Often you will hear adjectives such as "loose," "tight," "passive," "aggressive," and other terms applied to poker players. These terms refer to the playing style of different players. Understanding the dominant playing style at your table, or the playing style of a certain opponent, are important factors in determining how to alter your strategy for maximum profitability.
"Loose" vs. "tight" refers to the player's starting hand requirements. It is usually quite obvious which style a player is using. Below are definitions of the two styles.
- Loose: A loose player plays a lot of hands, usually far too many. The typical loose player is a novice with an "any two cards can win" philosophy. They will see the flop a majority of the time, and will often play to the river with a marginal hand. Play money and low limit tables are notoriously loose. Loose players are not playing optimally, but at a loose table they will often profit from lucky draws. Loose tables can be quite profitable for good players, but excessively loose tables can be unprofitable for tight players, since they will often lose good hands to lucky draws by bad players. When playing at a loose table, loosen your starting hand requirements by playing more suited cards, connectors, and small pairs, but be prepared to fold if your hand doesn't improve.
- Tight: A tight player will play fewer starting hands. Tight players take advantage of starting hand selection to increase their chances of drawing to a winning hand. At no-limit and high-limit tables playing tight is crucial, but in any case you generally want to play tighter than the other players at your table. Tight tables are generally not as profitable as loose tables, since fewer players will see the flop, but tight players will play more rationally than loose players.
Poker players are also categorized as "passive" or "aggressive". These adjectives refer to a player's betting style. Passive players rarely raise, preferring instead to check or call. But when passive players do raise, they generally have the best hand. Passives are very predictable and consistent. On the other hand, aggressive players raise frequently, and are often unpredictable. The combination of starting hand requirements and betting styles create four commonly recognized categories of players, listed here from worst to best:
- Loose-passive: Often referred to as "calling stations," loose-passive players have a tendency to call any bet as long as they have a remote chance of winning. Loose-passives often will not raise when they have a good hand, but they often will not fold when they have a bad hand.
- Loose-aggressive: Loose-aggressive players will make seemingly often-inappropriate raises. They will not always have the best hand when they raise, and will even raise with poor hands. Due to their inconsistent and seemingly irrational play, loose-aggressives are often called "maniacs". Playing against maniacs can be profitable if you win heads-up against them, but they can also be expensive to play against, due to the number of raises you'll have to call. In recent years the Loose Aggressive style has been the choice for many top players of the game. It is hard to read a loose aggressive player as their starting range is so wide. This style works good against a full table of Tight Aggressive players.
- Tight-passive: Often referred to as "rocks," tight-passive players play few hands and play them cautiously. But if a tight-passive player starts raising all of a sudden, it is likely that they have the "nuts" (the best possible hand on the board). Playing tight-passive will keep you from losing money, but it won't make you much either.
- Tight-aggressive: Tight-aggressive players also play few hands, but will be much more varied in the way they play those hands. If a tight-aggressive player raises, they may have a very good hand... or they might be bluffing. Tight-aggressive players utilize selective aggression. They will "slow play" good hands only to trap players with lesser hands into betting later in the round. They will raise to "represent" hands they don't have in order to make other players fold. Tight-aggressive is the standard play that many online pros use.