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Classify Poker Players - Poker Animals

The need for you as a student of poker, to observe and take notes on your opponents cannot be stressed enough.  If you have good starting hand requirements, you will fold a great majority of your hands.  This will give you plenty of time to study your opponents and see how they play.  Most online poker tables allow you to “right click“ a player's avatar and fill in notes about him, that will be saved on their server, and thus, there for you to browse when you see the player again.

However, during the course of a game, you can fill up a huge amount of space.  This can become cumbersome, and make the notes almost not worth reading, as they become a jumbled ream of random thoughts.  I think the reader would agree then, that a good way to organize these notes would be most helpful!

Recently, I stumbled across and purchased a book by 11-time Texas Hold 'em champ Phil Hellmuth, titled Play Poker Like the Pros.  In it, I found Hellmuth's strategy for characterizing poker players as animals.  This organizational strategy is both humorous and effective, and after adding it to my game, I have been able to cut down on the endless reams of note taking.

Hellmuth classifies poker players in 5 general catagories, only 4 of which most of us will ever get the chance to play against.  They are the mouse, jackal, elephant, lion and eagle.  Their poker characteristics are as follows:

The Mouse

The mouse is an ultra conservative player who plays very strict starting hand requirements (see Hellmuth's Top 10).  The mouse will bet, but rarely ever raises a bet or reraises.  The mouse almost never bluffs.  If a mouse actually does raise or re-raise, it probably means they have an almost unbeatable hand.  The mouse's weakness is that he or she is simply too predictable.  When the mouse starts to raise, good players typically fold their hands, and in the mouse loses out on some chips they may have won, had they not earned themselves such a stodgy reputation.  This character type is also referred to as a rock  For the record, mice tend to make more money than they lose, espeically at low limit loose games.  Their pots are not always the largest in the world, but they take down way more pots than they lose, due to their conservative play.

The Jackal

I have found jackals to be pretty common animals in low limit, online poker rooms.  This type of player plays alot of cards, and bets and raises with abandon.  He is the direct opposite of the mouse.  The jackal's chip stack often resembles a roller coaster ride, as it will climb when he has great cards, and then fall back to near nothing when he has a string of bad cards.  You can make alot of money off a player like this.  Do not ever be afraid to call a jackal, because since they play loose, you will catch them bluffing with trash often.  A jackal is destined to lose his money if he ventures far beyond 50 cent ante poker, where good players see him for the loose player that he is and take advantage of his weaknesses.

The Elephant

The elephant is what most poker players refer to as a “calling station.“  The elephant has loose starting hand requirements, and so he plays in alot of pots.  As a result, he ends up in alot of hands that he or she has no chance of winning.  The elephant is content to call his hand to the river, even when common sense tells him hes beaten.  This type of player does not lose all of his chips at once, since he generally prefers calling to raising, but over time, the elephant contributes most of his chip stack to the other players.  Hellmuth notes that there is no point in trying to bluff the elephant, but if you have good cards, you know he will pay you all the way to the river.  I have found from my experience, that this “animal“ is the predominant one found at online low limit tables.  Watch a few games, and you will notice the huge number of online players who play practically every hand, and call to the river with complete trash.  The elephant will beat you occasionally simply because he is willing to draw till the end.  On the whole though, this is yet another player who is easy to make money off of.

The Lion

The lion is rare in low limit games.  He has good starting hand requirements, but will occassionally take a calculated risk on cards not on his “list.“  The lion plays aggressive poker when he is ahead and folds when he is behind.  Occasionally the lion will bluff in an advantageous position, but his bluffs are rare enough that the other players must respect him.  The lion is an excellent poker player, and makes his living taking chips from the mouse, elephant and jackal.  A tight player who takes the occasional risk or bluff to keep from getting labeled a “rock“ would be a good example of a lion.

The Eagle

The eagle is a character that most of us will never reach or even play against.  The eagle represents the pinnacle of the poker world.  He or she has studied the game for years and is now in the upper ranks of the poker world.  Hellmuth considers an eagle to be one of the top 100 players in the world.  If you reach this status, the rest of us will be watching as you take down pots on one of the several televised poker events!


So how can you as a poker player put these characterizations to use?  As I noted before, endless note taking can be tedious and even pointless if you do not keep them properly organized. The “animals“ offers a great way to organize how you think about the different players at your table.  Rather than saying “this player plays alot of pots...he called to the river with a pair of 7's...he never folds to a bluff...“ and so on and so forth, you can simply put “elephant“ in your notes about this player.

Amazing in its simplicity and effectiveness.  Granted, all of the players in the world will not each be perfect fits for one category.  However, this system offers a great place to start in organizing your thoughts about how each player plays and what strategies to use against them.  It takes hardly any time at all to jot down a characterization in a players notes, and the payoff when you see this player again can yield huge profits.