How poker players perceive you is important

April 23, 2012  

A key part of my game when I started having major success was establishing a tight image early in a tournament so I could loosen up later, when blinds went up and antes kicked in. With players at my table knowing how tight I have been playing, I would get more credit for having hands and was able to win pots I wouldn’t normally win. I also tried to be as friendly as possible at the table so they would make friendly folds along with a comment such as “You seem like a nice guy; I won’t do it to you.”

I eventually started working a more loose-aggressive style into my early tournament play. Being active in a few small pots early would allow me to risk a small amount of chips with a variety of hands, giving opponents the illusion I was playing looser than I really was because I was never playing a big pot early unless I knew I had a lock on the hand.

Setting such a loose image can be good for when you have hands and can get paid off, but if you don’t make hands later on, then the road is going to be pretty tough as opponents are going to be calling you down too lightly.

To find the right balance, you need to be comfortable with your style and the image you’re portraying. If you’re trying to be someone you’re not, or playing a style you’re not comfortable with, you’ll never succeed.
Other than being comfortable, you must realize the image you’re portraying and what opponents think of you.

This has been instrumental for me in adjusting to opponents in many ways, but the most substantial way recently is realizing just how many people know who I am at the table. If you’re a world-famous player, then you know everyone at the table knows who you are. You may not know some of them, but it’s a huge advantage knowing everyone there has seen you play lots of hands and they know so much about your life and personality. When you’ve had a small amount of TV time as I did, you just never know if people know you unless they say something. Maybe they call you by name, or they happen to mention some hand you folded on ESPN.

Realizing how many folks know me and read my strategy columns, I’m taking the approach that everyone knows me, as it allows me to assume they know a lot about my game. It also lets me know they may target me so they have a story to tell their friends about how they outplayed me or eliminated me.

Players often pay a lot more attention than you think. If you’re playing with the same people regularly or even for a long period at the same table, they’re paying attention to what you do and what you say and will use that in future decisions. Be sure to focus on your image and how much knowledge is portrayed. Opponents are noticing that probably much more than they are paying attention to their image, so use that to your advantage and don’t underestimate what opponents know about you. Decide To Win!

— Lee Childs is a professional poker player and coach. He’s the founder and lead instructor of Acumen Poker and Inside The Minds. Check out his sites at acumenpoker.net and facebook.com/insidetheminds.