table image

Does Table Image Matter In Poker Tournaments?

Playing a strong theoretical poker strategy is essential to mastering poker tournaments.

However, there are some soft skills that separate the best players from the rest, especially in large field tournaments with lots of weak players.

One of those skills us understanding table image, which is the focus of today’s article. Let’s dive in.

Note: The following advice is based on a video from Darren Elias and Nick Petrangelo’s tournament master class, Road to Victory.

In addition to focusing on high-level strategic content, this course also covers skills like mastering table image, player types, exploits, and more.

Click here to learn more!

Experience Matters

The first thing to think about is that how much you have played with someone impacts their perception of you. Check out Darren’s thoughts on this subject:

When I play with somebody who I’ve played with for 15 years, what they do in that individual session means very little in how I will adapt my play to try to change my strategy against them. It’s just a drop in the bucket of data that I have to kind of build a strategy against that opponent.

But when you’re playing against a player for the first time or when a player is playing against you for the first time, they’re going to have more recency bias and what they see from that session may affect their play. So that is something to be aware of when you’re thinking about image.

When you’re playing against new players, image does mean more.

This leads us to our next factor to consider…

Pros vs Recreationals: How Do They Think About Image?

Unsurprisingly, professional poker players and recreational players think about table image differently. Here are Darren’s thoughts on this subject:

I think recreational players and weaker players often overuse their image. And something that you should be aware of is that pros aren’t going to put too much merit in what’s happened in the last hour or so.

I’ve heard a lot of players come up to me and say, “Oh, I was playing so tight for an hour or two, and then I ran this bluff and I couldn’t believe this guy called me. I’ve been playing tight all day.”

And while that may make sense in their head, if we think about it, what does “all day” really mean in a live poker tournament?

He probably played less than a hundred hands, probably 80 or 100 hands, and folded a lot and could have just gotten bad cards. So I think a pro realizes that and isn’t going to make any massive deviations just because someone has been playing tight for three or four hours.

But a recreational player, on the other hand, may read more into that. So it is something to be aware of when you’re talking about image – how a pro might perceive you versus how a recreational player might perceive you.

Keep in mind that pros will use less of this recency bias than recreational players, usually, in evaluating an opponent. But we also have to remember pros may be more set in their strategy.

Understanding how your opponents value image is a crucial skill to develop.

When Does Image Matter?

Darren goes over a few questions that act as good guidelines for how image can be a factor in people’s perceptions.

Are we a professional player? Are we a recreational player? Sid we qualify in a satellite? Are we at the top of our buy-in range? Are we at the bottom of our buy-in range? Do our opponents know this? Are they thinking about this?

Things like this are often more important than players think. Something I use a lot when evaluating my opponents is, let’s say I’m deep in a large field tournament, maybe a million dollars up top, a couple of tables left, and I’m playing against a professional. Something that’s going to go through my mind when I’m playing against them is what this tournament means to them and how often they find themselves in a spot like this.

So if a player is kind of a lower-stakes $500-$1000 buy-in average buy-in type player and they find themselves in one of these high equity spots, this tournament probably means a lot to them and might affect their strategy. That player may be, in my experience, less likely to kind of run a big bluff or get out of line. And oftentimes, the money pressure might affect a player more than if you’re playing in that same spot against a player whose average buy-in is $15K-$20K.

High roller or regular, you can be pretty sure that the moment will probably not affect that player as much and will not cause their strategy to deviate. So that’s just one example of something when I zoom out and think about image.

Where does this buy-in fall in a player’s range of buy-ins, and how much does this spot mean to them right now? Because that’s something that often affects the strategy a lot more than the cards in your hand or the combination of your cards and the board. The actual strategy of the hand.

Let’s see how this plays out with a hypothetical example.

Example: Playing Blind vs Blind Against a Strong Professional (50bb)

To illustrate this point, Darren uses the following example:

Let’s say action folds around to us in the Small Blind and we’ve got an observant strong professional player in the Big Blind.

Let’s give that strong pro a hand that plays a mixed strategy versus a limp. It’s 50bb effective and they have T3-offsuit. At baseline, they’re going to be raising sometimes and they’re going to be checking sometimes when we limp. Let’s call it around 50%.

Suppose we’re a known recreational player playing in a big spot for us. Maybe we’ve qualified on a satellite. Maybe we’ve said that this is a big moment or it’s kind of been perceived that we’re playing tight.

When this is our image and we limp on this player’s Big Blind, you can be pretty sure that a good player is going to play almost pure (i.e. 100%) raise against you here with the T3-offsuit. Most players will deviate to try to exploit the fact that you’re probably playing too tight in the spot, trying to take it down preflop. Or they have no issue building a pot postflop against a player like that.

On the other hand, let’s say that you’re a known professional — a strong professional playing a tournament towards the bottom of your buy-in range. You limp in the Small Blind against this strong professional, he may under-raise with the T3-offsuit. He may check this hand more often than he normally would because he’s aware that you’re going to be a tough opponent.

Even the best tournament players in the world are adapting their strategy based on the image of their opponents.

Final Thoughts

While having strong fundamentals is the most important part of crushing poker tournaments, there are also skills you need to have (like understanding table image) in order to truly crush these fields.

Note: If you want to add battle-tested strategies to your game, check out Darren Elias’ and Nick Petrangelo’s tournament master class “Road to Victory“.

Click here to learn more!


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About the Author
Patrick Harvey

Patrick Harvey

Graduate student trying to make money in poker so that I don't end up having to drive Knish's truck.

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