Being too passive (or some might say – not without justification – being passive at all) is an online poker sin. Not only should we avoid playing in this negative fashion ourselves, but when the results of observing others at the table reveal passive players, our mission should be to punish them.

And when I say ‘punish’ I mean ruthlessly, continuously, in any way we can, until we meet with resistance. That’s part of the game, and how we make money at the Cash tables or accumulate valuable chips in tournaments. It pays to always bear in mind that, if we aren’t going to be taking advantage of this or that player’s weaknesses, someone else will.

In order to exploit our opponents it’s important that we understand how they think, what their thought processes are when arriving at their decisions. In this way we can prepare for action in advance for when typical favourable situations present themselves.

Anyone can play too timidly – it’s not necessarily a fault that’s exclusive to beginners. Indeed, it’s by no means unusual for experienced players, having started their journey with a fearful, passive approach, to continue down that same erroneous path. As is the case with chess, weak(er) players can go for years not only adopting faulty strategies or playing with the wrong mindset, but adapting them, too!

The problem for passive players is that they can so easily reinforce the validity of their mistakes. For example, Passive Peter is in the Big Blind with JcTc, it’s folded round to the Button, who raises, and the Small Blind folds. Peter thinks long and hard before calling. The Flop brings Ad8s2h, and Peter’s immediate thought is ‘The Button probably raised with an ace – maybe he’s got AK. That’s me most likely beaten, so I’ll check and hope there’s no bet as I’d have no choice but to fold’ … He duly checks the Flop, and the Button takes a few seconds and then bets a good 2/3 of the pot. Peter smiles the same resigned smile he has when he just misses a train he knew in advance he was going to just miss, marvels at what a fascinating game poker is, and folds, reassuring himself that he’s played yet another hand in an admirably sensible, prudent way.

Many players think exactly like this. And they continue to, not least because they never see that those opponents against whom they fold in this scenario had something like 98 rather than the AK they represented.

Let’s consider another typical situation in which Peter often finds himself. A couple of orbits ago he raised pre-flop on the Button with AK and, being called only by the Big Blind, confidently rattled out the planned continuation bet despite missing the 972 rainbow Flop. He was duly rewarded with the pot. Now, on the Button once again, Peter has another AK and finds history repeating itself, pitted against only the Big Blind. Another rags Flop appears but, this time around, Peter’s opponent elects to bet – about 2/3 of the pot. Peter, ‘realising’ that he’s run into a strong hand, practically insta-folds.

About five minutes later an almost identical episode plays out, the same smile returning to Peter as he philosophically accepts that his C-Bet strategy isn’t going to work every time, and that his opponent just happens to have hit the Flop big the last two hands. C’est la vie, as they say…

This is a classic example of a passive player’s approach to the game. Their fear becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Note that it’s irrelevant what the correct play was in these examples – Peter is going to talk himself into folding regardless. Even if best play would be to continue the hand in any way, all Peter needs is a feasible negative narrative that alerts what he perceives is a logical – even sophisticated – sense of danger, and that line of thinking will expand until all possible positive alternatives have been pushed out of contention.

This might seem somewhat defeatist, but the online poker world isn’t made up of exclusively positive, rational people! There are countless Peters out there. It’s our job to be on the lookout for them – hence the importance, when we’re not involved in a hand, to closely observe as much as we can (and not, for example, watch clips of cute cats…). And when we find them, it’s not difficult to spot their weaknesses such as the examples above. Then it’s a reasonably simple matter of getting into their heads and, when the appropriate scenarios present themselves, making sure we plant the seeds of doubt and create the storylines that we know they’ll ‘find’ and which they’ll respond to accordingly.

Remember that to be able to pull off such tactics we need to be willing to ignore the (lack of) strength of our own hand – this is all poker psychology, so it’s a matter of raising when we know that they’re betting too modestly with a good but not monster hand, turning on the aggression when any scare cards appear, raising them with a wide range when they limp pre-flop, check-raising/betting possible flushes, calling pre-flop in the Blinds when they’re in late position and coming out fighting when the Flop brings rags…

Essentially, what we want to be doing with the Passive Peters of Poker is ruthlessly bluffing them off pots in which they’ve failed to show any aggression.

Have fun!

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About the Author

AngusD

AngusD switched from pro chess to poker two decades ago and has been professionally involved in the game on numerous levels since the very beginning of online poker, including playing as a poker ambassador both online and at major festivals around the globe. He has written much about the game over the years, and brings to YPD a wealth of experience in all aspects of the poker industry. Meanwhile, his many years on the pro chess circuit (he’s an International Master and prolific author) afford him an interesting perspective on the psychology of poker.

Latest changes

The last changes of the page “How Passive Players Think” was made by AngusD on February 11, 2021