Poker 101: Cultivating a Profitable Table Image
This article is part of my series 'Poker Culture, Strategy & Commentary'.
Defining table image
In Poker, players are often confronted with two very distinct choices. They can call your bet, or just fold their hand; they can bet their hand or opt to simply check. A player's fundamental strategic understanding of the game will dictate how they play the hand, until they let other external factors weigh in on their decision. If their opponent has played every hand for an hour and often raises on light values, his 'wild' image will undoubtedly influence his opponents to give him more action. Often people will call a wild player down with a marginal hand instead of folding it, with the hope that he is on a bluff. Or, a player may slyly fold a relatively strong hand when a certain player bets because that player had previously demonstrated that they rarely ever bet unless they have a monster hand.
Correctly adjusting your play to the different styles of poker players you encounter is a crucial skill. Nobody can win in medium or high stakes poker playing like a well programmed robot, you have to adjust and read your opponent's play. This is why table image is so commonly discussed by poker players. Keep reading for a few secrets on how to project a profitable table image.
Awareness is everything
First, you must take notice of what your opponents think about your play. If you've raised many hands in a row, they'll likely think you are quite loose and aggressive, regardless of what cards you were dealt in actual fact. Adjusting your play to the reality of how you are being perceived is half the battle. To win the whole battle you must also strive to project an image that works for you.
What is a profitable image?
Three things that define a profitable image are: 1- You are misleading your opponents to play one way against you, when they should be playing another way. 2- You are getting extra action on your good hands. 3- Regardless of how loose you seem, players still fear you.
Many pros agree that the image of a loose aggressive winning player is best. Because you seem loose, the bad players want to gamble with you for a raise with all kinds of hands, and call you all the way down with weak made hands. Conversely, because you have the image of a winner, they are still afraid to bluff you and remain susceptible to being bluffed off a pot when you both hold nothing. Also, when a player is even mildly intimidated, they give off way more obvious and reliable tells, becoming much easier to read.
The winning image
Cultivating the image of a loose aggressive winner is easy to do, but it takes confidence. You'll need to always have a lot of chips in front of you. This intimidates some players and makes new players think you are on heater, even if you are losing so far that day. If you keep buying chips and are unable to get anything going, and suddenly your biggish stack starts looking a little meager, you should probably just quit for the day or take a break and start up again at a new table.
Keep a smile on your face, and never let them see you down. If you look dejected the other players will smell blood and play much more confidently against you. If you aren't happy, it is hard to fake it, and again this might be another time when you should just call it day. Poker is a game after all, we play because we enjoy it, whether you're a serious pro or a small stakes amateur you will show better results if you stick to playing when you are having fun.
Aggression is the final ingredient. In many instances good players will play a hand aggressively and bad players will opt to take the easy way out by simply calling, checking or folding. When you're the catalyst you control the action, and once the action gets heavy and other players seem to want to get even more aggressive than you, then it becomes time to switch gears. By this I mean tightening up a little, sticking to mostly premium hands and reaping the rewards of having cultivated a profitable image.