Despite the term’s blanket usage as an all-purpose way to describe non-professional poker players, recreational players actually come in all shapes and sizes. Labeling someone as a recreational player does little to explain much about the person other than the fact they’re not a professional player. It’s convenient, but it doesn’t tell you much about their style of play, their experience, their motivations for playing, or even if they are a winning or a losing poker player.

In a previous column I attempted to separate recreational players into three groups, with a fourth group for serious players.

I created these categories based largely on playing habits, such as volume and consistency of play; stakes and game types; and experience. I also discussed how this usually, but not always, translates into ability.

In the column I identified four types of poker players:

  1. Explorers – new players experimenting with different games and stakes;
  2. Hobbyists, people who have more experience but play poker inconsistently;
  3. Settlers, people who had found a home in the poker world and were content to play in the same games; and
  4. Grinders, which are by and large professional players.

The first three groups  all fall under the recreational player umbrella used by most people in the industry, and even some grinders would too.

What I didn’t spend a lot of time talking about was motivations and goals, since it would have created far too many subsets of players within each group – from explorers striving to be professional players to explorers trying to kill two hours while their wife is at the spa.

But to understand what might appeal to a person sitting at a poker table, or watching poker at home, their motivations and expectations are as important as the type of player they are.

If we can determine why a person is playing poker we can tailor products and games to suit their needs, and learn how professionals and the industry should comport ourselves when we interact with these players.

What are you doing here?

In a perfect world we’d be able to ask every person we come across at a poker table the following question and got an honest answer: What brought you into the poker room?

The answers to this question would likely be wide-ranging, and would tell us a lot about what types of players the game is attracting, and where it could do better.

The person could be playing:

  • To improve as a player and hopefully become a pro.
  • To pass some time.
  • Because they enjoy the mental competition.
  • Because poker looks fun.
  • Because they enjoy playing poker.
  • Because they saw poker on TV and what to give it a try.

Currently poker is doing a good job of attracting the people looking to improve, as well as the people who enjoy poker and competition. Where poker is failing is attracting the true recreational player, what I describe as fun players below.

Do you even study bro?

Before I jump into that, another important consideration that helps us determine a person’s motivations, and helps draw lines of demarcation between different types of recreational players is the amount of time they spend studying or consuming poker away from the tables.

  • Do they watch poker training videos or use tracking software as tools to improve?
  • Do they watch poker tournaments on TV or on their computer to improve, or as entertainment?
  • Do they spend time reading poker forums, or reading poker media to improve, or as entertainment?

There are a lot of different types of “recreational players,” but there is a clear distinction between a recreational player who is devoting time, money, and effort to become a better player (the type of player poker is currently attracting), and a true recreational player whose commitment to poker is limited to playing the game.

If a person is actively working on improving as a player they can be compartmentalized and separated from the other recreational players.

I separate recreational players into two main groups based on their motivations:

  • Serious players
  • Casual players

People who are actively trying to improve, and people who are there to gamble and have fun.

Serious players

Aspiring pros

Anyone who spends time working on poker strategies, reading poker books, consuming poker media, and/or engaging on poker forums is what I call an aspiring pro – which doesn’t mean they’ll become a pro or even a winning player.

They take the game seriously, and will defend the skillfulness of the game.

Serious players are motivated by their desire to improve. They look up to professional poker players and aspire to be one of them. Their main concern is their bottom line, and how to best maximize their profits.

Faux serious players

There’s a subset of serious players who think they’re on the path towards becoming a poker pro, but unlike aspiring pros, these players, who I’ll call faux serious players, are either not fully committed, or have severe leaks.

As I said above, just because you want to improve and become a poker pro doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.

Casual players

Enthusiast

Enthusiasts are people who really like poker; they just don’t like it enough to spend time or money improving as a player. Enthusiasts tend to choose games that fit within their skill level and their means. Enthusiasts probably read poker media and watch some poker on TV. They might even have poker forum accounts or have read a book at one time or another.

What they don’t do is devote copious amounts of time learning and studying.

If a serious player is the 4.0 student who studies and does all their homework assignments, Enthusiasts are the 3.0 students who do the bare minimum and are content with their grades.

Enthusiasts are drawn to fun games and games that they believe they stand a chance in. They look at a lot of different elements, from the rake, to the quality of play, to the atmosphere when determining what games to play.

Enthusiasts still play poker, but they play it less.

Fun players

The final category is what I call a fun player. Fun players are there to gamble. Poker is the same as any other casino game, and it’s going to take luck to win. On some level they know poker is skillful, but they still believe anyone can win on any given day.

Continuing the student analogy, a fun player is the person in school who just winged it.

A fun player has one goal when they play, trying to book a big win or busting their buy-in trying. They look at each session as an individual event and prefer games with high volatility. Rake, EV, and other long-term aspects of poker don’t enter the equation.

Fun players are the people poker is no longer attracting.

What about people that aren’t playing?

There’s yet another category very few people pay attention to: people who aren’t playing poker.

These are either potential poker players who haven’t taken up the game, or Enthusiasts who were gung-ho about poker and then lost interest for one reason or another.

Final thoughts

Poker is trying to reengage with the enthusiasts and fun players, and try to figure out how it can bring potential players into its folds. Most of these players want two things: action and excitement and a realistic shot at winning every now and then.

They don’t want to grind out xBB/100, or spend hours working on their game. They want to gamble and they’re perfectly ok with being a long-term losing player if they can get a little lucky and win in the short-term, since they’re never going to reach the long-term anyway.

So, is it really shocking that PokerStars and other sites have unleashed jackpot sit & go’s and Beat The Clock type tournaments on the world?

The serious players will always be well represented, it’s the casual players that we need to reach out to.