The Debate: How much should image matter?

May, 13, 2009
5/13/09
3:35
PM ET


The beauty of poker is that 10 players could play the same hand 10 different ways. Granted, most of us would raise with aces pre-flop, but the amounts might be different. Or maybe the way we would play them against different opponents would change our respective strategies.



Thanks to all those who have submitted potential debate topics recently. This week, Brian Kornfeld joins me to analyze a situation from a recent live tournament. While most might believe this situation is a clear move one way or another, there's a simple aspect that must be considered: table image.

Don't forget to leave your feedback in the conversation section. You can also suggest a hand and be featured in a future article.

Situation: Hero is sitting at a live tournament with an above-average stack. Two new players sit down at the table as the field dwindles. The table is dealt a hand with blinds $400/$800 and a $100 ante. Hero raises in middle position with K-9 off suit. The raise to $2,200 pot-commits him when an all-in reraise to $5,600 is made. Hero wins the race against 7-7 and has increased his chip stack to nearly $43,000.


In early position on the very next hand, hero is dealt pocket jacks.


Let the debate begin ...

Kornfeld: This is actually a good situation to be in. One hand after raising with a marginal hand, I am dealt a strong hand. Conventional wisdom would say that I wouldn't be stupid enough to raise this time without a strong hand; however, I also know the image of me raising with K-9 will be engrained into others players' minds.

I think there is no debate that with my stack and at this blind level, coming in with a standard raise is the right play. Since I made it $2,200 to go last hand, sticking to the same amount is the right play. Playing these two hands the exact same can mask the strength of my hand.

Feldman: I think you're right. You have to keep consistent here if you want to mask the fact that you actually have a real hand this time. You can't limp in, as you're inviting raisers and the early position action shows your strength. Will people believe the hero? I'm not so sure, but he can't play this hand weak because he got caught the hand before.


In my mind, if someone who has just gotten caught and showed K-9 is raising on the very next hand, they'd need to have a solid hand. Then again, if you use that logic, you could raise with air here because of what they'd believe.


Action: Hero raises to $2,200.


Feldman: As we expected, the hero makes the same raise, putting us in the same position. We'll see if he gets respect this time around. Table image is something that every player at this table needs to take into consideration here. What range of hands would you call/raise the hero in this spot?

Kornfeld: I expect the hero to be called by a fairly wide range of hands. Even though he raised from an early position, the imprint of the hero raising with K-9 will be in a lot of the players' minds, especially the more aggressive players. I would expect mid-pairs and mid-aces to come into play, as well as suited connectors. Hands like K-Q, K-J and Q-J will most certainly call. I also expect a possible reraise from a player in the blinds with a medium pair or a medium to big ace, trying to take the hand down while not playing out of position.

Feldman: Wow. I think you're giving the hero no respect here if you think a hand like Q-J is going to call in this spot. I'd limit the range to big aces and any pocket pair. I'd only expect a reraise from a monster, as I think other players will tread lightly in this spot. The more aggressive players might take a stab at the pot with a reraise, but I still think they'd have a legitimate holding to make this sort of move.


Action: The player on the button, who just moved to the table a hand ago, reraises to $8,000. He had a total of $22,000 to start the hand. The action folds back to hero.


Feldman: Well, this is a pot-committing bet if I have ever seen one. He put in over a third of his chips and will have to call just about any reraise. The hero now has a tough decision and must determine how much of an impact the previous hand has on the current one. If he's a decent player, you're probably racing or behind. It's either shove or fold, but I don't think I know enough about the player to advocate either way. Calling is a big risk because if you don't know whether he has a monster like QQ-AA and a low flop hits, you're in big trouble ...

Kornfeld: We have been through this before with jacks, and how there is no right way to play them. I think the opponent probably has a decent hand, but I am a little slower to give him respect for a monster. I think the opponent's range is much wider because of the hand before. If all the opponent has seen is a raise with K-9, then wouldn't this make him think he can force the hero off a marginal opening hand?


Because the opponent's range is so wide, he can't accurately put the opponent on a hand. The hero needs to use Level 3 thinking here. The hero needs to think the following question: "What do I think my opponent thinks I have?"


Using this logic, in my eyes, the opponent seems very weak in this spot, but is it worth the risk, just in case he has a hand like A-K?

Feldman: Wow, decision time. You don't believe that he has a monster, so how about the possibility of a race? If so, are we putting in half our chips to race at this point in the tournament? I can't imagine that would be the best idea. We're in a good position to simply let this hand go and move on.


That said, Level 3 thinking would tell us that he believes we are weak. We're trying to use our image from the hand before to represent a strong hand, but in that mindset, the hero must be weak. I still don't like racing in this spot, but now we can infer that he has a much wider range of hands than initially believed.

Kornfeld: And if he has that much wider range of hands, now hands like 7s-10s come into play, as well as A-J, A-10 and maybe even A-9, or just a complete bluff. If I can peg him on a monster or an A-K type hand, then I would either fold or stop and go, but I can't. I am really relying on the fact that he most likely thinks the hero is weak. At this point, I'm thinking the hero is at the absolute worst-case scenario in a race. Since the hero is out of position, and playing a hand like jacks post-flop is very tough, I think it's time to get our money in the middle.

Feldman: I still don't like the shove, but it is the lesser of two evils in this scenario. Calling won't work (unless the hero flops a set) and folding is a mistake in my opinion. Let's see how it played out ...

What happened: Hero eventually moved all-in, surprising the table, who believed he was hollywooding the hand. Given the price, the button reluctantly called and showed A-3. After a 3 came on the flop, the jacks held, and the hero eliminated his opponent.

Feldman: A-3? Really? Serves me right for giving this player more respect in this situation.

Kornfeld: It's important that it was his second hand at the table and all he saw was the K-9 hand. He clearly took this read into consideration, but it's clear that he made a tremendous misread on this hand, not giving the hero enough credit.

How would you have played the pocket jacks? What would you do if you were in this situation? Leave your comments below, and we'll take a look at your thoughts next time.

Andrew Feldman is ESPN.com's Poker Editor. He is the host of the Poker Edge Podcast and co-host of ESPN Inside Deal. Andrew has covered the poker industry for ESPN since 2004.

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