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Table Image

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How do others see you at the table?

I just returned from a week in Vegas, always an inspiration for some poker analysis. This post is about your table image, an angle few people pay attention to.

The majority of my table time in Vegas was at the Flamingo. It’s a comfortable, well lit room with friendly dealers and a general comfortable “living room” feel to it. I’ve found that there are a lot of stable games at the Flamingo with low turnover. Those who you sit down with tend to not be in a rush and stick around for hours and hours. I’ve had enough table time there that I now recognize the locals, at least some of them.

Man in the Mirror

As you know, there is a pile of literature, online and off, about the game of poker. Sometimes, to get a feel of the nuances of the game, you just need to log the hours. As you do, your breadth of awareness widens and you pick up significant information that can help you play better. When I started playing, I was fixated on trying to label my opponents to try and gain some sense of their style of play and patterns that followed. Of course, this is an important skill. But this can be a one-way direction of your energy that overlooks the next level of the game – how your opponent perceives you.

Your table image matters regardless of where you play most. Online, you play a lot of hands quickly and you can get a sense of how the regulars you see tend to play against you. If they respect you because you are tight-aggressive, they fold when 3-bet unless holding monsters. Because the online game allows you to encounter the same player so often (you can also search for them and join their table, too), you have a lot of data on them as they do for you.

It’s different in a casino. Your image might be a blank slate to your opponents. This does not mean that they won’t pigeon-hole you quickly. The difference live is that your opponent will give you explicit information about what they think about you, often voluntarily.

The devil is in the details

I was to the left of a local pro who had moved to Vegas from Minneapolis and grinds against the tourists (all information he was happy to share). He was a good player, tight, bordering on being a rock. I had been card dead for a couple hours but sneaking the blinds from time to time and winning some modest posts with bluffs in position. Finally, I was dealt kings in late position. The pro entered the hand by raising 2 limpers (it was a limpers paradise) and bet the pot. I decided to 4-bet my big pair in position and it folded around to the pro. He then says, “If I recall, that’s the first raise I’ve seen you make today”. He folds but shows me his pair of 10’s.

Clearly this was a good fold because he was 100% correct that he was way behind. However, he made two mistakes in my opinion. He showed me how tight he was playing and also told me what he thought of my play. The second mistake was magnified because the whole table heard him. How could I use this to my advantage?

Approximately, an hour or so later, I was in the cut-off position and held 76 suited. At this table, people would limp or flat call with this hand, it was not aggressive at all. This fact alone meant alarm bells should be screaming with any 4-bet. Pre-flop, it was folded around to a pretty terrible player and he entered with a 4x raise. Local Pro flatted. With suited connectors, I could flat, too and hope to hit the flop hard. Instead, I decided to squeeze and raised it. The terrible player folded quickly as did Local Pro.

Enough time had passed that I could exploit my tight image and a good situation came up. If I would have got two callers I still would have had position and who knows what the flop brings. By paying attention to the table talk, I was able to rake a pot with little resistance with a marginal hand.

Later, I was able to rake a pot with a check-raise on the turn of the player to my left while holding bottom pair, ultimately a bluff-catcher. Because I got a read on how some players viewed me, I could take advantage when the opportunity arose. It was the first check-raise at the table (like I mentioned, it was very passive).

Return to the big picture

In the long run, these plays can help you pull in a few decent pots that you might not normally collect and might mean the difference from staying profitable or not. While the 1/2 NL games at the Flamingo are relatively soft, you can still pad your stack with decisive action at the right moment.

The moral of the story is be aware of the information your given, even in friendly table chatter. People are listening. If you are aware that they are, exploit it. Use your image to your advantage.

Kelly Doell, PhD is a mental performance consultant. Learn more about how his work can help your performance at www.KellyDoell.com

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  • Ivan Y

    Vegas is notorious for having much softer poker games compared to anywhere else in the world, especially smaller cardrooms that feed the 1/2 NLHE. “Paying Attention” to your surroundings when you’re not in the hand, is probably the best advice I could give to new players of the game.

    • Kelly D

      Most people are only “paying attention” to when the cocktail waitress will be back next…

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