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Poker CardsThe Best Way to Play Poker

Because there are so many types of poker out there, and because there are so many different styles of play available, the correct poker strategies are all about adapting to your opponents and the game itself.

People tend to learn best through examples, so we're going to give you a number of different examples of the types of games and types of situations that you can be in, and for each scenario, we're going to give you general guidelines on how to form the best poker strategy possible.

Best Way to Play Poker Based on Statistics

There are a number of statistics used in online poker to describe the strategies a player has used in the past, and you can use that information to try to figure out how that player will play in the future. Generally speaking, a player can be either loose or tight, and a player can also be passive or aggressive.

You can use VPIP, the voluntarily put money in pot percentage, and PFR, the pre-flop raise percentage listed in the lobby of the poker software to decide the best way to play at a given table.

Table VPIP Table PFR Preferred Strategy
High High Someone is throwing around a lot of money, so get in money with strong hands only.
High Low Play lots of pots with these loose-passive opponents.
Low High Be careful! This table is full of tight-aggressive types.
Low Low Steal blinds from the overly-tight players and attack lots of small pots.


Tight vs. Loose

The comparison between being loose and tight is about how many hands a player is likely to play as opposed to folding at the first opportunity. While most poker literature warns players against being too loose, in today's games, being too tight is also a major problem for a lot of people who think they are playing correctly when they really aren't.

The tighter winning players in full ring games will have VPIP/PFR statistics that are in the range of 13/10 while the looser winning players can have stats as high as 18/14 or so. In a six-handed game, that range will be more like 19/16 for tight players and as high as 25/20 for loose players. The best way to play cash games is to start at the tighter end of the scale and become progressively looser as you gain experience.

Passive vs. Aggressive

There are statistics for online poker players that compare how many times a player bets or raises against how many times that same player calls. As a ratio, this can give you an idea of how aggressive a player tends to be as betting and raising are felt to be the more aggressive actions while calling is the more passive betting option.

Most people believe that an aggressive approach is the best way to play poker online because that's the advice that's perpetuated through older training material and books. However, in today's online environment, particularly in cash games, there's such an abdunance of aggression that you actually have to learn when to play passively so you can trap players who overplay their hands and bluff too much.

So if you want to know the best way to play pocket aces, the answer is that it depends. If you can trap an overly-aggressive player, then it's better to just call pre-flop. Otherwise, you'll probably want to raise and re-raise to get as much money in as you can.

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Characteristics of Play Styles

Using the above information, you can categorize players as being either loose or tight along with being either passive or aggressive. Most winning players in online poker right now use a tight-aggressive style which is known as TAG for short. Along similar lines, a loose-aggressive style would be called a LAG.

There are no abbreviations for passive play styles because using passivity as a key element of your style is a big mistake. Those players are just called fish or donkeys because there's no way for them to win.

Tournament Play

When you're early on in an event, the best way to play tournaments is almost identical to cash game poker. You'll generally want to play a solid, tight-aggressive game where you press people to make mistakes. However, when it gets to the point that the blinds and antes are very high in comparison to the remaining stacks, it often becomes a game where you have to go all-in with any hand you decide to play.

If you have fewer than 10 big blinds, you should almost always be playing what's known as a push/fold strategy in tournaments meaning you either push all-in or you fold pre-flop.

However, keep in mind that T$ are not as valuable as real $, so most winning players are more cautious than in cash games.  

How Popular Players Play

Different players are going to naturally play different styles due to their own personal nature. Here are some examples of popular players who sometimes play very differently from each other.

Name Playing Style Preferred Game Type Favorite Online Site
Barry Greenstein Tight-Aggressive and Straightforward Mixed Games Cash PokerStars
Phil Ivey Loose-Aggressive and Tricky Mixed Games Cash Full Tilt Poker
Jennifer Harman Tight-Aggressive and Value-Oriented Fixed-Limit Hold'em Cash Full Tilt Poker
Doyle Brunson Tight-Moderate and Straightforward No-Limit Hold'em Cash Doyle's Room
Phil Hellmuth Tight-Moderate and Tricky No-Limit Hold'em Tournament UltimateBet
Johnny Chan Tight-Aggressive and Bluff-Oriented Pot-Limit Omaha Cash Chan Poker Online
Daniel Negreanu Loose-Moderate and Bluff-Oriented Mixed Games Cash PokerStars
Antonio Esfandiari Loose-Aggressive and Tricky No-Limit Hold'em Tournament Full Tilt Poker

What You Can Learn From This Information

It's not hard to see that these players like a wide range of different games, but the real elite tend to prefer mixed cash games. The reason for this is that the circumstances change more often when you're changing games every orbit, and that creates more situations where the best way to play is something that you have to figure out on the fly instead of just repeating a memorized strategy.