Author Mason Malmuth
Excerpt from the book Poker Essays: Appropriate Image
One aspect of successful poker play is what I like to call "appropriate image." The idea is to match your image to the game you are playing so that you can manipulate your opponents, allowing you to win more money. I don't consider image to be a major part of winning play since I believe that if you play strategically well, your image will take care of itself. However, following is what I think are the best images for five different games. By the way, I am only addressing middle-limit play, that is, games from the $10-$20 through the $30-$60 range.
Before we start, here is my criterion for appropriate image. Basically, you want to see what mistakes your opponents are making and then encourage them to exaggerate these mistakes. For instance, if your opponents are calling too much, you would like them to call every time. If they are not calling enough, you would like them to fold every time. Also, the following is what I believe to be generally true, but a particular opponent may behave much differently.
Game No. 1: High draw, jacks or better to open. The major error in this game is that a poor-playing opponent calls too much, especially if he holds the joker in his hand. This is true both before and after the draw. Since most pots are not too large, incorrect calls can be significant errors and add a great deal to your profits. Consequently, the best image is one of a loose lively player. Somehow, you should only rarely bluff but make your opponents think you bluff all the time. One way to accomplish this is to raise with marginal hands in certain positions where it is correct to do so. An example is to "pop" a late-position opener with a pair of aces and then to draw three.
Game No. 2: Ace-to-five lowball. Before the draw, most poor-playing opponents call too much, but after the draw, they don't call nearly enough. The before-the-draw error is not too costly since the edge between many lowball hands is not that great. However, after the draw, those opponents who will not call when they are last to act with something like ajack or a queen are making a serious mistake. This implies that the best image is tight but aggressive. The ability to steal pots can easily turn an otherwise marginal player into a significant winner.
Game No. 3: Texas hold'em. One of the characteristics of hold'em is that you do not flop enough hands. Also, some flops appear where it is likely that none of the cards showing have hit anyone's hand. (An example would be 9-9-3 of three different suits.) This means that the ability to steal pots is crucial in this game. Consequently, a tight but aggressive image is most important, perhaps more important in hold'em than in any other game. The exception would be against very weak opponents (who are perhaps new to the game) who don't yet understand that calling with one overcard with several players still to act behind them can be suicide. In these games, you will just have to show your opponents a hand.
Game No. 4: Seven-card stud. Many players in this game do play too many hands on third street; on the other hand, the pots quickly get so big that it often becomes correct to chase. The exception is when your opponent's board has become very scary. Perhaps he has paired his door card or has something like a four-flush showing. Again, this means that the ability to steal a pot, even just every now and then, can add significantly to your earn. Since the pots do get extremely large, it is only rarely wrong for your opponent to call on the end with a weak hand. However, throwing away the winning hand in this game is clearly a disaster. Again, a tight but aggressive image seems to be what one should strive for.
Game No. 5: Razz. For those who don't know, razz is seven-card stud played for low. The major error that bad players make in this game is to call on an early street when they shouldn't. For example, assuming that you started with a good three-card hand and you catch a baby on fourth street, if your opponent has caught bad (either he now has a big card or he has made a pair), you would like for him to call. The best razz players seem to have the ability to gain these calls. They do this through non stop talking that at times can be irritating to their opponents. The conclusion is that in this game, as in high draw, a loose lively image is what one should strive for.