Answering the Question 'What Do Villains Need?'

Answering the Question 'What Do Villains Need?'

The detective on the crime show Manhunt told his cohort: "Always try to figure out what matters to someone deep down. Because the answer will tell you a lot."

I took the advice to heart. I knew that underground low-stakes cash players were mostly savoring home-game bliss — pizza, booze, porn, and pot with a group of regulars they battled against weekly. Poker's democratic soul. Open to all.

On closer inspection, I realized that some casual recs needed more than profit. Beyond range and frequency and bet sizing and more, I began to study what motivated them as people — what mattered to them "deep down."

My curiosity revealed psychological data which I wrote out in charts so I could unpack the meta and build out the right counter-strategies.


Consider the charming gunslinger station on a 90% range. Not entirely unsmart about poker, Mick boasts of his vast courage playing "so many hands." He fancies himself an aggression warlock and counts on our fear. Most of all, he loves to relegate nit-wads to the dustbin of history.

Mine the meta: Many paths here, but silence is golden. Pure Ed Miller; starve Mick for information. Play monsters passively and never raise. He expects to read you perfectly. Surprise him by, say, limping pocket kings UTG. Subtle power plays are disruptive and profitable. Given his range, close the gate to your stack by folding — a lovely exploit. Don't go deep into hands without the goods. And keep a lookout for rising tilt if he's missing. Once desperation sets in, Mick will play even wider.


Consider the former Reno dealer. Her ranges are not terribly wide, but Moms is a sweet, talkative action junkie. She also loves to pressure the table for straddle rounds, especially when stuck. She expects instant wins from the start of a session. If you're paying attention, her impatience is a tremendous opportunity.

Mine the meta: Assume you're a tight, disciplined player. Drag a couple huge pots and you'll scare the crap out of her long into the future. She's trainable. Over time, whether you have it or not, you can breathe on your chips and she'll insta-fold. She hates losing, and foolishly admits she hates losing to snug players.


Consider the seasoned home-game host. A retired lawyer, Mike, 35 years in the game, is still anxious to book consistent wins. He's smarter than the average bear and certainly knows how to play suited connectors against those who only three-bet big pairs. He's also a control guy. A victim in his own mind. Tortured by stations who suck out. Typically, Mike complains and slumps, broadcasting massive leaks in his mental game.

Mine the meta: Mike's terrified of anything "off the beaten track," meaning larger bets and creative lines. (Once, a veteran player overbet the river all night and Mike actually gasped.) He also seems a tad frantic out of position. Once he rebuys, his visible depression makes him a target. Tempt him into hands. Raise often. Pick sensible bluffing spots.


Consider the young tyke, new to the game, lost in the forest. Mack loves the intensity of the bluff. Can't wait to take on the grown-ups. He's always got something to prove, to himself and to the world. He loves to bluff-shove for the thrill, his torso visibly shaking. (Classic Navarro.)

Mine the meta: Out of position, feign weakness and check to Mack with strong cards. He'll fire into you like clockwork. In position, never slow play. Bring him along. Likewise, on sixth street, he'll be desperate to know what you had. Say nothing. Play Mack mum. When losing, he also slows way down. He rarely adds on immediately, his shorter stack making him even more of a target.


Consider the master "glass-tapper." A gifted theorist, Moe's played chess and poker for decades. This entitles him to deconstruct every hand — a kind of compulsive auto-post-mortem. His need to feel superior to everyone at the table is a Times Square billboard. Late in sessions, he gets drunk. He loses a few big hands. Tilt eats his brain.

Mine the meta: The temptation is to play wider. Yet, stay patient with a narrower range. Pummel Moe with value bets. Often enough, his stack will become your stack as the session deepens and the sun starts to rise. The mum thing is also a powerful weapon against the Moe's of the world.

* * * * *

As human beings, we project. If we're addicted to streaming content and poker books, we assume everyone else is. Yet, low-stakes cash isn't a pro setting. Most aren't studying strategy, or living off the game. Don't get fancy. And don't forget to analyze mindset.

Who cares what villains need? I do. When their demons rise, we print money.

Poker girl and devoted fiction writer Eileen Sutton is the author of The Total Poker Manual. Connect with her on Twitter @pokerforgirls. You can also read her previous PN Strategy blog article "Honor Thy Villains" here.

  • Eileen Sutton talks counter-strategies for some typical low-stakes home-game regulars.

  • "Who cares what villains need? I do. When their demons rise, we print money."

Name Surname

More Stories

Recommended for you

Use Post-Performance Reviews to Bounce Back from Poor Poker Sessions Use Post-Performance Reviews to Bounce Back from Poor Poker Sessions