Monday, December 18, 2006

Table Image: First Impressions (in case anybody's actually watching)

I haven't been playing as much recently, but today I got rudely awakened around 2 pm because Brigid and her friends wanted to go to the Commerce. Despite only having gotten 5 hours of sleep, I decided to join them.

Since I was rather tired, I resolved to play more conservatively because this takes somewhat less brainpower, and gives me fewer chances to make mistakes. When I have a specified regimen like this (which is rare), I think it can be a good idea to start the session by playing the exact opposite style. That way, if anyone's paying attention, they'll get an inaccurate first impression. This is useful because, psychologically, people vastly overemphasize their first impressions of others when trying to judge them later. The problem with this strategy is that it's pretty likely nobody is actually paying any attention to me, and I might end up sacrificing some equity on these early hands for "image advertising" that nobody even notices.

Come to think of it, I used a similar "strategy" in my first ever casino poker experience. A good portion of my poker reading up to that point was from this page by Mike Caro. Caro is an excellent poker thinker and a good writer (check out his canonical Book of Tells), but he puts an awful lot of emphasis on managing table image. Thus, so did I. When I sat down at the 2-4 limit table at Foxwoods that fateful day three years ago, I decided to spend my first 20 minutes or so playing like a maniac, raising preflop and on the flop most hands. My impression from Caro was that most players play too loosely, and that by making myself seem loose and aggressive, I would encourage them to play even more loosely against me. In retrospect, I realize this was overkill to the extent that when I finally reverted to my standard tight playing style, it must have been plainly obvious that I was not playing maniacally anymore. As it happened, though, I had a two hour long run of great cards and managed to win $320 that night, a pretty ridiculous amount for only about 4 hours of 2-4 limit.

Today this strategy has been pared down to trying to show one hand that I played aggressively
enough for the other players to notice and, hopefully, even discuss amongst themselves ("Q9s? Didn't he raise to $20 before the flop? That guy's nuts!"). I'll only do this until I manage to show such a hand; then I just revert to my standard strategy. The idea, of course, is to encourage people to give me action after I've switched gears and started playing only premium cards.

My first time under the gun I got a good opportunity to do put the plan into action. Playing 3-5NL with $200 behind, I got K6 diamonds and raised to $20. I got four callers, so the pot had $100.

Flop: Qd 7d 5c, giving me a flush draw. Deciding this hand would be a good chance to either take the pot with a semi-bluff, or get called and show my hand, I bet $60 and got one caller. Pot now $220.

Turn: 2s. With my flush draw, I pushed in for my last $110. If he folds 1/3 of the time or more, this is profitable for me even if my draw never comes when he calls me (in actuality I will hit my flush about 1/5 of the time, and there's a chance I would win with a K also). Since he didn't raise the turn, it seemed likely he'd fold to a big bet. Besides, I kind of wanted to have to show the hand for the image reasons I just discussed. Anyway, he folded and I mucked. (Why not show this hand? Well, not only is it kind of bad etiquette to show bluffs, I think it makes people suspicious that I am trying to set them up if I show. Of course, they would be right, so that would defeat the purpose.)

A round went by without any good opportunities for aggression, so I decided to just forget it and play conservatively. Maybe my previous all-in move would suffice, despite not getting to show it. Besides, I'd been there over 20 minutes and so the "first impression" opportunities had more or less expired. Then, on the button, I got 45o, and limped behind 3 other limpers. The big blind raised to 15, and we all called except the small blind. Pot: ~$75.

Flop: Ac 3h 5c. The big blind bet $50 and got two callers in front of me. With about $290 left, I pushed all-in (a $240 raise into a $275 pot). I figured even if the BB had AK, he'd have to consider folding with three opponents saying they have hands, and one of them (me) representing at least 2 pair. The other players would actually be correct to draw at a flush, but in my experience, people have a psychological hangup about calling big all-in bets on draws, even if the odds call for it (calling on draws is generally perceived as an amateurish play, and it's common for people to be ridiculed for it at the table, regardless of whether the play was actually -EV). Even if AK is out there and calls, I still have 9 outs to win (almost 35%). Anyway, the first two players folded, and the third called. I showed my hand... My opponent showed Qc 6c, and he missed. I pulled in a nice pot of $750+ with a pair of 5's, no kicker. Also, although it didn't quite have the "first impression" quality, I think it did make a bit of an impression on the rest of the table.

About 2 rounds later, I had an outstanding run of cards, winning about 8 of 11 straight hands. I don't know if my previous play had anything to do with it, but I got a ton of action on those hands and increased my stack from $700 to about $1500. After only 2 hours, Brigid's friends were ready to go, so I didn't have any time to lost anything back... good day at the office.


Anonymous said...

Well done...was I with you that day at Foxwoods?

Keith said...

Yup, you were there. I remember you moved over to my table after about 30 minutes and sat to my left. I raised with 42o and you folded... after the hand you told me you would have caught a straight flush if I hadn't raised. Sorry about that.

Anonymous said...

2 pm, huh? rough.