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Most poker books and articles have a tendency to lean toward the type of player that the author normally encounters in his or her games.  Thus, very frequently, what you're run into is lengthy discussions about strategies and tactics of various qualities that end up not really applying to the types of games we play, or should be playing.  Often they will even tell you so:  "This of course isn't going to apply if your opponents are loose, unsophisticated, etc."

This is quite natural actually since the authors' field of reference is their own experiences.  And their advice often has a lot of validity in that context.  Which is often medium or high stakes casino play.

This can be very helpful if and when we seek out these types of games.  While it's true that the level of competition tends to be more sophisticated as you increase levels, we're only looking for soft games online at $30/$60 and below, where a lot of this doesn't really apply, and can actually lead you astray pretty easily. 

While there are some good games and good players online, the games and players we're going to seek out are going to be of a lesser caliber.  So we're going to need a different sort of analysis and approach than is typically written about.  

As discussed in the lesson on game selection, it only makes sense to seek out the weakest competition possible.  So the type of player we would normally encounter in these games is going to be the primary focus in this lesson.

So what traits do our typical opponents possess?  First of all, they play a lot of cards.  And I mean a LOT.  Forget about the 20-30% flop percentages that you see in the better games online.  Unless we're playing $100-$200, this isn't what we're after.  50-65% is much more tasty.  And the majority of top online players don't pay anywhere near enough attention to this.  They pretty much stick to the tougher games.  So as we improve, we aren't going to attract a whole lot of serious competition, even at the higher levels.

Not only does our preferred competition play a lot of starting hands, but they overplay them significantly after the flop as well.  They'll call with pretty much anything, so bluffing and semi-bluffing is going to be of limited use.  Which is fine by us, because in the hands we're going to play against them, unless they get lucky against us, we're going to beat them, since we're playing better cards.  They'll also tend to bet quite a bit, which we can use to our advantage as well.  In betting weaker hands than we typically play, we can raise them in later streets and increase our profits more easily.

Styles of games at different sites are to a large degree a manifestation of the typical playing "culture" there.  For starters, newer players see others playing a certain way, and have a leaning toward it.  Mostly though, it's the type of play that leads to winning pots that tends to reinforce things.  In tougher games, if you're playing a lot looser than the competition generally, it won't take long for even the weaker players to figure out adjustments need to be made.  If most of the players there tend to play very loose though, their mistakes will be hidden a lot more, as they will still win their share of pots.

Our opponents will often play things like second or third pair, or top pair with a weak kicker.  They will actually even draw to this type of hand, as well as pursuing other higher ranked draws, most of the time without the proper odds.  Since others are playing this way as well, these hands often win, as opponents tend to play similarly.  Does this mean we should do the same?  Of course not.  We don't want play at this mediocre level, because that isn't the best way to win the most money.  We're going to be playing better hands than they do, and when we're in a pot we'll probably win it.  If we haven't got the proper advantage, we aren't going to throw money away on those hands, like they do.

One of the real advantages we're going to have over our opponents is that they like to win a lot of pots, while we like to win a lot of money.  Isn't this the same thing though?  No, and far from it in fact.  The worst way to play, the way to lose the most money, is to try to win as many pots as you can.  By playing every hand, you'll be successful in winning the most pots at the table with any kind of decent luck at all.  However, by playing every pot, it's costing you a vast amount of money to do so, and you lose much more than you win back.  This is because do not have the proper advantage, and indeed, in most cases are at a disadvantage.  And any time you make a play which is at a disadvantage, you will lose money over time with that play, as sure as the sun rises every day.

We, on the other hand, want to either have what is more than likely the best hand at the time, or have the proper odds to draw to what will be the best hand if we hit it.  We need to keep in mind though the cards our opponents tend to play while we're doing this of course.  Strength of hand is always relative to your opponents' holdings.  If our opponents only play big cards, then obviously we're going to need a stronger hand than if they play pretty much any trash.

Another characteristic is that our opponents will tend to pretty much play their own cards, without a whole lot of regard to what others, including ourselves, may have.  This is very fortunate, because we can play our better hands against them time and again, and they'll tend to keep coming back for more with their weaker holdings.  If they were more skilled, they'd adjust to us more, and we'd have to counter-adjust and use more deception.  However, this isn't going to be really necessary very often, as we'll very often find several suckers who will stay in the hand even when it's obvious they're probably beat.

It's going to be a little trickier to put THEM on hands though, since they play a wide variety of starting hands.  While we are looking to play high cards, they will often play a single high card like an ace or king with little regard to what the kicker is.  Connectors are very appealing to them regardless of their position, especially if they are suited, since they are looking to get lucky and win the lottery with them.  Gappers will be played often as well, which is cards 2 or 3 places apart.  All pairs will be played, regardless of how low and in what position.  And often they will just play two cards even though it's difficult to see any rationale in it. 

When they do have a really good starting hand though, they will tend to raise with it.  Their pre-flop raising tends to be fairly straightforward, that is, with no real attempt to mix it up and deceive us, which makes sense since their other opponents aren't paying much attention to this stuff anyway.  Whether there's been a pre-flop raise or not will be very helpful to us to determine where our hand is at in terms of what others may have.

Also, they will tend to call raises from ourselves and others with questionable holdings, often with hands that shouldn't even be played for a single bet.  This is especially true if they've put in a bet already, where in the overwhelming majority of cases they will all call the second bet right down to the last person.

Since they tend to have a poorer understanding of what a favored hand is, they tend to bet out a lot of weaker hands, often ones that shouldn't even be played in the first place.  Or they may just bet for the heck of it, not a bluff per se but someone who just likes a lot of action.  While this may tend to drive us out of hands, with a proper understanding of what we're typically up against, this won't present much of a problem at all.  This is not to say we're going to be making loose calls, but rather, we'll stick to playing hands which usually win under the given circumstances, which in itself is the key to winning.

There are also different levels of aggression that we need to be prepared for.  We may run into players who just love to bet and raise.  This is going to be much more the case at a place like Party Poker, where there's quite a few people who like to try to just run over the games.  Opponents often adjust by loosening up too much and trying to play the same way, which is why this can work pretty well for them in some cases.  We won't be making that mistake though.  While we'll discount their holdings by the amount of cards they play, which is a principle that applies to all opponents, we will lay in wait until we are a favorite over them, then we will make them pay for their carelessness.  And as long as there's suckers for them to work over, they won't adjust their style to us much at all, and thus will keep coming back for more punishment.

Generally though, in weaker games players tend to use raising pretty straightforwardly, and are very easy to read.  They have a very strong hand, so we'll fold our merely strong hands.  And when we have a very strong hand ourselves, one that should be favored over what they have, we'll stick it to them, because normally they only see their own cards and will play them in a more careless way when they actually do have something better than a pair.

In most cases, as mentioned, we're going to be playing fairly straightforward in terms of the quality of hands we play, and the opportunities for bluffing are going to be limited.  When we do, it's going to be in situations where we're up against a player who tends to fold quite a bit, we're pretty close in the hand, and we've got a lot of outs in case we get called.  When we do run into a player who folds a whole lot, then we'll be quick to take advantage of that and bet it out with hands we normally would check.  But since it's more typical for players in these games to call a lot, we'll be very selective in when we bet with what's probably not the best hand.

There's a whole lot to be said about all of these topics, and this will serve to at least give you an introduction to the kind of things we're going to encounter while playing very loose games online.  Later, in future lessons, we will be dealing with specific circumstances in much greater detail of course.
The Competition
Poker Lesson 5