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For Poker players, image is everything

No matter which game of poker or the stakes, a player’s image is very important — be it your own image (how your opponents perceive your playing traits) or their images in your mind (how your opponents play their hands). And that can change over time.

With eight opponents at your able, it can be hard to remember. To make it easier, it’s a good idea to keep notes — although very few players do so. (Too lazy? Too embarrassed? Never thought of it?) I use a 4x6-inch piece of paper, folded in half and tucked into my shirt pocket. Some players have noticed as I often refer to them. And that can become part of my image.

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More important, all poker players have traits that relate to their style of play. That leads to the image his opponents can use when playing in a hand against him. Tight players will not invest in mediocre starting hands or worse. With that tight-player image in your mind, whenever such a player open bets or raises, you can be assured he has a very strong hand. Be careful. Consider mucking your hand.

On the other hand, loose players are wont to stay to see the flop with a wide range of hands. With that image, skilled players will play more hands against them — calling or betting for value — or even raising with a strong hand.

Passive players just go along, calling most bets. A skilled player knows he does not have to fear a raise from him, and so are more inclined to open bet and raise against him.

Aggressive players frequently raise and reraise. With that image, a skilled player tries to move his seat to his left so he need not fear a raise after he bets with a playable hand. If he is seated to the aggressor’s right, he looks for tells before acting. If the aggressor is picking up a batch of chips in preparation of raising, he promptly folds — unless he has a powerful starting hand, especially a made hand or premium drawing hand.

Be extremely cautious when playing against very aggressive opponents who are likely to bet or raise/reraise with almost anything in the hole. A table change may well be your best decision.

A calling-station is another breed. Once he has invested in the pot, he usually stays to the end. Don’t try to bluff him out. Play your best hands against him, and be assured of a decent-sized pot.

It may take a while to identify a deceptive player. He often bluffs or semi-bluffs. And he may slow-play or check-raise when he has a strong hand and wants to build the size of the pot. To best determine his image, be sure to observe the cards he turns up on the showdown.

What about your own image? Thus far we have discussed how best to play your hand based on your perception of your opponents’ images. But, just as you develop an image of each opponent, they too have an image of you based on how you have been playing your hands. That can keep you from getting good action when you have a strong hand; and so you cannot build big pots. Winning one big pot is equivalent of taking three or more small ones.

In that case, you need to counter that image. Play loose or aggressive every so often, especially in hands where there is little betting and raising. Bluff a bit more often; and don’t worry if you get caught on occasion. Let your opponents see it. That serves to change your image so you can build bigger pots when you have the goods. And that is your main objective when playing hold’em.