How to Beat Passive Players
Passive players aren't the most fun or exciting type of opponent that you can face in poker. They are, however, easy money. The difference in how you make your money from a passive player vs. an aggressive player is quite dramatic. You won't be looking to take advantage of their moves, but you will instead be using your own aggression to take advantage of their passiveness
The approach against passive players is actually not that complicated at all. When someone is auto mucking at every opportunity, this just means that you have a great chance at taking down pot with little to no opposition. So, why do many poker players despise playing in a game where there are a bunch of nits? The answer is because the money tends to be earned very slowly, albeit steadily. It takes just the right winning player to understand that poker isn't a game of short term results, and this type of player will make a fortune from passive opponents.
Not only do passive players make it easy to take down uncontested pots, but they will also be very straightforward when it comes to their own hand strength. They are not generally going to be fancy and what they do will usually indicate what they have. The beauty in playing passive opponents is that you won't need to be thinking a whole lot.
Though aggressive players will donate a lot of money, they can be very tricky and will make your brain hurt if you are facing someone who has the capability to make moves. You won't need to consider bluffs or semi bluffs or anything of that nature against passive players because they just don't have any interest in incorporating these elements into their game. Passive players aren't likely to dump off buy in after buy in in one session, but they will effectively accomplish this over the sum of many sessions.
As is the case with any player, if you are going to target a playing style, you'll first need to make sure that you can get yourself into a relatively isolated position. Just because there's a passive player in the big blind, it doesn't mean that you should be open raising from under the gun with any two cards in an attempt to steal. You can't discount all of the other players in the game for the sake of one lone passive player. Depending upon your game, however, there may be multiple players who would fall into the passive category. If you can align yourself against this portion of the table, you'll be in position to profit from all of them at once.
The most basic thing that you can do to beat passive players pre-flop is to look for steal attempts. If you are in late position or in the blinds, you should be trying to take down as many pots as you can. Now, the important thing to remember in these situations is that passive doesn't always mean tight. If you have a passive player who calls down anything pre-flop, frequent raises won't be in your best interest. If you have tight passive opponents, however, raises are the most optimal move.
Passive players who like to see a lot of flops will allow you to maximize the value out of your big hands. If you would normally raise 4x from middle position with a big hand, you can bump this up to 6x and expect roughly the same amount of calls. For the same reason that these players will call off any bets when you have big hands, you should be shying away from overzealous bluffs and steals when you have nothing.
Post-flop is where you will either be getting a ton of folds or a ton of calls from passive players. There isn't a whole lot of middle ground between these types of players as they will either want to see every card or they give up without ever putting up much of a fight. Hopefully you'll have been able to determine whether a player fits into one category or another before you are even at this stage of the hand. Passive players are so similar yet they are so different at the same time, and most of these differences are going to be obvious in post-flop play.
Against the loose passive players, the best play is to go for absolute maximum value when you have made hands. The side note to this is that you should be abandoning much of your c-betting and bluffing moves. The type of passive player who loves to see flops also tends to love to see turns and rivers as well, so pushing them out of the pot isn't going to be in your best interest.
When you are facing the tight passive players, continuation bets should definitely be a go-to move. The reason for this is that you will either take down the pot without much trouble on the flop or you'll know that it's time to give up. You can safely write off the possibility of the player pulling a move on you, so there really isn't much else left to think about. When you start double and triple barreling tight passive players you'll wander into some very treacherous territory.
The one thing that passive players do well, albeit largely unintentionally, is stringing along the opponent when they have a big hand. They will flat call like there is no tomorrow, and only on the river will they muster the courage to make a raise. It's a combination of their own lack of aggression and their fear of scaring their target away that leads them to this sub-optimal approach.
Two of the favorite plays of tight passive players are the massive over bet and the min raise. As opposite as these two moves are, they are both signs of absolute strength from passive players. The huge bet means that they have a hand but don't know how to play it, or are scared to play it optimally. A min raise means that they know they need to get some value, but they are afraid of scaring the other player away.
Both of these plays have their own genius quality to them in that a min raise will get a ton of calls from players who just can't fold to one last small raise and huge overbets create the temptation found in the potential of a big win. With a little bit of critical thought, you should be able to see through any passive player's strategy without too much difficulty.
Author: Jonathan Wanchalk
Updated: March 2015
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