probably just gonna be a disheveled degenerate, so again that’s something that veers me even more towards thinking they’re not gonna be good. Then the last piece that is really big is do they seem comfortable here? So when they sit down do they seem like they’re comfortable? During the first couple of hands does it seem like they’re comfortable looking at their cards? Does it seem like they’ve been here done this before? If not chances are it’s a good sign for us. So racks and stacks, how much did they buy in for? Obviously if you’re playing tournaments this doesn’t matter but in cash games it definitely does. Shorter stacks does not imply great player. Larger stacks, just ’cause someone buys in for table max does not imply great player. But the shorter typically for me means that I’m going to assume that they’re not great, okay? Max buys doesn’t really mean anything for me, I’ll develop assumptions based upon other bits of information.

How did they buy in? Again if you’re playing live, definitely focus on the kind of bills they used to buy in if they’re buying in directly at the table and this doesn’t really matter if you’re seeing 20’s or 100’s but if you seem someone who’s shoveling out singles, five dollar bills, 10 dollar bills, this means they’re probably down to their last little bit, I would definitely expect them to play accordingly. Then if they brought chips to the table pay attention to this kind of stuff. Are they black chips? Are they white chips that they brought from like the limit game? Are they black chips that they brought over from the black jack table? Ask those kind of questions actually when they sit down, it’s never a bad thing to start a conversation. Then look for oddities, so look for anything that they do that a good poker player simply wouldn’t ever do or at least would rarely do. So if you see the guy sit down, the first time looks at his cards lifts them up to his face. Is that something that a good player ever does? Good god no. We know how to look at cards like a normal poker player. So if they do that, automatic indicator that they have no effin’ idea what they’re doing.

Doing things like betting out of turn, string betting or string raising, blatantly not knowing the rules. If they stack red chips eight high, who the heck stacks a stack in $40 increments? I have no idea, but if you see this kind of stuff that is an automatic indicator you’re dealing with someone who really has no idea what they’re doing there. Then of course getting drunk at the table. Even if a good player did decide to get drunk at a table, they’re not gonna be playing their best that night. So again I automatically assume anyone who’s blatantly getting drunk or is blatantly stoned or blatantly high on something, probably never gonna be a great player.

So what are the things that I ignore? This is kind of just as important. So I do ignore race religion and ethnicity and this isn’t just to make this a politically correct webinar. But these are just things that have so much variance in it that I just don’t feed in to it. Right? I don’t care if someone sits down with a huge cross or a Jewish star on a necklace, I don’t care about any of that kind of stuff, it’s not important. I wouldn’t even use it as a piece of information, and yeah some people say oh well what if an Asian guy sit down or what if an old white guy sits down? It doesn’t matter, it really doesn’t. You’re gonna get so much information from other sources just ignore this kind of crap all together. I also ignore physical size, I ignore handicaps, I ignore all that kind of stuff. So I don’t care if a guy is 400 pounds who sits down. That dude could be awesome, that dude could be terrible, it doesn’t matter I don’t care, it’s not gonna be a good piece of information. Finally I ignore the hoodie, now this may seem a little bit weird, some of you may think well I look at a dude with a hoodie and I think they must be you know maybe an online background, maybe a young guy who’s a little bit more aggro whatever it is.

Ignore it, I see 85 year old dudes wear hoodies, I see the ultra nittiest of nits wear hoodies, it doesn’t not matter. It’s a stupid piece of clothing that’s not expensive so it fits most people and at the end of the day poker rooms are cold as hell. So someone wearing a hoodie or a sweater or something like that it’s not an indicator of anything. So the last little thing I’m gonna say here is look out for fakers, so look out for people that think they’re so sneaky, sitting down, pretending to rep a player type that is their polar opposite. They are spotted very, very easily when you look for things like frequencies. Just in general all of these initial things, you look at someone or you develop these read within like one or two hands where obviously how the heck could you ever confirm it? Over time you confirm these assumptions with frequencies that say okay this person really is X, Y, Z player type or this person really is making X, Y, Z mistake. So yeah someone who thinks they’re really sneaky and pretending to be a different player type, it doesn’t matter. They stick out like a sore thumb.

Someone who tries to play really, really loose and aggressive for the first three hands and then all of a sudden goes in to nit mode for the next four hours, right? We’ve seen that dude, he thinks he’s so damn sneaky. It doesn’t matter, maybe we make a mistake against him in this first orbit but after his frequencies, which then go to super nitty kind of confirm everything after this first 20 minutes or so, we never make a mistake against them again it becomes very, very easy to move on. So one question was asked is how to track VPIP accurately in a live environment. So first and foremost what is VPIP? Voluntarily put money in the pot. It’s a online style obviously that is used to tell us how often this person puts money in the pot pre flop. As someone with an online background this is a stat that I track in my sleep and I think most players should as well. Even if you don’t play online it’s still a great stat to keep in mind ’cause if someone has a really lose VPIP it means that play a ton of hands pre flop. A really tight one means they play very snug.

So the way that I calculate this quickly in real time is I think about X over orbit. So if you’re playing ten hand, or ten-handed sorry, an orbit contains 10 hands. So if they put money in pre flop in four of those hands in that orbit their VPIP is 40% right? They put, they had 10 opportunities, they had four entrances, 40% VPIP, pretty simple. Then what I’m looking for is confirming that over time. So yeah maybe they played four hands this orbit, one hand the next, zero hands the next, one hand the next, they don’t have a 40% VPIP they just did that single orbit. But look at it in the long term. So you need to pay attention, because the only way to track this stat is to pay a lot of attention at the table. So if you aren’t used to doing this, if you aren’t used to paying this kind of attention you’re going to fatigue much quicker during sessions to keep that kind of stuff in mind. Then if you’ve never done this before, within two orbits you can usually get a pretty good VPIP idea (Not sure what VPIP is? Use this guide for understanding simple HUD stats). Again, it’s not perfect, there’s still a lot of variance in it. But if you see someone who’s playing like no hand sin two orbits that’s indicative, if you see someone who’s playing 18 out of their first 20 hands that’s very indicative.

So try doing this for about two orbits and I think that’s gonna be a much better starting point than just simply avoiding it because it’s difficult to do. It gets easier with time, I promise you. The more you do this, the more you look for this the better and easier it becomes. The only real two stats I track in a live environment are VPIP and PFR. I track three-bet a little bit, I track C-bet for sure, and fold vs. C-bet for sure, but those are things that I think can get a little advanced for most players, it becomes too much to track. But in general if you track VPIP and PFR you’re gonna be doing far better than people that are just rando guessing here.

Matt says he’d like to better classify players as tags, lags, nits, fish, regs, all that kind of stuff. So one of the big things that I suggest doing is looking for looseness. So bad players don’t have discipline right? It’s what makes them bad. It takes discipline to be a good tight player or even just to play a good solid strategy. That takes discipline. So if you see a player who’s playing 40% or more hands pre flop they are too loose or they’re catching cards. So again you have to confirm that with time, just because someone plays really, really loose and crazy up front and then as the session wanes on all of a sudden they tighten up, again you can kind of deconfirm this. But in general look for this looseness, if you find people that are constantly playing four or more hands per orbit in a ten-handed game, yeah this is someone who’s too lose. On the contrary you can also look for tightness.

So if a player is playing one hand or less per orbit on average they are certainly on the tight side if not really, really nitty so keep that kind of stuff in mind then also look for aggression. Are they typically entering pots pre flop by raising or three-betting or by limping and calling? That’s how you start to really determine their aggression or their passivity. If they’re constantly open limping, if they’re constantly calling pre flop raises, if they’re constantly cold calling three-bets. Not that it happens a ton, there’s not a lot of three-betting in live games anyway but if you see this and that’s just the default way that they enter a pot keep that kind of stuff in mind. So I’m sure most of you have seen a chart like this at one time or another, on the X-axis we have tight on the left we have loose on the right and on the north and south we have passive down low and aggro up top. So in the top right spectrum we have our aggro-tard. This is someone who’s extremely loose, extremely aggressive, they sit right up there. Notice that the corners are where we’re gonna find our extremes right? In the bottom left we have ultra tight, we have ultra passive, that’s a bad nit.

On the bottom right we have ultra passive, ultra loose, that’s our passive fish. Then it takes discipline to sit right here and this is where most of us are right? We’re a little bit more on the tighter side of the spectrum, we’re definitely more on the aggro side of the spectrum, this takes a lot of discipline. So everyone else typically doesn’t right? I mean yeah this takes discipline to play this nitty but it doesn’t take discipline to be an aggro-tard, it doesn’t take discipline to be a passive fish so keep this kind of stuff in mind. Most players are not gonna have discipline, they’re not gonna fit in that good tag side of the spectrum so they’re gonna stick out like sore thumbs. So think of some of the things you want to be looking for. Are they raising draws or flatting draws? Are they always giving us C-bet action or are they rarely giving them action?

So if you find a player who is constantly calling pre flop raises and then is always folding versus the C-bet, or they’re only continuing like one in four times. This is someone who is free money for us. You should C-bet with your entire range, it doesn’t matter if you caught top pair, doesn’t matter if you caught nothing, just fire at them. But again you only get this information by paying a lot of attention, and remember nobody can hide from their frequencies, everything we do, or they do gives frequency information to people that are paying attention right? It’s or job to pay attention, look at their frequencies, how many opportunities did they get to do something, how many times did they actually do it? Use that information to your advantage. If they had say in the last hour seven opportunities to C-bet and they C-bet all seven of them, that’s really good information. That means they probably C-bet a lot. If in those same seven samples they only C-bet once, well that mean they’re probably not C-betting a ton, which gives us a great opportunity to start floating them a lot of the time.When they raise pre flop we call them, they checked us on the flop we stab we pick it up uncontested, easy, easy okay?

I mentioned this earlier and I’ll probably mention it again but showdowns is where confirmation is going to happen. So whenever you see a persons hand at showdown you have to replay that hand in your head, immediately. One of the big issues here is that a lot of players when they win a hand they’re so busy dragging their chips and thinking about that they just one and trying to get their head right again that they completely miss all the information from their opponent. Their opponent likely showed their hand and all you thought about, oh I won cool I need to start stacking some chips up and look at my cards for the nest hand. But you need to replay that hand immediately and say okay what happened, what were their ranges every step of the way? Actions that they took? Frequencies that they took? You need to slow down and reprocess that information because this is, it’s crucial, crucial information trust me.

So how do we gauge their experience level? This is a fair question and a little bit difficult when we’re talking about total unknowns. But just in general bad players they have a lack of discipline, they have awful frequencies and they make awful plays. So bad players as usual are gonna stick out like a sore thumb. They’re involved far too often, they’re doing bad things, they’re showing up with wide ranges, it is what it is. So what you’re looking for is players who get involved too often pre flop. Players who do anything too often or way too rarely and do things that good players wouldn’t. So a good player wouldn’t show their cards for no reason. They wouldn’t make awful bet sizing like betting one fourth pot as a C-bet or making min raises post flop. It’s just something a good player rarely ever does. So these kinds of things if I see them are things that are very quickly gonna make me look at a player and say chances are you’re not good. You’ve played six hands in the last orbit chances are you’re not a good player. You never C-bet with air it seems like. Okay, chances are you’re not a great player.

Again, these are the little things that I’m looking for and it takes a lot of focus and attention but when you get good at it I assure you your brain starts tracking this stuff automatically and it becomes much, much easier. So good players are a little bit different because they have discipline, they understand when to shift gears and they inherently have beet frequencies. So a good player is not as easy to spot because a good player could be a decent nit, a great tag or a really, really good lag. It’s difficult to figure out exactly, okay you can figure out which player type they are fairly easily with time but it’s gonna be difficult to figure out how good they are. But the biggest things I can give you is this, they all have leaks. I’ve played with amazing world class players, they have leaks, everyone does. Now they don’t have huge gaping leaks and maybe they have leaks that are in weird spots like on the turn in four-bet pots right? That’s kind of a weird situation to have a leak, most players do but they certainly don’t come up that often so you don’t get to really spot that leak.

So again understand that good players they have leaks, they make mistakes, they’re human like the rest of us, none of us are perfect poker players, myself included. They’re just a little harder to spot at first, but if you keep your eyes out for them, especially when you’re keeping your eyes peeled at showdown it’s gonna become much, much easier.

Showing 2 comments
  • Satria D

    Nice article, thank you for sharing!
    poker online

  • Albert A

    Excellent! Thank you. Especially the frequencies topic. I am going to refer back to this episode as I play and compare what I see in a live environment. I also find that watching opponent’s frequencies tends to remind me to widen my own. This reminds me of Ed Miller’s subject of forking ranges. Villain goes: limp, limp, limp over a period of time, then suddenly raises. Well the raise doesn’t always mean 10-10 plus but when they limp it almost definitely is NOT 10-10 plus. Huge info, especially if they are willing to limp/call your button raise. That is truly a Tommy Angelo “bread & butter” spot. Thanks…