In the first two parts of this series I mentioned the importance of recognizing the image that other players have of you at the poker table. This may differ from how you like to think of yourself; and it may vary from opponent to opponent. In this final column in this series we'll look at some of the specific ways to put to good use this knowledge of your image in the minds' of others.
The first example is pretty obvious. You have been playing in your typically tight-aggressive style. You haven't had any decent starting hands and so have folded nearly twenty hands in a row. You're at a table of moderately good players – no one fantastic, no one truly awful. You get (), sitting three to the left of the bring-in. None of your cards are out. The hand is folded to you. What do you do?
Since you have established yourself to anyone who is paying attention as a squeaky tight player, you should raise here. You may well win the bring-in and the antes. And if someone calls you and doesn't seem to improve on fourth street you should come out betting again – perhaps even doing so on fifth, sixth and the river – assuming they don't seem to improve.
On the other hand, let's say that you just tried this move and someone called you down to the river with a pocket pair that turned into two pair on the river. They called you when you bet and you showed down your pathetic Ace high. If that happened, and you got the same hand on the next deal, you'd be foolish to try the move again – as your opponents, especially your less astute opponents, would be apt to remember that you are a bluffer and call you.
Here's another example. Let's say that you have lost a number of showdowns in a short period of time with flushes that didn't come in and other weak hands. You had raised along the way to try to get the hand heads up, but ended up being called down, having to reveal your weak holdings Though you generally are a strong aggressive and tight player, your recent play makes you look pretty weak and wild to those who aren't very familiar with your long term history.
You are dealt (). A tight player to your right completes the bet with . Another player calls him. You're trying to decide on your best move.
Under normal circumstances, with your image of you as a tight/aggressive solid player intact, you'd probably slow play those trips and just call along, hoping to seduce the other players into thinking that you had a 3-flush, a pocket pair, or a pair of Queens. But with your loose and wild image now freshly emblazoned on the minds of the more attentive players, you can go ahead and boldly raise the Ace with your trip Queens. Take advantage of your recent image and build that pot. Get your opponents to commit more money to the pot now so they will have more incentive to call you down on later streets – even if you hit an exposed pair. You'll be setting yourself up for a monster pot that you are the heavy favorite to win.
Here's a final example of using your differing image in the mind of two different players to your advantage. The game is $10/20 stud with a $1 ante and a $3 bring-in.
You're playing against Larry — a guy who knows you well – someone from your home game who has played against you for thousands of hours. He knows you to be a very tight player. Nothing you do will shake that image he has.
Sitting to his left is Nate — a brand new player. He's not especially insightful, but he isn't a complete dunce either. He's noticed your recent play.
In the past thirty minutes, since Nate sat down, your hands and, frankly, the fact that you're a little out of sorts, has contributed to uncharacteristic wildness on your part. You capped a bet on fifth street with a hand that ended up as a loser – only to have to show it down when you were called all the way by Nate. And then, to make matters worse, you chased someone heads up when you had a flush draw – hitting it on the river and winning a monster. It was good for your bankroll but it just added to your image as a wild and loose maniac – since you didn't have the pot odds to call heads up with just a draw.
Here's the very next hand you were dealt. It is sixth street. The hands are as follows:
Larry had been leading the betting since third street. But Nate has just hit a pair of Jacks so he is high on board. He bets. What do you do?
Here's where image comes into play. You raise Nate.
Your thinking is this. Larry knows you as a very tight player, in spite of your recent rash of plays that may make you appear to be loose and wild. That's not going to faze Larry. You've been the tightest player he's ever seen for 15 years. So when you raise the pair of Jacks he's going to assume that you hit trips by pairing your door card. He's very likely to fold his hand, even if he has the Aces you gave him credit for.
Nate, on the other hand, is convinced that you are a wild and loose player. You could be raising with anything in his book. He's probably got Queens up or maybe just the Jacks. When Larry folds, as you hope he will, Nate is not going to concede to you. He's already called you down and revealed you to be a bluffer.
And that's exactly what you want. You want Larry, with his pair of Aces, to fold before he draws Aces up against you. And you want Nate, who is far behind you, to call you until the river.
As you can see, your image in the minds of your opponents is fluid and variable. What's important is not what you're really like but what they think you're really like. Figure that out and you can often manipulate your opponents to behave in a way that is profitable for you.