What is Table Image?
A player's table image refers to a style of play. One common way to describe a player's table image is by how often they play a hand.
For example, if a player has not entered a pot for a long time, you should think of that player's image as being tight. He is tight since he seems to have a very narrow range of playing hands.
If a player has entered every other pot, you should think of that player's image as being loose. It is loose since he can not be getting that many top starting hands; that is, he has a wide range of starting hands to enter a pot.
Another way to describe a player's table image is by the action they take when they do play a hand.
For example, if that tight player only enters the pot with a pre-flop raise, he can be described as both tight and aggressive. He is aggressive because he enters every pot with a pre-flop raise.
However, if that tight player only enters the pot by calling the big blind, he can be described as passive. He is passive because he is a caller.
Why is Table Image So Important?
Identify your opponent's table image.
Watching your opponents and identifying their table image is an important skill and will help you improve your game considerably.
For example, I was playing at a limit tournament and there was one player who almost never entered a hand. When he did enter a hand he showed down hands like pocket Aces, pocket Kings, pocket Queens, and A-K. This player clearly was super tight.
When we got down to the final two tables. He was still in the event. His playing style had not changed. He was staying super tight. On this one hand I was on the big blind, and after one player raised pre-flop, this super tight opponent re-raised. I looked down to find A-Q. In a limit tournament, it is not expensive to call and see a flop. However, I folded since I knew the tight player probably had me beat. His table image improved my decision making. Or, so I thought...
When the flop was Q-6-2, I was feeling uneasy. Did I fold top pair, top kicker? When the action went to the river, the tight player won with pocket Aces, while his opponent had A-Q. Phew!
If your opponent is loose and aggressive, it can make your decision making more difficult. In the recent WSOP Europe, Daniel Negreanu was playing his small ball strategy for a no limit event. Daniel was entering many pots with small pre-flop raises. On this one hand, he raised small pre-flop with 9-10 suited. His opponent re-raised Daniel's bet a large amount with A-Q; it was a 5 times Daniel's bet. Daniel called.
The flop was J-J-7. Daniel checked, as did his opponent. The turn was an 8. Bingo! Daniel checked his straight, and his opponent lost all his chips when he moved in on the turn. It is difficult to put a player on a hand if he plays a small ball strategy.
Sometimes players change their table image based on the stage of the event or their relative stack sizes. This could be because they are becoming more passive at the time of the bubble, wanting to get paid something. Others may simply be desperate for chips and they become more aggressive.
Figure out your own table image.
It is important to think about the table image you have created to your opponents. Are you aggressive, loose, passive, aggressive? Do you need to change your style of play so you are more unpredictable? Also, you may find that your table image may differ depending on your opponent.
For example, at a WSOP event, in the first hour I was getting an incredible run of premium hands. Opponents were getting frustrated by my pre-flop raises and continuation bets, especially since I never had to show my hands. My table broke up, and I went card dead. When this table broke up, I was moved next to a player from my original table.
On the first hand at this new table I was dealt pocket Kings. I raised. My opponent probably perceived me as loose, aggressive, since he moved all-in. I called. He turned over 6-4. I was very happy, until he flopped a 6 and rivered a 4. Doh!
As a general rule, you want to play the opposite your table image. For example, if you are a tight passive player, and start entering a series of pots with pre-flop raises, your raises will get more respect from opponents. It allows you to steal more often and pick up blinds and antes.
If your opponent views you as a loose, aggressive player, your opponents are more likely to call you down or even raise your bets.
Identify your opponents table image and figure out the table image you are projecting. It will improve your game. It will improve your decision making. Sometimes you will find that while raising an aggressive opponent is a smart play, folding with the same hand may be the right move against a tight opponent.