Stud: Game persona

by Adam "STUDstood" Roberts

This week, I would like to cover the concept of game persona, both on and off the table.

When at the poker table, your game persona refers to how the other players feel about you, both personally and with regard to your playing ability. While this may include an assessment of your skills, many times it will also be affected by the aura you are giving off, intentionally or not. Some people, both in life and in poker, give off a certain type of energy which makes others form an immediate opinion about them. It’s important to be aware of your opponents and the persona they give off, and it’s equally important to be aware of the persona you are giving off to your opponents. To some extent, you can control your own persona, and how your opponents react to you.

This may work in your favor, or not. Poker is often a game of perception vs. reality, so you can find ways to make your persona work to your advantage. In my opinion, it is always prudent to make it look like you are "live,” always willing to give action, even if you play poker very well. That way, you get more action.

When I say “play poker very well”, I do not necessarily mean “very tight.” Tight play may limit your losses and make you an overall winning player, but it is the players who know how to play the most hands, with the highest skill, who are the biggest winners and the most dangerous players. These are the players who are
most able to take their opponents out of their “comfort zone.”

Sometimes they intentionally play this way in a certain situation, in order to confuse their opponents, but not always. Sometimes it is just their overall table persona. If you are able to pull this off, to give off a persona of an action player while playing solid, it can be extremely profitable.

This play can best be done by knowing the math and probability of each hand (which include real odds, pot odds, and implied odds), as well as being able to read your opponents’ cards and style, to anticipate what he/she will do either on his/her own or based on what your move is.

Over the years, I have seen many players (usually younger ones) attempt this style of play without actually understanding all the factors -- probability, statistics, and human concepts -- which must enter this equation. These players will inevitably fail. Sure, they might have had some short term success, which looks spectacular, but in the end, the math must catch up with them. Even if you do everything else correctly, on and off the table (i.e., bankroll and life management, which we’ve covered in previous blogs), if you do not play your cards optimally enough, often enough, eventually you must lose.

The biggest talents in poker are the players who understand all of these concepts but make their opponents feel that they don’t. They make their foes want to play against them because they look “live.” Some players are able to project the opposite image, of a powerful opponent, and make their opponents want to try and beat them, to say they beat “the best.” Many World Champions report that their opponents will take shots at them; they play badly in order to try to win a pot and have a story to tell. Tough opponents can also cause opponents to play poorly simply out of fear.

I have had the good fortune of having some great teachers during my poker career, especially when I was just getting started. One of them was a man named Danny Robison. For many years, Danny was considered the best Stud poker player in the world, and he revolutionized the wild style of play. Although it looked like he made a lot of “mistakes” , Danny’s play was head and shoulders above other excellent players.
Danny used a seemingly reckless style of play to earn a lot of money playing Stud, but he added an additional tool to his arsenal – “the gift of gab,” both during and between hands. He had an innate gift. Because of it, Danny could have been the consummate salesman or even CEO of a big corporation, had he not gotten into poker. But Danny used his gifts to help increase his poker earn, by getting his opponents to act in ways that increased his profit.

Danny could say things that would elicit a hug, whereas I could utter the same exact words and get punched in the face! He made his opponents happy to lose their money. This is a talent that cannot be learned; it’s a gift. I have seen people try it… and get punched in the face.

What I am getting at is that in addition to understanding and studying actual mathematics, statistics, and probability, there are other aspects to table behavior and demeanor which may enable you to help increase your poker earn. But you should also understand that attempting some of this behavior, if you don’t have the right skill set, may be costly to you in many different ways.

First, there is the money. Your swings will be larger playing a “fast and loose” style. Your decisions have to be “right” much more frequently when you play this way. Plus, when you are wrong in a decision, you tend to look bad, which emboldens your opponents. That may work against you, compounding your losses when you are “running bad.” It may also embarrass you. Can you handle that?

When I give private lessons, sometimes I have taught students some more “advanced” concepts, which they loved and wanted to apply them immediately. Knowing these concepts is good, but applying them correctly is very difficult. Inevitably, they try them in the wrong situations. Or even when they recognize the right situations, they do not have the “heart” to incorporate them into their arsenal.

I remember when I proudly told Danny that I was ready to “play like him.” He put his arm on my shoulder and said “Son, I am sorry to hear that.” When I asked him why, he replied that the only two people who ever told him that either committed suicide or were in a mental institution. I did my research and found that to be true!

Luckily, neither has happened to me… yet.

What I am getting at here is that there are many different ways to be successful, both in life and poker. I have seen equally great players use different styles in certain hands, and make them all work. You need to find what works for you. Don’t try to be someone you are not. Study the math, probability, and statistics. Study your opponents. Pay attention to everything around you in the poker room, on and off the table. Try things out, carefully, and build up your skills and courage. Find the “game persona” that works for you, maximizing your earn. Keep your opponents guessing.

Next week we will continue on this subject, and delve into concepts such as game preparation, avoiding distractions on and off the poker table, etc.

In the meantime, you can find me in the $10/$20 and $30/$60 limit games in our Stud section, as well as in our weekly $215 buy-in tournaments. Please check the starting times of each of those events for your geographic area under Tourney > Special in the PokerStars lobby.

Feel free to contact me with any questions, suggestions or thoughts at See you at the tables!

Brad Willis
@BradWillis in Strategy