Image rights

They say poker is a game of people played with cards, so obviously your image at the table is all-important. But how should you be perceived?

In life, as in poker, we all portray an image that we feel comfortable with. It allows us to interact socially within the confines of our surroundings. But rarely are we scrutinised so closely as when we are facing an opponent across the green baize. You can feel their eyes boring into your very soul.

Anyone who knows or has played with me will know that I am always talking to players. Not only is this the most natural, comfortable persona for me to take on, but it’s a good way for me to gather information, put them off their game or – believe it or not – just to pass the time. Poker can be very boring, just like any job.

Occasionally, however, I have found myself having to act out of character in order to overcome a difficult situation. When I played Carlos Mortensen in the semi-final of the 2,500 heads-up Poker Circuit in Barcelona 2005, I was convinced he could see through my cards and knew my every move.

The biggest tell on a player is when they begin to talk about a particular hand in detail; like when they inform us of the odds involved.

To counteract this, I played as if on autopilot so as to not give anything away. I counted to a certain number before every move. I also placed my hands in an exact position on the table and always picked up my chips the same way. Why? It was my only defence against a player I thought was on a different level to me.

It worked, as I was able to win through to the final and he kindly told me he had no read on me whatsoever. Switching to autopilot is not something that I do often, but I use it as an example of how to adapt to your opponent and how important table image is.

Off the offensive

One thing I try not to do is be offensive; others are not so choosey with their comments. It is a tactic used well by some of the best players in the game, perfect examples being Phil Hellmuth and to a lesser degree, Mike ‘The Mouth’ Matusow. I would never advise any players to try to emulate Matusow or Hellmuth, as their table chatter is an art at which they excel.

I have played with Hellmuth many times and don’t find him offensive at all. But that may be because I talk to him across the table all the time, whilst others just sit there and take it. His favoured line usually being that you are playing so bad, he will catch you soon if you continue to play in pots against him.

Matusow gave me a right slating over a bluff I played against Howard Lederer in the televised Million Dollar game held at the casino, Fifty. I raised pre-flop out of position with 9-9, got two callers and the flop was A- K-4. I bet and Lederer called. The turn was an Ace. I bet again and he called. The river was a blank. I checked and he checked. He showed A-Q.

I could now have folded without showing my hand, but decided it was in my best interest to show. I lost $13,000 in this coup and when I exposed my cards, Matusow and Tony G were quick to go on the attack. I didn’t try to defend myself, except by saying: ‘Was that bad then?’ My words obviously took effect, as Matusow proudly assured me I was going to get killed in the game.


Being provocative at the table may work for top pros like Phil Hellmuth and Mike Matusow, enabling them to gather information, but it’s unlikely to have the same effect for you


This action caused Matusow to perceive me as a loose player and I played the part. Every time I was in a pot with him from then on, I played my hands very strong and fast. I never bluffed and it won me a decent amount of money. In stark contrast, Mike lost over $200,000 (although he did suffer a few bad beats along the way). I benefited from showing my cards on that initial occasion, even though I knew it would make me look foolish.

The whole point of table-talk and actions as mentioned above is to gather information and use it accordingly. For example, I may show a big laydown early in a competition in the hope of appearing to be a tight player, so that in later stages I can get my bluffs through.

Apologies in advance to Mickey Wernick, but ‘The Legend’ is a great purveyor of this type of play. Mickey gets so much respect for being a tight-solid player that he can get many steals past his opponents. He does this by showing massive pre-flop hands that he puts in the bin without hesitation. Players seem to forget that 90% of the time he was correct to pass, they just see a guy passing hands they never could. So when he bets they are fooled into believing that he must have a monster. This is a strategy that can reap serious reward if mastered correctly.


If the table is convinced you’re a certain type of player, it’s a perfect opportunity to play the opposite way

Chat ’em up

Not all players are comfortable chatting at the table and for many it’s something they should never do as better players can gather information from them. The biggest tell on a player is when they begin to talk about a particular hand in detail; like when they inform us of the odds involved. It is so rare they actually know what they are talking about. Not only that, but other players often get dragged into the argument who also show their lack of knowledge.

How many times have you heard ‘it’s a race’ when two players are all-in pre-flop? I was once in a tournament where a well-known player had A-Q against 9-5. This ‘race’ was something like 64/36. How many races would you like to have that edge in? Whenever asked as to the odds involved, I simply play dumb and claim not to know (unless some smart mouth is bugging me and I lose control). I am a strong believer in the saying, ‘educate your servant and one day he will become your master’.


Chatting can be a great way to get information, just make sure that in doing so you’re not leaking a ton of it yourself

Looking good!

This leads me to the bad image players can have – like the one who constantly says, ‘You shouldn’t have played with rubbish in that position’. It’s hard enough these days to find a player who’s not up to scratch, but to listen to these guys educating the table really bugs me. They are not the worst though; the idiots who slag off dealers for their bad fortune and demand new decks are the ones I target. You can tilt these guys easy as they have a low verbal threshold.

The other side of table image is your presentation and your manners. It costs nothing to be civil; thanking the waitress or saying hello to a few other players. These are all attributes that separate you from the crowd and without doubt the player I admire most in this aspect is Ram Vaswani. I have never heard of one occasion when Ram has whinged at a beat or slagged off an opponent’s play. As for presentation, Marcel Luske’s immaculate look gives off the image that he is confident and in control – which he is.


Winning at poker isn’t everything. If you want to be admired as a player, you should treat others with respect

Want to take Marc Goodwin on? Log on to where he plays under the handle MrPink

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