Understanding Table Image – both ours and our opponents’ – is an important part of poker. As a concept, it’s easier to get our heads around in the context of live poker, where we are able to fully observe players and make note of everything about their behavior, from what they say and how they say it, to how they put their chips in the middle, and so on. When it comes to online poker it’s a different kettle of fish.
However, as useful as it is to be able to make observations such as those above, online poker essentially forces us to concentrate on elements that arguably matter the most, namely the way people actually play. We might have no idea whether someone’s nerves physically manifest themselves in some way when they have the nuts or when they’re bluffing, but what we do have, hand after hand is a mine of information forged out of their betting behavior. And this is where we’ll ultimately glean the information from which we can make profitable decisions.
The vast majority of online poker players are rather predictable, which shouldn’t come as a big surprise, given that many are recreational players, and many more simply approach the game the wrong way, adopt poor habits and, importantly, don’t think much (or at all) about their table image.
But we do think about it! It’s a must that we keep in mind how the opposition sees us, how our betting habits are perceived – even the time we take to make decisions. For now, we’re going to concentrate on observing our opponents and contemplating and exploiting the potential significance of their table image, which is a skill that any serious online poker player absolutely needs to hone.
Note that table image can be quite different from player to player. How we view and judge someone isn’t going to be the same as they see themselves, and we also have to factor in how others at the table view that particular player, too. For example, have other players noticed the same things we have about Player A? Have they come to the same conclusions? It’s also feasible to assume that not everyone even made accurate observations, while others didn’t even make the effort. The point here is that when three or more players are involved in a hand – especially concerning critical hands and big pots – it’s not unusual for each protagonist to be basing and justifying their plays on quite different (even contrasting) criteria because their observations and conclusions about a specific player are not the same. Obviously, we can’t allow ourselves to be too influenced by what other players are thinking, but it’s worth keeping such things in mind. Remember, too, that it’s helpful to have an idea of how our opponents perceive themselves.
With experience it becomes easier, and more natural, to pick up all manner of useful snippets of information from closely observing our opponents. Indeed, the more skillful we become, the more detailed these factors become and, in turn, the more we can exploit the opposition. Meanwhile, a good starting point is to make an initial general assessment of a player that pertains to a specific style of play. This might seem simplistic, but it’s better than not bothering to put the effort in, and we can expand as we go.
With this in mind, we can ask ourselves fundamental questions about style. Is Player A aggressive? Do they tend to bet and raise more than average? When they do, how much are they willing to throw into the pot? Some players seem happy to make big bets regardless of context – it’s just how they like to play poker. Do they bluff a lot? Do they continue bluffing even after being caught out? Watch out for those players who try to be tricky with check-raising. For some, it’s a well-timed selective tactic, but others really can’t help themselves and are thus susceptible to being exploited. Other players are out and out plodders whose decisions are exclusively based on their cards and the value of their hand. Such an unimaginative style, which totally lacks any nuance, is perhaps the easiest to play against because the same plays are being made time after time. Is Player A too passive, too tight, maybe calling pre-flop but subsequently too easily forced out of the running?
All of the above – and more – is exactly why we should be both giving our full attention to what’s happening at the tables (regardless of whether or not we’re involved in a hand) and then analyzing what we see, adjusting and adding to our assessments the more information we pick up. When it becomes second nature we’ll reach an important new plateau in our poker development.