One of the most powerful aspects of poker is a playerís table image. When hands are posted for discussion, there is usually some indication of the playing styles of the people in the hand. Terms like loose-aggressive, strong, weak-passive are used to describe how the "hero" is reading the table. What they are really describing is table image. Without actually knowing the hole cards of your opponents for every hand, there is no way for us to know the specific playing strategies for any player or how they react pre/post flop for any given situation. What is really happening is that the player is analyzing many bits of incomplete information and forming an opinion about the play of the other people at the table. The compilation of this data produces a table image that we apply in hopes of narrowing down the range of hands that we are facing.
WHY IS TABLE IMAGE IMPORTANT?
With weaker players, the table image and actual playing style will most likely be the same for the majority of the session. Weak players do little beyond playing the cards in front of them. They will also not recognize others table image so it is not a good idea to try and manipulate them by shifting gears. Play them straight up, and you will do well. The only shift most poor player will make comes at the beginning of their sessions. Many weaker players will start out with a decent tight aggressive strategy, but then get bored or fatigued and revert to their standard style of play.
Stronger players will mix up their game. Most will have a standard game plan that they follow at the beginning of a tournament or cash game. It usually is the style that they are most comfortable with. This is what they are putting forth as their table image and will usually match the keywords that are associated with them in hand history discussions.
HOW IS TABLE IMAGE USED TO A PLAYERS ADVANTAGE?
Once established, the stronger player will then be able to change gears when necessary in order to take more pots down with weaker holdings, or build larger pots with their stronger ones. The biggest advantage is obtained when you can shift gears into a playing style directly opposite from your image. Ultra tight-aggressive Players like Dan Harrington will wait until the time is right, and then steal blinds from various positions with hands like 75os because his preflop raises get respect. Loose-aggressive players like Daniel Negranau will put a table on tilt with his action style of play, and then back off playing weaker hands when the table starts playing looser. If he hits a strong hand during this stretch, watch out.
The table image that will be presented here is loose aggressive, more commonly known as the MANIAC. Nobody likes playing against a maniac as they are unpredictable and love playing lots of pots while betting in what may seem to be an indiscriminate manner. A maniac is a true gambler who seems to call preflop all-in bets with any two suited cards. This is one of the most difficult images to emulate, but can be extremely effective when played correctly. These players seem to be a part of every hand. Gus Hansen, Daniel Negranau, and Gavin Smith all play a variation of this style. Get two of them at the table and blinds beware. They seemingly pull in every pot possible with bets and raises that do not make any sense...or do they? It might just be that they have realized that there is a distinct different between a true maniac with no discipline, and the Smart Loose Aggressive player, or SLAG.
Like any other playing style, the table you are sitting at is one of the most influential factors in how you apply your table image. A SLAG loves to sit at a table of strong tight-aggressive players. The SLAG will pick off small pot after small pot. Then, when the players at the table stand up to them and try to trap them in a big pot, the SLAG will seemingly dodge the bullet or win a huge pot with a well disguised trap. At a looser more aggressive table, the SLAG will slow down and let the other overaggressive players bet their hands for them.
There are many benefits to playing this style. Most players do not like playing a maniac. The wild unpredictable nature of their play makes many players uncomfortable. Playing outside of the comfort zone means more mistakes are made. They will make more calls with hands that are beat feeling that the SLAG just cannot have the winner again, or fold hand like AJ on a board of KJT after a continuation bet.
It is difficult for anyone to put a SLAG on a specific hand or range of hands. If a player is known to play any two connected cards, then hands like 23os or 45s cannot be ignored when the flop comes A45. This makes post flop continuation bets more powerful as the correct odds are now difficult to calculate accurately. Strong holdings by a SLAG will also pay off with more frequency, both preflop and postflop. They will not get credit for hand like AA and KK preflop and will be paid off often postflop on a board of 97K when holding 97os.
It is a lot more deceptive when a SLAG shifts gears. People tend to notice action more than inaction, so a SLAG folding several rotations in a row will be less detectable than a rock stealing several blinds.
You thought playing like a maniac was easy? Think again.
The SLAG needs to have discipline. This is an action style of play by default, but you cannot be caught up in this action. If this happens you cross over the thin line of SLAG to true maniac. The SLAG style produces a lot more difficult decisions than TAG, and the player needs to choose correctly more often to ensure that they do not bleed chips. Many times, even the correct move will lose out and you will need to rebuild the chipstack.
NL Tourney Example
in middle position.
A raise to 3-4x the BB from MP is typical for most players.
A continuation bet is made here by most players. BB Calls (the decision is also relevant if you check here).
Now - this is an easy decision to make. Unless you have the perfect read on the BB, you know that you are behind and might just be drawing dead. This is a classic AK example, it is strong preflop if you can isolate, but you have to be prepared to throw it away. The BB showed potential strength preflop and on the flop by calling your bets (remember, this is a decent player in the BB not a calling station) and the correct move is to fold.
Now, the SLAG player will be playing a larger variety of hands. For every strong hand that is played in this manner, they may play a weak hand. So replace the
Keep the same preflop and flop action as this would not change for a SLAG player. On to the turn when the BB bets into you;
Now, the decision is more difficult. The player in the BB is decent, and may just be testing you. You have to take a lot more into consideration when deciding weather or not to call/raise or fold this hand. A strong made flush is unlikely, as they could reasonably assume that you would bet out again and would not need to scare you.
Maybe a semibluff with the
or a hand like
where they are trying to gain some information on the strength of your holdings. You will run into a lot of these decisions playing this style and need to make sure that you choose correctly enough times in order to offset the bad decisions.
Take the same cards and have the BB check on the turn. Sure, you have added many more possibilities for improving you hand, but the board is high enough that it could mesh well with the potential holdings of the decent player in the BB. You must now suspect a trap. Check behind or bet? If you cross that line into "Maniac" zone, you bet out. This now gives the strong player a way to push you right off of the hand with a check-raise or simply call behind and value bet the river with the trap hand. The true SLAG would want to keep this pot small and check so that they would not lose a large amount of chips on the river.
Perhaps the toughest aspect of playing this style is having the gears to win. You cannot raise 5 hands every rotation and survive to the end of many tournaments. Too often, players get caught up in playing as many hands as possible and forget that the greatest benefit of this image is realized when you downshift to uber-tight.
SLAG STRATEGY - AN OVERALL LOOK
Several variations of the SLAG strategy exist. Some try to pick up many small pots, others apply constant big bet pressure on the field hoping to make quick scores. All incorporate looser opening hand selection. The key ingredient for success is to be able to mix up your play enough so that you are feared when the flop brings nothing while disguising the true strength of the monsters. You also need to be able to match the proper aggressiveness techniques to the players at the table. There is no use in making a large play at a pot when your opponent is so weak that they will all with K high against a scare board (say, a four flush). Playing this style is not for everyone. It can be extremely frustrating when your disguised draws never hit, or the river suckouts keep coming and coming. When played well, this style helps to cash deep; but you will also bust out earlier than traditional tight aggressive play. It is also not as simple as "play more hands aggressively". The strategies and examples discussed below only scratch the surface of this method.
The simplest strategy is blind stealing. If you feel that you can take the blinds, you try. Position and cards do not matter if you are at the tightest table in the world. Steal from UTG with 23os if it is working against that particular table. This will bring you many small pots early and help guage whom you can steal from in later rounds. Be aware, stealing too often will allow the other players the chance to set traps. Only in the most unique cases will you be able to take every blind.
Continuation betting is the next step up the ladder. OK, your blind steal got called, will this player fold to a continuation bet? You take advantage of two fundamnetals. First, rising blinds in a tournament forces more action. You will get play from holdings like KJsuited, especially with your table image. Second, flops miss the majority of the time. Flops like 872 or 446 are your friend. They will most likely not have hit most players, and are well within reason to have hit your hand (again, building on that table image). The continuation bet or raise should take it down right away . Hand selection is not important until the table starts playing back. Then, you need to adjust your starting hands upwards to at least connecting cards (78suited as an example) so that you have a better chance of flopping sthrngth or improving to the winner if the players start calling you down. You also need to mix up your play. If you make a continuation bet every single time you raise preflop, good players will counter. Again, you need to ratchet this strategy up and down to match the players at the table.
If the continuation bet does not work, you have two obvious paths. Give up or play on. If you hand is strong, the choice is easy. If not, then you need to play the player. Did they just call? Does this indicate a draw for them? Are they overly aggressive with only overcards? Above all, the question that needs to be answered is " Are they capable of folding when they should?" With marginal hands, you want to control the pot size so that you do not risk too much on the cards to come. The trick is to try and always make any action look strong, weather or not you hold the goods. If you know that "Player A" will reraise you on the flop with a flush draw and then check the turn, then you can take the pot away from them on the river if it does not come in.
There will be a time when you need to commit a large % of your chips. Big pot poker with strong hands is easy, but what about your SLAG hands? You cannot play big pot poker with 79os without seeing a flop, so do not try. To play big pot poker with your weaker postflop holdlings requires hands that you believe are well ahead right now, or have tons of outs to improve. In addition to the typical strong tournament hands, SLAG players look for the following kinds of flops:
79os 79A (or K)
45s 238 (2 of your suit)
These are the flops that SLAG players love. They hit you hard - but also have a good chance of hitting the other players hand as well. It is difficult for any player to reasonabley place you on these hands (no matter how loose your reputatiopn is). There is a drawback. Play this style, and you will see the suckouts more often. The hands that give you action in these situations will also be the ones with outs to beat you.
Most of the hand examples below are taken from the 2006 Q2W11 Chiptalk tournament. All show some level of loose aggressive play. I wlll be describing a lot of the action in first person terms because they are my read of the situation at hand. I like playing "SLAG'" style, but am by no means an expert. Play the hand from the other players point of view, and the commentary many be completely different. Also realize that some of these hands cost me chips - and the actual best play would have been to fold them preflop. The point of the examples is not to examine weather or not the preflop play was sound, but rather the thought process in place during the hand.
| Saw Turn
| Saw River
| Saw Showdown
PokerStars Game #5705116591: Tournament #28816350, $10+$1 Hold'em No Limit - Level I (10/20) - 2006/07/27 - 21:43:45 (ET)
Table '28816350 4' 9-max Seat #5 is the button
AceNPlace - t1410
w16227 - t960
ahopen - t1500
Darvcus - t1440
Solberg1905 - t4140
yeltzen - t2770
Sniper2075 - t1280
Level I (10/20)
w16227 is MP1 with 5
2 folds, w16227 raises t40 to t60
, 5 folds.
Final Pot: t50
A simple blind steal. The major difference between this and a typical TAG style is that position matters less to the SLAG. If the players are tight enough to steal from UTG, then they will. Hand selection is less important as well, but notice that these cards connect. Raising with any two cards like 94OS is usually not a good strategy unless your read of the players is extremely precise. Cards having some connection also have the added value of well disguised big pot hands when they hit.
I also made some very low percentage plays when typical play would have resulted in folding early. The following hand was very risky, but the payoff would have been well worth it. This the the way the SLAG player operates and is a great example of the difficultues in the decision process of the strategy. Many players have a set amount of their chips that they will put into play in hands like this in order to pick up the bigger pots. In this hand, I was trying to build the pot up slowly in order to either take it away if I read weakness, or possibly pull in a big score if my second card hit. I will post my in hand thoughts in itallics.
| Saw Turn
| Saw River
| Saw Showdown
PokerStars Game #5705069453: Tournament #28816350, $10+$1 Hold'em No Limit - Level I (10/20) - 2006/07/27 - 21:40:09 (ET)
Table '28816350 4' 9-max Seat #1 is the button
Darvcus - t1470
Shoefreaks - t1470
yeltzen - t2770
Sniper2075 - t1440
Level I (10/20)
w16227 is SB with 6
2 folds, Solberg1905 calls t20
, 3 folds, w16227 calls t10
, ahopen checks.
t60 (3 players)
w16227 checks, ahopen checks, Solberg1905 bets t60
, w16227 raises t60 to t120
, 1 fold, Solberg1905 calls t60
The c/r here was to take the lead on this flop. I wanted Ahopen out right now and needed to test Solberg. The limp-bet did not strike me as overly strong. The worst I thought I could be facing at this point was TJ (from solberg) and maybe a snall pocket pair. A raise from ahopen or two calls and I am done with the hand. The call from solberg is not overly scary as many players will continue with tt-88 or overs here, especially against a known loose player.
One of the worst aspects of this hand is the act that I am out of position. This means that to control the pot size, I will most undoubetly have to lead on the turn.
t300 (2 players)
w16227 bets t160
, Solberg1905 calls t160
Now a bit of a problem. The bet here was a continuation of the flop aggression and questionable. As stated above, I was willing to risk the call to control the pot size. I felt that if my TJ read was good, I should get a fold here as this is exactly the manner in which I play a QJ type of hand. A raise and I am done as it would represent a strong holding on Solberg's part as well as a guard against a flush draw ( he would possibly want to protect a decent hand from the river flush). The call was a bad sign. No matter what, I need improvement to win and it looks like either the Q was a good card, or the heart was welcome. So now I am prepared to dump the hand. I could try a river bluff, but would need to put too many chips at risk to do so.
t620 (2 players)
w16227 bets t360
, Solberg1905 calls t360
or maybe not
Pot is 620, and I still have more than 1000 in chips. I felt that I manipulated the pot size fairly well so far. The bet sizes were all made in order to minimize damage, yet still pay me off well if I hit. The problem is, I hit a bingo card with a twist. The flush draw made it. Now what to do? The call on the turn makes total sense for T J since he picked up enough outs to possibly chase, even if he put me on QJ.
His potential hands -
Flush: Even if he somehow backed into the nut flush, this is a scary card when I have been the aggressor on every street. If I check, I expect him to bet any flush and I will most likely pay off many reasonable bets here, probably up to a 400-450 bet. Continued aggression from me MIGHT (probably not) get them to fold a J-rag flush.
Two Pair: Will probably call (especially if they hit a QJ combo), but would most likely not lead out with a bet.
Junk draw (like 89): Unlikely and will not pay off, but may try some uncallable river bluff on the scare call.
I ultimately decided to bet here. Checking gives him the chance to blow me off of the hand. The flush calls, but I minimized the damage. This is a great example of the risk NOT paying off, yet still leaving me with enough chips for this level to switch gears down to TAG and continue playing. My turn bet helped me here, as Solberg could reasonably put me on a set or 2p. This also is a decent example of SLAG play vs a true maniac. The maniac sees the set and just blasts away. THe SLAG player sizes the bet so that losing hands might still payoff the bet. In either case, the strong hand is going to call and win.
w16227 shows 6
Solberg1905 shows J
Solberg1905 collected t1340 from pot
Final Pot: t1340
My read was close. While this did take a big chunk from my stack, it was not crippling. It only required me to shift into low for a while. This is also a good example of why you do not play EVERY 67os hand. These are the risks you take when playing this style. If I chose differently on the flop - I am in much better shape, but there is still plenty of time.
Below is the best case sfor a blind stealer. THIS DOES NOT HAPPEN OFTEN. This was a $20 Pokerstars SnG. When we got to four handed, the players were folding to any aggression preflop. You can see by the image below - I was raising EVERY hand. From when the streak started, the only wins until the last few hands were when the blinds placed someone all-in. I went from like 5K in chips to having almost 90% of the chips in play by the time someone played back at me.
BIG POT PLAY
One of the benefits of SLAG play is that you will not get credit for a strong holding. Keeping the preflop action somewhat constant (not varying your bets a lot) removes a lot of the cues that players pick up on.
| Saw Turn
| Saw River
| Saw Showdown
PokerStars Game #5705443081: Tournament #28816350, $10+$1 Hold'em No Limit - Level III (25/50) - 2006/07/27 - 22:07:28 (ET)
Table '28816350 4' 9-max Seat #2 is the button
ahopen - t1720
Darvcus - t1578
Solberg1905 - t3885
cnw400 - t1919
yeltzen - t6016
Sniper2075 - t435
Level III (25/50)
w16227 is Button with Q
4 folds, Omar64 calls t50
, w16227 raises t150 to t200
, 2 folds, Omar64 calls t150
Similar to my typical blind steal play, except that I added an additional BB to the raise due to the limper. I also have position and would rather get HU.
t475 (2 players)
Omar64 bets t840, w16227 calls t840
t2155 (2 players)
t2155 (2 players)
Omar64 shows 9
w16227 shows Q
w16227 collected t2155 from pot
Final Pot: t2155
Ok, Omar did not necessarily play that badly with the semibluff on the flop, but I would think that he would have played it much differently if he knew what I held. Since I am known to raise with many hands in this situation, he most likely did not give me credit for the A. My raise amounts vary more based on the # of players in the pot as opposed to position and hand strength, so it is not easy to put me on a strong holding. Plus, change the flop A to a K, and I might fold to that bet. In this case, after the A hits I am more then willing to call the allin.
| Saw Turn
| Saw River
| Saw Showdown
PokerStars Game #5705594036: Tournament #28816350, $10+$1 Hold'em No Limit - Level IV (50/100) - 2006/07/27 - 22:17:41 (ET)
Table '28816350 4' 9-max Seat #2 is the button
Craiture - t1220
ahopen - t1855
Darvcus - t1328
scottwire - t1540
Solberg1905 - t4510
Hitmen34KF - t3811
yeltzen - t8260
Level IV (50/100)
w16227 is Button with K
2 folds, Hitmen34KF raises t300 to t400
, 2 folds, w16227 raises t900 to t1300
, 3 folds.
Final Pot: t950
Nice "almost" big pot here. MP steal and a pot sized reraise by me. Hitmen thought a LONG time on this one. This is the kind of move I do with a variety of hands and he really wanted to call. Hitman and I have not sat at many (any?) tables together so he probably does not have a reasonable feel for my play. I would have expected a call from many others in this situation- but most likely a call from some with AK-maybe AJ, AA (duh) and QQ-maybe TT. Many regular players would add a lot more hands based on my tabe image as well. Another thing to notice, l brought up the chipcount quite a bit. I played tighter and used position more. This paid well with I was not given credit for stronger holdings.
My last hand deserves mention here too. Boneheaded move after a nice runup. I Lost a big pot - and had to go into push mode. Won a few pots in a row that brought me up to a somewhat safe level. Still played desperate and raised from UTG with AT (or something like that). One call - and BB went allin. Allin was not a lot, so mandatory call. Ace on the flop - and I am comitted and get outkicked. Overaggressive move that never should have been made. Waiting for position or a better hand from the blind would have been the play to make.
Creating the maniac table image is pretty easy. Mastering the style of play that makes this a winning strategy is decidedly not, but getting there can be a lot of fun. Now, stay out of my way, leave my blinds alone, and letís play some cards.