Establishing a Tight Table Image by Allen Cunningham

In poker, image matters.

Throughout a tournament, your table image will help determine how much action you’ll get and, ultimately, how you can manipulate your opponents into making big calls or big laydowns at the wrong times.

While establishing a loose, aggressive image early on can help build your initial chip stack, I believe it’s important to develop a tight table image in the later stages of a tournament because it gives you the ability to maneuver at the times when the chips matter most.

When the action is folded around, some players will always raise from the cutoff and the button. The problem with this play is that’s its predictable and can be easily exploited. If you always raise from the button, the players in the blinds catch on sooner or later and will put in a big re-raise with any two cards. You will also find players just calling you with a much wider range of hands from the blinds before putting in a big check-raise on the flop.

Why do they do this? Because you have been presenting a loose table image by raising any time the action is passed to you. During late-stage play, this image hampers your ability to maneuver because any time you try to make a move, it’s likely that someone will play back at you.

It doesn’t take long before your loose table image will make you a target for the experienced players at the table (or even the inexperienced players who get tired of being pushed around). The amount of chips you risk by being loose in these situations is usually not worth the reward of just picking up the blinds. Be careful, though, because when you play too tight you end up missing many opportunities to slowly accumulate chips or even just stay afloat. Ideally, you want to project a very tight image while actually being somewhere in between the standard perceptions of "loose" and "tight."

I have one very simple piece of advice to help you with this part of your game. It may sound so simple you would wonder why I bother mentioning it but, in fact, this is one of my most important rules: Always fold junk.

By always folding junk hands, you accomplish a number of goals:

  • You resist the temptation to attempt a blind-steal just because action was passed to you. With the level of aggressiveness that characterizes today’s play, it’s better to pass on bad hands even in position.
  • You avoid pot-committing yourself with a hand that will usually be dominated in a race with a short-stack. For example, if you raise from the cutoff for 3x the big blind with J-3 attempting to steal the blinds and a stack with 8x the big blind moves in behind you, you are in a bad spot. It’s better to just avoid these situations altogether.
  • Most importantly, you further cement your image as a tight player. Now when you raise with a hand like A-8, you can feel confident that your tight image will allow you to steal the blinds although you’re actually playing a bit looser.

Another temptation players face is to pick on someone’s blind just because they view that player as "weak". I rarely pick on someone’s blinds without a decent opening hand. Opening from the cut-off with a hand like K-9 suited is about as low as I’m willing to go in attempt to just pick up the blinds.

Using my tight table image enabled me to maneuver through a very tough field in the $5,000 Pot-Limit Hold ’em event at the 2007 WSOP*. After I doubled up early in Day 2, I used my table image in the late stages to steal blinds and to pick up a number of pots in key situations. I was able to carry this momentum to the final table, where I was fortunate enough to win the bracelet.

Remember, it takes more than good cards to be a winning player. By creating a solid table image in the late stages of a tournament, you may actually be able to play a wider variety of hands than your opponents expect and take down key pots at critical times.

Allen Cunningham

* World Series of Poker and WSOP are trademarks of Harrah’s License Company, LLC ("Harrahs"). Harrah’s does not sponsor or endorse, and is not associated or affiliated with or its products, services, promotions or tournaments.