The following lecture was the ninth Tuesday Session, held November 24, 1998, and later appeared in Card Player magazine.
Classroom Lectures: Your Image May Matters More Than You Think
It struck me as sad. Sad like the silence of a broken heart. Sad like someone retreating from the poker table for the last time. No more chips. No more places to get chips. No more ammunition, no more war, no more victories.
Watching it was painful. It was 1972 and Smith, a frail, mid-twenties guy with extra-thick glasses, was leaving the table. Forever. And Smith smiled as he left – a cover-up smile, faint and falsely hopeful. And he never came back. Inside, deep inside, I felt so bad about the whole thing. Smith had often chatted with me, picked my brain, worked out notebooks full of calculations about which hands were superior. He had won for a while and he had been both proud and modest. Poker had been his future. But he was giving up that life now, and I knew it.
And I knew why.
Image was why. Not a bad run of cards. Not the lack of discipline. Not the failure to grasp concepts. Not the lack of heart or courage. Image was why. Just image. Maybe Smith is one of the reasons I spend so much time straying from cold, clear poker tactics. For some people image matters more.
What follows are speaker’s notes from my classroom lecture, Tuesday Session #9. As with the previous columns in this series, this one has been specially enhanced for Card Player. Session nine occurred November 24, 1998. The title was…
“Finding the Best Image for You”
- First impressions.
There is no one in the whole world who doesn’t form quick impressions of others. Even though rationally we acknowledge that it’s better to arrive at opinions about others based on evidence, we simply don’t have time to do this. Therefore, other people’s images give us clues about what to expect, and – unless our first impressions are proven to be wrong – we act in accordance with these images.
Poker opponents do the same thing, and they can be easily manipulated by your image. The really good thing is that opponents will marry their early impressions. They are not likely to reevaluate. It takes too much mental energy for them to go back and examine again how they think you are playing. So, when you show them some strange plays early, these will stick in their mind. The rest is simply maintaining an image consistent with those plays.
I like to confuse opponents. I know they came to the game with a bias toward calling. I always try to capitalize on this weakness. If I play a very loose game, I can get even more calls from these opponents and win extra money on my better hands. Unfortunately, if I play a very loose game, I will lose money. So, the solution is to play a moderately tight and selective game while making my opponents think I am playing loose and undisciplined. I usually am able to accomplish this. And I do it by show a few bizarre plays early and staying in image thereafter.
This was Smith’s problem. The kid always seemed as if he was concentrating and trying to make a well-considered decision. That became his image. And, of course, opponents sensed that he wasn’t anyone they should gamble against. He won smaller pots than he should have and got bluffed out of pots often and unexpectedly. His image became his undoing.
- Don’t be a victim.
We not only use our images to our own advantage, we can sometimes be victims of other people’s images. In poker, you should make sure you are reacting to the way opponents play, not to the way their images suggest they play.
Picture this. A young woman sits in your game. She is wearing lots of jewelry. She is laughing as her boyfriend leaves her to go to a ballgame.
“See ya later, sweetie,” he says. “Take these guy’s money, OK?”
She says, “I’ll try. Anyway, you have a good time and I will, too.”
She is really erratic in the way she pushes chips into the pot. It’s like she doesn’t care. She giggles, too. One of the early pots, she even wins, and she is giddy. You create a mental file on her – someone’s rich girlfriend here to have fun, out of her element. Fine.
Time goes on, as time usually does. Twenty minutes. An hour. Three hours. Her personality hasn’t changed. But, wait. She’s winning! What? Think back. Is she really playing just as frivolously as her first hands suggest? Or is she playing sensibly, while her image leads you to believe she is playing frivolously?
Be warned. You, too, can be unduly influenced by opposing images. Try to judge opponents by the way they play, not by the way their images suggest they play.
- Pushing players around.
Your profit comes from pushing opponents in the direction your image suggests. If your image is wild, playful, and frivolous, you must push opponents toward calling. If your image is solid (not usually the best image), you should push opponents toward folding, so you can bluff more.
If you study opponents carefully, you can create a dynamic, fun-to-play-against, not-painful-to-lose-against image that still leaves room for you to bluff when the occasion merits. Usually (see today’s final point), despite your loose and unpredictable image that wins calls from most opponents, you can bluff opponents who pride themselves on being too smart to be conned by you.
- You might be in the wrong game.
In most limit poker games, you’ll win more with a “call image” than with a “bluff image.” If you find yourself in a game where a bluff image works better, fine – but you can probably find a more profitable game somewhere else.
- No regard for money?
I am an advocate of the “wild image.” The more players perceive you as carefree with little regard for money, the more they will call you. You must couple this type of image with kindness! If you seem mean spirited, your opponents may still call on the last betting round, but they’ll choose better hands to play against you and, in general, they’ll be tougher opponents. Always make losing as painless as possible for your foes.
- Be comfortable with your image.
You don’t need to use the wild image. Make sure you’re comfortable with whatever image you decide to use. You can get a lot of the wild-image benefits just by seeming deceptive and by exaggerating your betting movements. Making bets extra crisp draws attention to yourself and makes you appear more lively, even if you don’t have the wild personality to go with it. You don’t need to put yourself “on stage.” Just make sure you’re never a “non-entity.”
This would have been the best advice I could have given Smith back in 1972. But, I didn’t.
- Stop that bluff.
A tight image does more than allow you to bluff. It also invites bluffs! This means you must call more often if you choose that image. A loose image does more than win extra calls. It also intimidates opponents and makes them less likely to bluff! Players seldom select wild or loose opponents as bluffing targets.
- Bluff the smart ones.
As I’ve said, you can still bluff with a wild image. You need to be very selective, though. Target those who think they are too smart for your image. If they think they can “see right through” your advertising, you can bluff them. I do it all the time! – MC