Types of Live Poker Players by Appearance
You have probably been told, at some point in your life, that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. While this may very well be sage advice in other dynamics, it's not always applicable at the poker table. This isn't to say that general perceptions aren't defied from time to time, but poker is still all about playing the odds. Playing the odds doesn't pertain exclusively to calling with flush draws in the right spot or calling a re-raise to set mine, it also means using broad judgments to make the best decision possible.
If you are treating an 80 year old white male with a hat and cane in the same way as you are treating a 23 year old with head phones, you are only going to be hurting yourself. Stereo types are difficult to implement because they vary so wildly within themselves, but poker tends to have its own unique groups of players that tend to fall into one playing style or another.
There are a handful of different factors that come into play when attempting to assess a player's style at the table. The first and most primary is definitely age. There's not a single characteristic that's more important when you are trying to assign a playing style to a player than age. Beyond age, most other identifying features are going to be very secondary. These include clothing, race, and even general cleanliness.
Though things like race are very difficult to use on a repeated basis (I would venture to say that someone's skin color is the worst gauge of their playing style among these few factors), they are still usable. As with anything else in poker, your goal is to use as many context clues as possible to paint one complete picture. You are going to be wrong on occasion, but you should have a beat on the table as soon as you sit down once you get a fair amount of experience in live play.
Age is the easiest way to guess how someone is likely to play. Even if you are new to live poker, you probably already know that younger players tend to be more bold and aggressive while older players lean more towards the passive side of things. This is exactly where you need to start, but the ages in between are what tend to give players the most trouble. For the sake of this article and even for accuracy, we are going to look at three different main age sets: young, middle age, and older. Each tends to have its own unique characteristics that separate one from the next, making these groupings a solid metric in which to work with.
Young players are usually the biggest winners in most games, and this goes for both online and offline play. While you should be keeping this in mind, it's worth noting that there are plenty of young players who don't have a clue what they are doing. The setting will tell a lot about the likelihood of a young player being truly skilled.
If you are in Atlantic City or Las Vegas, for example, there's a very real possibility that a younger player is simply on vacation and doesn't really play a lot of live poker. In this case, you are going to want them in your game. These types of players are known for their calling station tendencies in addition to their propensity for bluffing. A young player usually falls into one of two different extremes: very good or very bad. Though you'll notice it from time to time, average players don't normally come in the form of 21-29 year olds.
Middle aged players are usually the people who games are built around. If you spot a table that's full of guys wearing golf shirts with an average age of 40-50, you should get into the game as soon as possible. There are a number of reasons why middle aged players are the best types of opponents. First and foremost, they usually have the disposable income available. Younger players either have less money to play with (on average) or they will be good. Older players have money but are very tight with it. Middle age players also love the action. They are often times pure gamblers at heart, meaning that they like to see a lot of flops, turns, rivers, and all in pots.
Because of this, these players are also usually pretty easy to play against. You can comfortably sit back until one of them donates their chips with a sub-par hand. Middle aged players should be noted for their hatred towards ever folding, their dramatic betting, and their inability to implement basic poker fundamentals like an understanding of hand strength and bet sizing.
Old players, as in 70s+, are middle of the line when it comes to choosing the ideal opponent. On one hand, they aren't good. On the other hand, they aren't very bad or likely to give action. Middle aged players are perfect because they give a lot of action and aren't afraid to put their money in the pot. With an older player you are going to need to be aggressive in order to capitalize on their passiveness. This is the polar opposite of what you'll do with a middle aged player who you can allow to fall into their own mistakes.
Odds are that you'll make more money from an older player with simple steals and continuation bets than you will in big pots. A lot of the times an older player will only be willing to play an all in pot if they have an exceptionally strong hand. Knowing this, you shouldn't be engaging in hands against these players unless you too have a strong hand. Take advantage of an older player's passiveness, but be careful not to become a victim of it.
As mentioned earlier, age is undoubtedly the easiest way to gauge how someone is likely to play. If you were going to look at clothing, this too can give you some insight. Generally, a sloppily dressed player is going to match his play with his attire. The more careless someone is with their appearance, be it clothing, hygiene, or both, the more careless they will usually be with their chips. The reason why this isn't a very reliable piece of information is because some of these people are the tightest nits in the world. You don't usually find a lot of middle ground when it comes to these players as they are usually either awful or very, very tight.
Now, we should note that this next section is the farthest thing from racist (in a bad way). What is worth mentioning, though, is that black, Asian, and Indian live poker players are prone to giving lots of action. They love calling bets and they love making raises (but calling off bets is usually more common than raising). These players should be treated in the same way as middle aged players.
Now, if you have a middle aged player who also fits into this category of ethnicity, watch out. Though some of them certainly fall out of this category, most are explosive in every sense of the word. You want these types of players at your table, because aside from creating lots of action, they also happen to generally be the more fun and talkative types.
Author: Jonathan Wanchalk
Updated: March 2015
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