When preparing to play poker there are plenty of things you can do in order to insure playing your best. Before a long session some people like to work out and others like to meditate. Selecting your table (if you’re playing cash games) and even which seat to sit in can be very important as well. One can have a clear head and choose a perfect seat at a good game, but still not play their best.
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That is because poker is constantly changing inside the game. Just because you know seat 3 to be a maniac does not mean that he is today. Being aware of table image is a huge part of poker. Seat 3 might be eating or maybe he was stuck a bunch and just now got back to even. Regardless of what it is you need to be aware of how a player is playing that session or hour and even that current hand in order to be truly on top of your game.
The easy aspect of table image is using that of others. This mainly entails paying attention to every hand. When you get to see a show down, remember if they raised and if so in what position. Also, the betting patterns after the flop can tell you if the person is playing loose or tight. However, table image goes beyond just hand histories. Most average to below average players play one way 95% of the time. The key is to be aware or even predict when they begin to deviate and play differently.
The easiest and most common example is when players go on tilt. After a player loses a big pot, receives a bad beat, or if he just got showed a bluff, a player will lose focus. He may play more pots, be more aggressive, or he may even target the other player that beat him from the previous hand and attempt to find retribution. Tilt is the most common reason for deviating from standard play, but there are several more. Knowing if each player is winning or losing and how they got there are big pieces of information. Poker players love to talk about hands, so listen up and get the highlights of the table over the past couple hours.
This will greatly help you classify each player. Not only does the recount of the actual hands help, but the reaction of the players as the story is retold reveals a lot also. It is also helpful to pick up pieces of information like who is leaving soon, who has friends or family watching, or if the players are playing bigger or smaller stakes than usual. The key is to always be looking for clues and store them for future use.
The more difficult part of table image is playing according to your own. We all have an idea what our table image is, but just like everything else in poker it is always changing. The first step is to be self aware of all the emotional influences that may be available to your opponents. If you lost a big pot or feel frustrated, you can understand what your opponents perceive about you. If you are constantly thinking about table image you can eliminate tilting. If you are aware you might be tilting then you can play the opposite of what the other players expect. This leads into the next part of table image.
That is creating an image for yourself and then playing the opposite. This takes some time and patience in order to pull off. One should never have a plan going into a table without knowing the players at the table. Use a couple hours to study how people react to your different bets and hand ranges. This will lead to a solid understanding of how others perceive your play. It can work both ways. One can play tight and only show the nuts for two hours, which allows for timely bluffs. On the other hand, playing loose early will ensure you will be paid the maximum on all your big hands later. The key is to be aware which category you fall into.
Even though it is called “table image”, it is more than just the table you should worry about. The longer you sit at a table the less you should think of your image for the table. Your focus should be on how individuals see you. Average and bad players are very selfish. They will only remember the hands between you and them. So even though you have been showing the nuts to the table for the last four hours, he may just remember the small bluff you ran on him in the first orbit. After you are aware of your individual image you can set up plans of attack for the entire table. This way, before you get in confrontations you will already have a game plan set up in your head. Being conscious of how your opponents are playing combined with knowing their perception of you allows you to win the maximum and lose the minimum in a lot of key pots.
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