I put poker players into four groups: Strong, Medium, Soft Calling Stations, and Soft Passive. I also use TAG, LAG, etc. but let’s stick with the first group for this article since it’s how I usually profile poker players when I sit down. Prior to getting to poker betting patterns and how they relate to these four groups, it’s important to understand which types of players you will see most. My rough estimate for breaking down the poker-playing population…
- Strong: 20%
- Medium: 60%
- Soft Calling Stations: 15%
- Soft Passive: 5%
The easiest group to defeat is Soft Passive, but, unfortunately, they are also the toughest to find. If you want to seek out these types of player so you can increase your win rate, then I would recommend targeting 1/2 No Limit poker games.
However, choose your 1/2 NL games wisely based on the rake. For example, you don’t want to play 1/2 NL at Harrah’s Cherokee. These are terrible poker games to play. The house will win due to a $7 max rake and a $200 max buy-in.
In most poker rooms, the rake is lower for 1/2 NL, so you shouldn’t have to worry about it too much. You want to be on alert when a poker room doesn’t have much competition in the area. That’s when they will rip you off. For the record, the 2/5 NL games at Harrah’s Cherokee is great, but only on the weekends.
Poker Betting Patterns: Soft Players
The Soft Calling Stations can make your day, but they can also be problematic. If you’re not running good, you don’t have much opportunity to maneuver because they’re usually going to call your bluffs. There are three ways I attempt to deal with these players if you’re not running good.
One is to stay out of there way, which is the best approach. Two is to use small bluffs. If they call, you didn’t risk much. The third is to check-raise-bluff. I have noticed that while calling stations are sticky, they believe wholeheartedly that a check-raise automatically means their opponent has the nuts. They will usually fold in these situations.
This doesn’t mean I recommend seeking out 1/2 NL games so you can check-raise bluff left and right. You must be timely with this play.
Poker Betting Patterns: Strong Players
The Strong players are tough. I find the exploitative players to be tougher than the GTO players. It’s not even close in my opinion. The GTO players are non-threatening and easy to read. You can defeat the exploitative players by exploiting them back. When they try to exploit you, they’re opening themselves up. Think of a fortress that must lower part of its defense wall in order to fire a weapon. That presents an opportunity.
Then there are the Medium players, which definitely makes up the majority of the poker-player population. I’m going to focus on them because their poker betting patterns are by far the easiest to read.
Medium Players Are Everywhere
I’m not sure where I came up with the name Medium players. Maybe I was eating a burger that day. I obviously mean average players. The reason Medium players are the largest segment of poker players is because they all see, watch, and read the same things.
Most people don’t seek a new route because a new route is dangerous and can lead to embarrassment if they’re wrong. What they don’t realize is that every super successful poker player I have seen has dared to be different. They all have their own brand of poker. I have seen GTO players be successful, but I’m talking about a different level, such as people with many bracelets or rings, or more than $1 million in earnings.
If I wanted to, I could start writing about standard poker strategy right here and people would listen and apply that poker strategy. Fortunately, my readers are smarter than that. They’re here because they know our poker rules for winning relates to playing the player and adaptability. There is no rigid game.
Dare to be Great
I’m not going to waste time writing about poker probability and basic poker tips. Anyone can find out information on poker probability as well as basic poker tips with ease because it’s not unique. Following the herd doesn’t apply to our poker rules for winning.
What I’m trying to tell you is that you can be a good poker player in cash games and Texas Hold’em poker tournaments if you apply basic poker strategy, but you will never be a great poker player. The only way to be a great player in cash games and Texas Hold’em poker tournaments is to be someone who understands people.
If you understand people, then GTO goes out the window because you already know the poker hands your opponents are holding.
How much more of an advantage can you get than knowing the poker hands your opponents are holding? There is no greater advantage! And I’m going to tell you how to do it right now.
This might end up being the dumbest idea of my poker career because some of you will play against me in poker tournaments, but if I’m going to write an article about poker betting patterns (and poker body language), then I’m going to write an article about poker betting patterns. In other words, I’m going to do it right.
Poker Betting Patterns: Medium Players
I promise I’m about to get to the good stuff, but first I want to say that I recommend a mini-exploitative strategy in the sense that you want to play the majority of your poker hands against Medium players and Soft Passive players. I would recommend folding more often to Strong players and picking your spots against Soft Calling Stations.
Let’s say you’re on the button with KJo and a Medium player had open-raised from middle position for 1600 on an 800 BB in a poker tournament. Do you call, raise, or fold?
He already told you the answer (in a way). Medium players aren’t savvy. They think they’re savvy, but since they’re all using the same exact savviness, it becomes incredibly easy to detect. Did you notice that the BB was 800? And did you notice that he raised to 1600? That’s a min-raise. Medium players will almost always min-raise in poker tournaments when they have a ‘fun hand.’
This usually means a suited-connector or suited one-gapper. This is one of the easier poker betting patterns to read. It could be anything from QJ-suited to 65-suited. They usually won’t go lower than that.
If player had AKs or AQs, they would have raised at least 2.5-3x the BB. We also know that it’s not AA, KK, QQ, or JJ because they would have raised at least 3x the BB, but they likely would have raised more than that because Medium players raise based on the strength of their hands.
It’s also not likely to be a pair of TT all the way down to 22 because most Medium players fear raising with those hands. They want to see if they hit the set on the flop. And even if they were to raise with TT, 99, 88, or 77, it wouldn’t be a min-raise because they would fear too many callers.
There is one other possibility, which is Ax-suited. Medium players want to build a pot with this kind of hand (without taking too much risk) because they want to maximize their gains if they hit their flush. They don’t realize that playing this way is -EV. They should value the Ace and its kicker opposed to the hand being suited. It’s much more likely to hit the pair than the flush, which can lead to kicker problems.
If you can get away from it, great, but why did you get into it in the first place? And most people can’t get away from it. I have seen it many times where someone min-raises with a hand like A6-suited in an attempt to hit a flush and ends up calling off his entire stack with top pair/six kicker.
A Swing and a Miss
Now let’s say it’s the same situation and the flop comes: 884. If the Medium player checks, he missed. Look above. The vast majority of Medium players aren’t min-raising with a pair, which means this is a bad board for that player.
The only real threat is A8-suited, but if you live your poker life in that much fear, you won’t go anywhere. Bet out here and you will very likely win the pot. Your cards don’t matter.
Same situation again but this time the Medium player calls your bet. What does this mean? There is no flush draw or realistic straight draw. He min-raised pre-flop from middle position, which eliminates many hands that make sense.
Actually, it eliminates almost every hand that makes sense. If he had a pair, he wouldn’t check/call. He either would have bet out or check-raised. If he calls, it’s very likely he has the A8-suited. His poker betting patterns gave you the answer, which saves you chips. You should fold to his next bet.
Player Bets Out
Now let’s say it’s the same flop but the Medium player bets out on that flop. A Medium player wouldn’t bet out with an 8 in this spot. They think they’re being tricky by checking when they hit that 8.
In reality, betting out disguises the hand more, but only a Strong player would know that. Anyway, if the Medium player bets out on that flop, then it’s either air or a pair, but up until this point in the hand, his poker betting patterns haven’t revealed the answer.
However … if it’s a large bet, he has a pair and is trying to get you to fold. There is nothing threatening about that board if he has a pair, but most Medium players don’t think like that. They get nervous and want to win the hand as soon as possible.
If it’s a smaller bet, it’s likely a feeler bet, which means air. It’s possible the larger bet will be a bluff from time to time, but let him have it. It’s a bad bet on his part because the pot is still small and its poor risk/reward, but you only get into trouble when you try to outplay exceptional stupidity.
You can also look at poker body language here. When a Medium player bluffs, it’s often very quick or with unnatural hesitation. When it comes to poker body language, always look for natural vs. unnatural. Also look at their hands. If their hands are shaking, fold immediately! This indicates excitement at the potential of winning money. It’s a natural reaction that can’t be helped, so it’s a lock for a physical tell.
The turn will give you the answer. Let’s say the turn is another 8. Now he either has a full house or air. Despite that 8 not changing anything, a Medium player is going to be more fearful of it if he doesn’t have a full house. In other words, he’s not likely to attempt a move (bluff). If he bets out, he very likely has a full house. That is, unless, it’s a very large bet that doesn’t make sense.
A Leopard Doesn’t Change Its Spots
Medium players think in basic ways. They think that a large bet will scare off an opponent. They don’t think that you’re going to look at the situation from their perspective. They’re certainly not going to think that you have been paying attention to their poker betting patterns. This large overbet often indicates a bluff, but…
I would highly recommend basing your decision on that player’s previous poker betting patterns. This is why it’s so important that you pay attention when you’re not in the hand. You want to use the information you gather as a control group. This way, you know if your opponent’s story fits into his previous poker betting patterns.
For example, if you saw this player place a large overbet earlier and then show the nuts, it’s a fold. But if you saw this player place a large overbet earlier, his opponent folded, and you picked up on a slight smirk (he got away with it), then you should lean toward call.
A leopard doesn’t change its spots. This also applies to poker. What you have seen in the past from a player is likely to be what you see in the future from a player. There are exceptions, such as Crafty players who know all of this and are going to trick you. For instance, I know some people reading this will be at RunGood Poker Series in Bossier City. Since I know you read this, do you think I will play it the way you anticipate?
Watch your opponents carefully. Their poker betting patterns will usually repeat. Even if you don’t have enough information in that regard, a Medium player’s poker betting patterns in a single hand will reveal the answers.
If you can put yourself in their mind and understand why they are doing the things they do, you will win more poker hands.
During a hand, ask yourself: What would they do here for value? What would they do here if they wanted me off the hand? What would they do here if they had this poker hand? What would they do here if they had that hand? Play from your opponent’s seat, not your seat. That is how you move to the next level.
♠ pokerjournal.org / Tyler Nals
Poker Betting Patterns – FAQs
A: The most obvious way is if their story doesn’t make sense. On the physical side, if their mannerisms and speech appear unnatural/rigid, they are likely bluffing.
A: Many ways, here are two examples. If their hands are shaking, they have a monster hand. If they say something to indicate they have a strong hand, they are likely bluffing, but beware of the Crafty player here, they will send you mixed signals.
A: Yes. You must bluff in order to maximize your earning potential. That being said, you should bluff sparingly and only when the right opportunities present themselves.
A: It means you called your opponent with ace-high, a small pair or another unimpressive hand when your opponent had air. It sounds cool, but I would recommend removing this phrase from your poker vocabulary. It’s the same thing as a hero call and is not profitable over the long haul.
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