Image in Poker

When I first started transitioning to live poker, I was obsessed with the concept of image. What mine was, what others were, and how on tv all of my favorite poker players all had these god-like images. Like most that play live poker recreationally, focusing on looks and physical tells adds a compelling social element to an otherwise overwhelmingly analytical game. For me, I focused less than most on the physical tells of my opponents. I've always found it more interesting to think about my image and how people will react to it. 

For whatever reason, it's consistently been more satisfying for me to get a thin value bet called then to successfully run a big bluff. Now, I like to think that I solely take pride in making good decisions but I still perk up a bit when the stars align such that I'm able to make a large value bet with 2nd or 3rd pair. Naturally, when first playing live poker, I found it fun to play up the looseness of my play and put out a gambly image in order to get paid real thin in certain spots.

To this day, especially given my demographic (young, white, male), it's rare that I get credit for hands when first playing with someone. The difference now is that I don't force this. Because of the way that I look, the aggressive style in which I play, and how social I like to be at the table, I'm lucky that more often than not I give off the vibe of a gambly rich kid rather than a professional poker player. Sometimes this isn't the case though - I could get cold decked and not play a hand for an hour or two and look like a nit. Also, sometimes at the end of a long session on a poker trip I will pull out my phone or ipad to pass the remaining hours (this is something I rarely do because I think it's really bad for the game as well as my poker playing, but I'd be lying to say it doesn't happen at all). In the past, when naturally giving off a tight image, I would be tempted to widen my preflop opening range if I didn't play 20+ hands in a row. I would deliberately take what I thought were small -EV spots so people would make bigger mistakes against me in the future. 

I no longer spend a lot of time trying to cultivate a specific image. But this doesn't mean I still don't think about how I'm perceived. I still try and be very aware of what different things people might think about it, more so wth players I haven't played with before where what people is likely to be quite varied. My last live session that I played at Maryland Live! last week there was a spot with a lot of dead money and fold equity where it made sense for me to get in $150 preflop with 79s. Luckily, I turned the nuts and the table freaked out. About half of the table berated me for my bad play and were consoling the short stack that I busted after the hand. While I only had a few more hours left in play before I had to go, this one showdown allowed me to get insane value some preflop situations that came up later. I even got one player to spaz at me twice postflop where I was able to get it in as over an 80% both times. 

Conclusion: be aware of the image you cultivate, don’t actively put out an image

A couple of years ago after a session like this, I might have thought, "Wow - I should really seek out these spots where I can get it in profitably preflop with bad starting hands so people will play terribly against me after the fact." Not anymore. I'm just going to play my two cards the best I can in the moment and if that leads to making the table thinking I'm crazy and subsequently play terribly against me, great! If it leads to a nitty image, then maybe I'll be able get in a successful bluff or two.