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Establishing an Identity at the Poker Table

September 14th, 2016 by Jon Sofen
You can be anyone you want at the poker table, just don’t be the type of player your opponents think you are. (Image: imagebon.com)

You can be anyone you want at the poker table, just don’t be the type of player your opponents think you are. (Image: imagebon.com)

I always hated looking for a job. The whole process of putting together a resume and then trying to con the hiring manager into thinking I’m something I’m not:  namely, someone who actually cared about the job and not just the paycheck. Strangely, I never had a problem landing jobs because I was good at the interview process.

That skill has helped me at the poker table. I’m not the player most of my opponent’s think I am. In every hand, my goal is to convince my opponent I have something other than what I do. If I have the nuts, I want them to think I’m bluffing. If I’m bluffing, I want them to put me on the nuts. That’s the only way to make money.

How to Establish an Identity

Let’s say you’re in a $1/$3 no-limit hold’em game full of tight players. Yes, it actually does happen occasionally at low limits where no one seems to want to play a pot. Not often, but some tables are weird.

When the table is playing tight, that’s a prime opportunity for you to take over with aggression. Expand your pre-flop range and fire at flops with weak hands. But you have to do it in moderation or your opponent’s will get sick of it and play back at you.

The trick is to establish a tight image at a table like this, without actually playing tight. So here’s what I do: I start out by playing aggressively for a few hands. That means raising with weak hands and continuation betting the flop, especially if my opponent checks it to me.

Then I cool off for a bit and make them think I just went on a heater. So I’ll fold the next 10-12 hands so that I don’t come off as a constant bluffer. The thing about tight players you may not realize is they often get annoyed by players who raise every hand.

This sometimes causes a tight player to become aggressive out of spite. You don’t want that. You want them to continue folding hand after hand unless they have a monster. So by showing aggression in moderation, you’ll give off the image you’re a tight player just like them even though you really aren’t.

After 10-12 hands, go back to raising for a few hands. Then fold another 10-12 in a row. Rinse and repeat. This strategy works like a charm at tight tables. But it only works in the lower limit games. Players are more skilled at the higher levels and will pick up on this strategy, so you’ll need a different game plan.

What if the Table is Loose?

If the table is loose, you should play tight. But your image shouldn’t be such. So what you need to do in this situation is to control your aggression more than if you were at a tight table, and pick your spots better to play loose.

At a tight table, I will raise pre-flop often with suited connectors such as 5-6 and 8-9. At a loose table, I rarely do, but will pick certain spots to do so for a reason. I want my opponents at a loose table to think I’m a loose player just like them so that I can maximize my big hands easily.

What I do is occasionally fire out a pre-flop raise with a suited connector. I might even three-bet (re-raise) with a hand like this. If I hit a big hand, I will always show it to my opponents even if they fold. The same can be said if I win on a bluff or fold to a bet because I didn’t hit. The reason I do that is to let them know I don’t just play the nuts.

I might even laugh about it when I turn my hand over and say, “that’s my favorite hand” or something along those lines. The purpose of doing so is to help establish my image as just another loose knucklehead at the table, when the reality is I’m playing tight.

Sure, in these hands, I’m probably going to lose money in the long run. But that’s okay. Those small losses will help set me up for bigger wins later when I’m holding pocket aces or flop the nuts. Poker is a game of strategy. Sometimes you dump some chips knowing you’ll get them back and then some later.

Be Seen as Someone You Aren’t

The whole trick is to be seen as opposite the type of player you truly are. If you’re a tight player and everyone knows you’re a tight player, no one will call you down on your big hands. Getting paid off on big hands is crucial to any poker player’s success.

But if you are more of a tight player, you need to show a bluff here and there or flip over a weak hand you raised pre-flop with. This will throw your opponents off. So, again, if you’re a tight player and show a bluff once in a while, you’re more likely to get called with a monster hand just because the idea you may be bluffing will be in the back of your opponent’s mind.

The same can be said for those who are more aggressive. If you have a big hand, you’re almost always going to get called because everyone at the table will know you’re a bluffer. Poker is a game of acting. Con your opponents into thinking you’re the type of player you want them to think you are, not the type of player you actually are.

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3 Responses to “Establishing an Identity at the Poker Table”

  1. lfabbo Says:

    sounds good but you have a lot of bluffers at the table with hands that should of been throwen away.
    been there done that

  2. teepack Says:

    Great column, Jon. I am a big believer in keeping your opponents guessing about you. So switching up tactics every once in a while is a great idea.

  3. OmarRD Says:

    It’s a nice article. A time ago I was trying to do something like this, exactly how you said it; and it worked fine. As you said, tight player fold more and give you money, and loose players put more money and big hands (AA-JJ) or nuts, but they fold with bluff. This strategy blow their minds, it’s funny. Well, I going to use this strategy for one again on the tables. Thanks!

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