My crazy image
I've been grinding a lot lately, pretty much staying in what I call "full on vampire mode" while working towards SuperNova Elite. I'm ahead of schedule for that now.
I did get out of the house for a while not long ago, though, to play in the Master Classics of Poker at the Holland Casino in Amsterdam. It's a popular event and people come from all over Europe for it. It was at the MCOP and also earlier at EPT London that a few hands got me thinking more about the importance of image in poker.
About four or five years ago -- and before that, too, really -- all I ever tried to do was to bluff the table and accumulate a big stack. It was very entertaining for me to play that way, and it worked a lot of the time. Then I appeared on a few TV shows including one from the 2009 WSOP and people saw me playing that way, and soon I realized that I should tighten up, since everyone was becoming aware of my propensity for bluffing.
But by playing tight, I forgot that I should also still bluff sometimes. I was letting some good bluffing spots go. So eventually I began working on my game and balancing my ranges better. Then starting about a year ago, I began to realize that people were still being affected by those old TV shows, which in fact allowed me to overplay my hands sometimes in what are kind of crazy ways.
For example, let's say you have top set and you three-bet the turn -- that almost always seems like a terrible idea, but to me it really seems to be working now. What I'm saying is I'm getting a good grasp on how to exploit my image better, and how to do so in less boring ways than by just playing tight when everyone expects me to play loose.
Now I've gotten to a point where whatever I do, people don't give me credit for a hand.
For example, there was a situation at EPT London where a player under the gun raised, Kyle Julius three-bet, then someone cold-called. Then I four-bet, and everyone folded around to the cold-caller who called. The flop came ten-high and I went all in, and my opponent tanked for a while, then he folded... ace-jack!
I couldn't help but laugh at how crazy it seemed that I could be a cold four-bettor against three people, but someone could still think that ace-jack might actually be good against me.
Afterwards I asked him "What do I have to do to get some respect?" And he had a great answer. He said "You have to be born again and do it all over."
I really think that's true in terms of your image and how it gets shaped and continues to be part of you. I think a lot of people aren't even aware of what their image is in certain situations, or they don't understand how important their image can be in affecting how opponents play against them.
I didn't always appreciate the significance of my having this crazy image. I went through a period for a time where I'd make a very solid bluff -- technically speaking, that is, it would be a very good spot for a bluff -- and people would still call me.
Then they'd explain they did so because of my image, and I'd say "I know that, but that was a spot where people just don't bluff!" But I was underestimating how they'd ignore the fact that it was a good bluffing spot and say "Oh, it's Lex Veldhuis... f*ck it, I call!"
I think now in my tournament game I've matured a lot and have a much better idea of what my perceived image is and thus play accordingly. I've come to understand that it doesn't matter, say, if "people don't bluff" in a certain spot (and thus it should be a good spot to bluff), because my image is such that what other "people" do doesn't really apply sometimes in some players' minds when they play against me.
So before I'd bluff a lot and it really suited my style and I felt comfortable playing that way. But now I'm getting a lot of gratification from having more patience and it's become funny to me -- and entertaining -- to see what I can get away with in the value department. Such as when I'll have the nut flush on the river and bet 8,000 into a 3,000 pot... and get called by top pair!
That player was onto something when he said you can't really shake your image -- that you'd have to start all over in order to get rid of it. Those shows were a long time ago, and in interviews and blog posts I've been talking for a long time about being aware of that wild image I had and exploiting it to my advantage. But the image doesn't go away, and people are still stuck on 2009! They just don't adjust.
At first I thought maybe I shouldn't say anything about changing my style, but I realize it just doesn't matter. People will always think I'm an idiot!
Lex Veldhuis is a member of Team PokerStars Pro