Know your opponent's style of play

Editor's note: Send your poker questions to Steve Rosenbloom. He will answer as many as he can each week.

From Phil in New York: "In your recent recaps of the [United States Poker Championship], there has been a lot of discussion about top players 'staking' other top players. Specifically you mentioned [Erik] Seidel and [John] Juanda staking [Mike] Matusow and [Phil] Hellmuth during some recent World Series events. How is it that these top-tier players don't bring enough funds to enter into these events? Why would they want to 'sell stock' in themselves when they clearly have enough money and a legitimate chance to win?''

Because they don't necessarily have enough money. Some quality tournament players just aren't as good in cash games, but they still play in them, and they lose. Other players walk into other areas of the casino and dump their cash in the pits.

A lot of recognizable players are staked, some for financial reasons, some for psychological advantages. If you look at the number of $10,000-plus buy-in tournaments that there are now, you could be talking about $250,000-$400,000 a year in buy-ins. If you go a year without cashing in a good number of those events, you could be in a big hole.

Then there are travel expenses because you have to get yourself to those events if you're going to buy in, right?

Money aside, some players who are staked feel it relieves them of the pressure of all the accounting and allows them to play more relaxed. Then again, others feel great pressure playing on someone else's dime and running up a big bill.

In some staked arrangements, there is something called a "make-up figure.'' Let's say one player stakes another for 10 events that cost $10,000 each to buy into. That's $100,000. If the staked player cashes in the 10th tournament, that $100,000 comes off the top -- the staked player is making up the money he is into the backer for -- and the staked player and backer divide what's left, depending on their percentage agreement.


From Tojo27 in Houston: "I have heard players described as 'tight-weak,' but am unsure exactly what that means. What are the traits of this type of player?''

A "tight-weak'' player is one who plays only premium hands, but plays them passively. Calls with aces. Doesn't raise when he has the nuts. That type of stuff. A "tight-aggressive'' player is one who plays good hands and plays them big when he gets them.


From Tom in Milwaukee: "How do the blinds work when the person who is to deal next is eliminated on the preceding hand? Also, who gets the deal? Does someone miss out on paying the blinds for that round? Please help settle an argument.''

Good question. It happens a lot, and the answer is different in tournament play compared to a cash game. To explain, I went to John Bastarache, the assistant tournament director/floor person for the 2005 World Series of Poker, and one of my favorite people in poker:

"In tournament play, if the person who gets eliminated was to be the small blind, then the next hand is dealt with no small blind and the button remains the same. The player who was to be the big blind is still the big blind. The next hand, the player who was the big blind is the small blind and the button remains with the player who had it last hand. In tournament play, a player is never required to post two of the same blinds. That is why the button sometimes does not move.

"In live play, with a non-moving button it is the same as above. With what is called a "moving button,'' the button would move after the hand and the players would be small and/or big as usual, except one of them would also have the button.

"It is a little hard to follow as it sometimes takes three hands to catch up and get the button where it belongs. Each poker room decides on whether to have a moving or non-moving -- 'dead' -- button.''


From shanduseja: "I read your U.S. Poker Championship blog and you mentioned that Men 'The Master' gets very aggressive when he's the short stack. Could you elaborate on that?''

Men Nguyen happens to be one of the best players when he has a short stack because he is adept at picking his spots -- his opponents. Ideally, he wants to move his stack in when he has the best of it, but that's not always the case. So he finds ways to outplay opponents, many times the ones with the medium stacks who are just trying to stay even. Many times, they can be bet out of a pot easier than big stacks that can afford a potential loss.


From Max in St. Louis: "If you have a hand like pocket kings or queens in an early position and there is a dangerous flop like two suited cards or an ace on the board, is it better to try to win the pot right on the flop or slow-play that hand?''

If you try to slow-play that hand against that kind of board, you might save yourself a lot of money. Then again, you probably will have no idea how strong your hand is compared to your opponents'.

But first of all, is this a tournament or a cash game? Are you early in a tournament when it might not be worth going broke or are you late and have a chance to pile up a lot of chips to give you a shot at winning?

Second of all, what did you do preflop? Did you raise three or four times the blind? Did you get one caller? Two? Did you get reraised? These are the first clues to how strong your hand is compared to your opponents. If two players cold-called your raise, then you'd better proceed cautiously.

But who are your opponents? Are they loose-aggressive and willing to try to draw out? Are they tight and only play premium hands?

If you believe you are facing an opponent on a draw, you must bet out enough to punish him for chasing. If you fear you're against another ace, then you can hope to check it down or make a probing bet that might force the ace to identify itself. This is where you hear pros use the term "define your hand.''


From Rob in Detroit: "I have been playing poker for several years now and played 'professionally' when I was out of work a year ago. I can't seem to win online. I'm not fantastic at any one aspect of the game and I don't have any huge holes either. I know it is unreasonable, but it just seems that maniacs constantly crack me online with garbage and live it happens somewhere close to as often as it should. What things should I be looking at to address this problem (aside from just never playing online)?''

Again, is this tournament play or a cash game? Each kind of table seems to have its own personality -- a lot of players seeing a flop or just a few. I've always found cash games have more players willing to make looser calls, but maybe that's just the games I sit in on, and maybe that's why I write about poker professionally instead of playing it.

Either way, online play seems to magnify the situation for a lot of reasons. For one thing, that's where more new players are trying their hand, so it seems to be more like the Wild West than a real table. For another, your online stack is just a number, not an actual stack of chips that can be intimidating or shape a player's decision to bet, call or raise. But even then, actual chips don't always seem like actual money to some players, which is why one of the best poker quotes of all time is, "The guy who invented gambling was smart; the guy who invented chips was a genius.''

But I digress. Understand that online today, play tends to be a lot less by the book than you might be comfortable with. And one of the books points that out. In "Harrington on Hold'em,'' Dan Harrington stresses that online play requires bigger raises and a somewhat different interpretation of opponents' play. Most pros believe the best way to handle a maniac is with extreme patience until you can use his aggressiveness to trap him with a big hand.

Or you could just not play online.


From John in Montana: "I got into a situation last week in a $50 buy-in sit-n-go at a buddy's house. I play poker with the same guys usually once or twice a week and know my opponent in this hand to be very loose and aggressive with over-the-top raises being common. I picked up Kh-Qh on the button and raised three times the big blind. My opponent calls from the small blind and all others fold. The flop comes 8-7-3, rainbow, and he checks. I check. The next card comes a Q. He again checks and I decide to check, hoping my raise on the river will look like a steal attempt. The next card comes a 10, and he bets out at me a small amount. I reraise him and he moves all-in for about four or five times the size of the pot. No flushes or straights [are] out there. I start thinking he is on a bluff or just paired an A-10 or something. I didn't put him on a high pair since it seems almost impossible to double-check cards like that. I call. He shows K-K and takes me almost completely out of the tourney. My question is this: First of all, was I wrong to check on the flop and the turn, as betting there would have given me some more information going to the river? Or was I correct in thinking I would induce some sort of bluff or bad play out of him after I paired my queen? This player is very loose and aggressive and I usually see him reraise with high pairs. I feel I am a better player than many of the people at this table and my other thought is that I should have just called his bet on the river, reducing volatility in the hands that I play because if I am truly better, then I should come out ahead in the long run.''

You got played, plain and simple. It happens. Learn from it. You said your opponent is the type who usually reraises with high pairs, but here, he just called. Great play by him. He changed gears on you. Took away the tell you had on him. That's terrific poker. What's more, if you read your opponent as a loose-aggressive player, he had the advantage of making you believe he was making a play for the pot with garbage. But even loose-aggressive players get big hands, and they generally get action when they do.

If you had bet out on the flop, you probably would've gained some information that might've helped you on the river. If you had bet and he called, you would have to consider the possibility that he had a hand. If you had bet and he raised, you might've chosen to ditch the hand right there, depending on your read.

Something else to consider: Many pros consider K-Q, suited or otherwise, to be one of the biggest sucker hands in no-limit hold'em.


From Jim in Poway: "I am pleased with the way my game is progressing. I have won live and online tourneys. These are occasional occurrences. It would be win or nothing. I have tweaked my game to the point that I am playing more tight-aggressive and I am making more money finishes and had a week where I made three final tables in four tries online. But I am tired of fifth- and seventh-place finishes and want those firsts. I feel like I am getting too passive or conversely too aggressive at the final tables. Any suggestions to help me take it home?''

I'm guessing that when you say you are playing too passive, you mean tight. If you're passive, then I don't know how you got to a final table. But if you mean you get too tight, then you are predictable. Same goes if you are too aggressive. You have to combine both styles to keep your opponents off-balance. There is no set percentage -- say, 75 percent aggressive play, 25 percent tight play -- because so much depends on the type of opponents you are facing.


Steve Rosenbloom is a regular contributor to ESPN.com, writes a syndicated poker column for the Chicago Tribune, and is the author of the upcoming book "The Best Hand I Ever Played. To leave Steve some feedback, check out his mailbag.