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I was reading the Sept. 25, 1999 issue of the discontinued, highly-regarded Poker Digest magazine (once published by June Field, Women’s Poker Hall of Fame member). There’s a great column by Lee Munzer, entitled “Raising in Las Vegas.” 

It starts with a discussion about buy-ins to poker games. Mark Parisi, famed poker cartoonist, had suggested that $100 or $120 would be considered “standard” as the buy-in for a $3-$6 hold’em game.

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Lee agreed.

“That won’t raise any special attention,” he said. In other words, it would not give a special message to that player’s opponents. 

Lee wrote about a player he knows who often starts with $700 in a $4-$8 hold’em game. That’s huge. Why does he do that? When Lee saw all those chips in front of that player, he did a proverbial double-take.

“Guess who I was going to watch very carefully,” he said.

Table image can be a powerful factor at the poker table and strongly influence how people play their hands against such a mountain of chips. They are bound to think: “He must be a big winner, and a very strong player; I better be careful.”

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With that in mind, Lee decided to pursue the “table image angle.” He came to the table with $423 in chips — “a whopping buy-in for a $4-$8 hold’em game.” Why the odd amount? He was representing himself as a player who was changing tables. He fully expected that his opponents would get the desired message: He must be a big winner. 

After folding several hands, Lee was dealt 9h-9d in the hole in the Big Blind position. Preflop, he raised three limpers. The flop came down: 10d-8c-7h. With a draw to an open-ended straight, he opened the betting.

It was a semi-bluff. Only the Button called. The turn was a low diamond. No help. Again, Lee bet out. His opponent hesitated, showed the 10 of clubs that gave him a pair of 10’s — and then folded his hand.

Lee’s bluff was the winner. Referring to the many racks of chips in front of him, Lee observed that, throughout the day, he “received average cards and above average respect.” Or, was it fear because of the mountain of chips in front of him?

You come to a table to play your favorite poker game. As you scan the players, you are especially mindful of how many chips each has. You assume that those with lots of chips are the winners, and those with relatively few are the losers. 

Think again. You are right-on regarding the losers, especially if they have less than the minimum buy-in. But you don’t know if the “big chippers” bought in for more or recently reloaded. I have seen players with two or three racks of chips lose a full rack, and then quietly rebuy to replace that rack.

A suggestion: Make note of the approximate number of chips each player has as you start at the table. Note when each makes a rebuy; then you can better decide whether he is a winner or a loser.

Later, when a new player comes to your table, note how many chips he starts with, and keep track of his rebuys. As a rule, tight players will buy in for the minimum or not much more. Loose players start with oversized buy-ins. That observation gives you information as to what to expect of their play during the session.

When a low-buy-in raises, have respect for his hand. When in doubt, believe him. On the other hand, low buy-ins are more likely to muck their mediocre hands when you pull a bluff, especially if you use the Esther Bluff for reinforcement.

On the other hand, huge buy-ins suggest a player who is prone to play loose and raise often (aggressive). Try to get seated to his left, so you can fold marginal/mediocre hands when he open raises on the flop — and save some chips for a better hand.

Yes, it pays to count your opponents’ chips, and keep track as the game progresses. 

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About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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