Studying your competition is really the difference between doing okay in poker and really doing extraordinarily well in poker. A lot of novice players feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information that you have to figure out before you get really good. Yet nothing says that you have to learn these things right away. You can build steadily over time.
Understanding poker style is understanding psychology. This is always a good thing. There are essentially 4 elements of playing style:
Tightness — this defines the quality of the hands played. The more hands that you play, the lower the average quality will be. There is something to be said about playing a lot of hands, because you increase the chance of “freak wins”. Still, you don’t want to play just anything that you see.
The second element would have to be aggressiveness. This is defined by how much the player leads the action, or just follows along. The more that the player bets and raises, the more aggressive they really become.
You’ll have three stats that hover around these concepts:
VPIP (voluntarily put into the pot)
PFR (preflop raise)
AF (aggression factor)
These are used in conjunction to study a player’s style in a nutshell. There are no hard and fast rules though — players can adapt things over time, and thus their numbers will slowly change.
On a grid, this is evidenced by 4 quadrants. You have your loose-passive player, which is usually a newbie, but you also have your loose-aggressive player, which is usually a maniac in more ways than one. You also have your tight-passive player who is usually referred to as a rock. You also have your tight-aggressive player who is regarded as a “solid” player. You always want to know who is truly on the ball and who isn’t.
Loose-passive players are beginners or people who are scared to lose money in the low stakes. They’re often called calling stations, and they get too involved with too many hands. They also call too many additional bets. They’re not a blessing from on high though — they tend to avoid folding as much as possible.
The maniacs are just that — wild. They pretty much bet on anything, even weak hands. There’s a lot of variance and chaos, because you just never know if they’ve got a great hand or if they are just cruising along without any care in the world.
You also have the shark — the tight-aggressive player. They are tight enough to play the best hands, but they’re aggressive enough to want to scare you to the fullest.
Your playing style will change over time as you learn more information…but so will everyone else’s. You’ll find that this keeps the game of poker very interesting indeed. Good luck!