I talk a lot about using HUD stats to your advantage on this blog but the bottom line is that poker is still a psychological game and that deeper meta-game (the history, the dynamic) between you and someone else is always there and sometimes more important.
You can almost look at your poker table image as your reputation. People are going to react to you very differently depending on how they view you as a person (as an opponent in this case).
So should you seek to have a good poker table image or a bad one? And also, how can you use this perception of others to your advantage? Well, these are the two questions that I am going to address in this article.
How to Build Your Poker Table Image
First things first, how do we build our table image? Well, as soon as you sit down to start playing the other players at the table are going to start taking mental notes (to varying degrees) about your play.
In other words, they will try and make judgments about your play. For instance, Oh, that's the tight passive guy. Or that guy is a loose aggressive maniac!
There is nothing wrong with making these judgments about your opponents. In fact this is something that you should be doing all the time. I have 6 different categories of regs based on HUD stats that I often talk about for instance.
Categorizing players like this simply allows me to predict their actions a little bit easier. While every player is unique, certain player types tend to make the same actions in various situations.
But if your opponents aren't using a HUD (or you are playing live) the way that you are going to build your table image is really based on what you do in the first couple orbits.
Much like first impressions in life the same thing applies in poker. For better or worse, most people are going to draw conclusions about your play based off of what they see out of you in the early going.
Table Image Depends on What Cards You Get Dealt Though Doesn't It?
Yes and No.
Now of course the table image that you create is going to be based somewhat on what cards you are dealt. If you are getting stuff like T♥2♣ every single hand, it is going to be hard to do anything other than appear to be a total nit.
But the reality is that you will probably get dealt a few reasonable hands as well in your first couple dozen hands when people are trying to draw conclusions about you the most.
As I have discussed before, especially with regards to Zoom poker strategy, often you can use this unknown factor to your advantage. When people don't know anything about you is when you can get away with murder.
So I actually prefer to do a lot of light 3Betting/4Betting and postflop bluffs in the early going when nobody knows much about me.
Now I am not going to be making plays with T♥2♣ but if I get dealt something even halfway decent like J♦9♦, A♥3♥ or 4♣4♦ I might be playing it a little bit more aggressively than normal in the early going.
Really what I am getting at here is that I do not agree with the age old advice that you may have heard before to keep it tight and simply observe when you first sit down at a new poker table.
Na, screw that.
When I first sit down at a new poker table I know I am going to get the most respect regardless of whatever table image I eventually build.
Therefore, this is the time when I want to be taking advantage of that unknown factor. This is when my opponents will often just lay it down and "wait for a better spot."
It is Better to Have a Bad Table Image
Another reason why I like to be aggressive early on at a new table is because I want to build a bad table image.
Now don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with building a tight, solid reputation at the tables. This will get you the maximum respect from the regulars.
This will also allow you to get away with some key bluffs from time to time if you know how to use your table image to your advantage. I will get to this in a bit.
However, overall it is always better to have a bad table image. The reason why goes back to the age old poker wisdom that you "get action when you give action."
I want to be known as the guy who is in there splashing the chips around and playing reckless. This is going to allow me to get paid off much easier than the tight nit who everybody knows is just sitting around waiting for aces.
Basically, a LAG (loose and aggressive) strategy is going to have a higher profit ceiling than a tight strategy. This is especially the case when you start moving up the stakes, where people tend to pay more attention, and nits get paid off even less.
For more on this, I recently wrote an entire article on transitioning from TAG to LAG.
Poker Table Image is an Illusion
However, there is one key point here that must be noted. This whole idea of being a reckless, chip spewing LAG is really just an illusion that I am creating.
The real key to making this strategy work at the micros in particular is appearing to be crazy with plenty of early street raising and aggression. However, when the big money goes in on the later streets, I always have it.
This works exceptionally well in lower stakes cash games (and MTTs and SNGs as well) because most of your opponents are not considering your actions and range well enough at all stages of the hand.
In fact, often all they are thinking about is "this guy has 3Bet me 3 times in a row, he must be totally crazy!!!"
My preflop and flop hyper aggression (small money streets) does not necessarily mean that I will play the same on the turn and river (big money streets).
I am making a few "moves" especially when I first sit down at a new poker table as I discussed above but I am not gonna stick all the money in the middle with 2nd pair or a draw.
My stack off range is still going to be very similar to almost any other regular. I am going to need something really strong, typically the nuts.
Using Your Poker Table Image to Your Advantage
So the real key to creating a table image in poker is understanding the illusion that you are creating. If you want to create a bad table image (which I suggest), then you need to realize that you are going to get more action especially on the later streets.
So it is important to tone it down at a certain point if you don't have anything. Your river bluffs are going to get looked up wider, your double barrels are going to get called lighter etc.
So knowing this, once your bad table image is established, you need to slow down with the complete air bluffs on the later streets. However, on the flip side, this is a spot where you could get away with some amazingly thin value.
You have 9♣9♠ and the board on the river is:
If I have a bad table image I am probably going to be firing on this river for value most of the time. This is because I know they are going to try and hero call me here a lot with 8x or even 6x hands.
Conversely though, I would never bet with total air here because I know I am going to get looked up super light. The real key here is understanding what your table image is and using it to your advantage.
From the other point of view, if you want to be the good guy and create a good table image (there is nothing inherently wrong with this by the way), then you can also take advantage of your table image in a spot like this.
If you have a good table image, this is exactly the kind of river that you want to be betting with total air. In fact this is a great board to simply triple barrel bluff on especially if the table sees you as a tight, solid player.
The reason why is that your opponents are going to put you on a strong ace or a king a lot and therefore they will be likely to fold their weaker pairs. Conversely though, I would very rarely go for thin value here with a tight table image.
Because if we know that we are very rarely getting value from worse hands and only getting called by better hands, then what really is the point of betting? We may as well just check it down and win the pot with the best hand.
Creating a poker table image is something that you do when you first sit down and start playing whether you realize it or not. People are going to start trying to categorize you and draw conclusions about what type of poker player you are.
This is why it is good to always be cognizant of exactly what type of table image you are creating and then use it to your advantage later on.
I think that having a bad table image is ultimately going to be more profitable most of the time compared to having a good one. The biggest reason why is because when you appear to be a reckless maniac to everyone else, you are more likely to get paid off.
And frankly, getting action with your big hands is really the whole point of the game. This is how you are going to build a big winrate and profit big at the lower stakes in particular.
But there is nothing wrong with creating a good table image as well. The real key is knowing how to use it to your advantage. You can get away with more well timed bluffs than somebody with a bad table image can for instance.
Let me know in the comments below what kind of table image you prefer, good or bad?
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