By Jason Lake
Having trouble separating the fish from the donkeys? Not sure if your opponent is weak-tight or a nit? The way we classify players can be pretty confusing sometimes, even misleading; the guy or gal you think is a fish might be a very competent LAG, or vice versa. Maybe we need a different way of looking at things – something a bit more old-school.
As luck would have it, way back in 2003 at the start of the poker boom, Phil Hellmuth released his first book: Play Poker Like the Pros. Not everything Hellmuth wrote is applicable in today's poker world, but the 14-time WSOP bracelet winner did reveal a very interesting way of dividing players into different categories. No fish or donkeys this time, but five other forms of wildlife we can use to profile our opponents. Here they are in order of appearance.
This is the player that most people would call a nit, or perhaps a rock, in the poker parlance of our times. Hellmuth compared The Mouse to “your old Aunt Edna,” someone who only plays a strong range of hands and never bluffs. If The Mouse comes at you with a big bet or a raise, now would be a good time to fold if you don't have the nuts. At the same time, playing like The Mouse can be profitable in low-limit games.
For Hellmuth, The Lion is a more competent version of The Mouse. It’s someone who still plays a tight range, but will open a few more speculative hands and make the occasional bluff. This is the highest level of ABC poker, and can serve you well against recreational players while limiting your losses against the pros.
As you might have already guessed, The Jackal is a highly aggressive player, the type who gets labeled as a donkey/donk, or even a maniac. This opponent will open and raise with much weaker hands than would be mathematically advisable – even two napkins will do if he or she is feeling frisky. If you encounter The Jackal, and you will at the lower limits, remember this simple rhyme: open tighter, call down lighter.
Otherwise known as a fish or a calling station, The Elephant is a loose player when it comes to opening hand requirements, but isn't as aggressive as The Jackal when it comes to raising. It's generally futile to run a bluff against The Elephant, but if he or she 3-bets you, consider folding like you would against The Mouse.
Hellmuth left one category for pros like himself, and of course, he gave it the coolest avatar. In his view, only the Top 100 players in the world qualify, but you can extend The Eagle to cover all the high-quality players who bide their time and “swoop in” to collect your chips when the moment is right. If you've been studying, this could be you.