I like to tell this story about an egotist to make a point about poker.
A guy goes to a party. He is really full of himself. He starts talking to a woman. He goes on and on about himself – about how rich he is, about his fantastic car, about his beautiful house and his beach house and his recent trip to Maui and his wine collection. Blah, blah, blah. She's nodding and he thinks she's enthralled with his tales. But, eventually, he starts to run out of gas. There's only so much even this blabbermouth can say about himself. He pauses and, in a gesture that he sees as sensitive and magnanimous, he finally turns the conversation over to her by saying,
"But enough about me. Let's talk about you. What do you think of me?"
As egotistical as this seems, what's interesting to me as a poker player is that this is exactly how we should approach others at the poker table. We should be asking ourselves what the other players think of us.
Far from being egotistical, it is a strategic necessity to consider how others view us. It determines their play against us and, as such, should contribute to our actions.
Here's a simple example.
Let's say that you are viewed as the tightest player on the planet. In the eyes of all of your opponents you absolutely never bet unless you have the best possible hand. You never bluff, in their view.
Now imagine it's third street. You've been lucky enough to get Ah. You raise the bring in. And then, the player to your immediate left, with 8, raises you. He's not a tricky or aggressive player. Everyone folds to you. What do you do?
Don't answer. Consider this second example.
You have exactly the same hand. But in this game your image is that of being a maniac. The player on your left, not a tricky or aggressive player, has exactly the same hand and raises you. What do you do?
In the first instance, though it seems incredible to even consider it, I might well lay down my hand suspecting trips. Why else would he raise me when he was certain that, because of my image as a super-tight player, I most certainly had Aces? In the second example I'd either re-raise right away or, more likely, call, hoping to trap him for a check raise on fourth street. Since he saw me as a maniac, he might well be raising me just to push back against what he thought was probably a bluff.
My difference in action is entirely based on their image of me.
"Image" is a tricky subject – especially when you're trying to figure out what your image is in the minds of other players. There are many reasons why figuring out your image in your opponent's mind is difficult. The first one is self-delusion.
Your image of you in your own mind may well be different from how you really are. We tend to inflate our own image and assume that others share this vision of us. It's one of the down sides of being thoughtful players. Let me elaborate.
We are thoughtful – at least those who read and consider poker theory tend to be. We have a view of what is proper poker play – and we ascribe to ourselves the attributes we admire. Don't you do that? You know that you're supposed to play a certain way – and so you tend to image that you actually do play that way.
For example, let's say that you appreciate the importance of tight and aggressive play in limit stud. For the most part, you know the importance of waiting until you get premium cards and then betting and raising when you have the best of it. This may defines your basic understanding of how best to play.
But this may not be the way you actually behave at the table. Some players, for example, lack the self-discipline to play in the way they know they should play. Even so, they are either not self aware enough to recognize this flaw or, even recognizing it, they rationalize it away.
I know one player who has read all of the stud material out there. He thinks he's a solid player. But he's not. He's much too loose most of the time. But he thinks of himself as tight and aggressive. He has deluded himself into thinking that his image of an ideal player is his image of himself.
Our opponents don't know and don't care how we imagine ourselves to be. The observant ones only notice how we behave. So if we are delusional their image of us will differ from our image of us.