Image Is Everything

In poker, each player has a table image.  Some based on how one plays such as tight-aggressive or loose-passive, while others are established by personality or physical appearance.  Perhaps the perfect formula is a combination of all three.  As a relative newbie to the game and a female at that, I’m constantly in the mode of analyzing my competition.  At the same time, I’m becoming more and more aware of my own actions and appearance.  This reflection has evolved into a guiding force for decisions made at the table and how I react to random distractions or intentional antics.          

Take for example, a night I played 3/6 limit at the Grand Sierra.  An elderly man joined the table at about 12:30am and occupied seat three.  In a gentlemanly way, he gave a nod to the players at the table along with a “good evening.”  With the nod, we observers couldn’t help but notice the stark white cap with brown bubble lettering perched atop his head that read, “If there’s TITS or TIRES, There’ll be Problems.”  Now, that’s quite the bold hat to wear at the table!  The oddity was the image of the hat contrasting with the conservative looking man – western style button up shirt, tightly groomed wax-tipped curled mustache, and quiet demeanor.  There were a few quick comments– “Takes some balls to wear a hat like that!” and “Where did you find such a hat?”  The man’s response, “What’s the big deal?  It’s just a hat.”  Indeed.  

I wonder if two women weren’t at the table would any comments been made?  Does the mere presence of a woman change table dynamics?  Did the man wear the hat on purpose to distract players?

At the same table, in seat ten sat an attractive, petite woman in her early 40s.  She initially joined us with a shy smile that went along with her bright brown eyes.  Her designer black and white lace blouse and coy disposition established her as the sweetheart among the fellow players.  The woman was instantly handled with kid gloves.  The dealer kindly repeated what she could bethand after hand after hand.  Players patiently waited for her decision, which was always a call.  To me, this was a ploy—playing dumb and “accidentally” raking in a few pots.  Supposedly beginner’s luck for a player that discretely mentioned that she’s been playing for more than ten years.

Little did we know in a quick couple of hours, our perception based on physical appearance would be completely blown out of the water!  After about five back-to-back Coronas, the sophisticated woman unraveled into a complete mess.  Her stylish hair became deflated and curiously messy.  The bright eyes shut down into mere slits, which were scrunched even more to focus on the cards.  She was like a jumping bean constantly leaving the table to smoke a cigarette, which she successfully solicited off a neighboring player.

With brazen pride for beating another player in a hand where she actually raised, the now annoying woman stood from her chair, threw down her cards and said, “Take that, you son of a bitch!”   A loud drunkard at another table across the room egged her on with an, “Oh yeah, that’s what I’m talkin’ about!”  In a swaying stance, she squinted, pointed at the man and yelled, “Fuck you!”  

Ironically, the man with the hat looked her directly in the eye and said, “you’re tacky.  That comment ignited an onslaught of banter between several people at the table—some obviously entertained; others irritated.  In the end, the prophecy of the hat came true and the firecracker was defused.  Such behavior would typically yield instant removal, so was this an unspoken double standard?

Both the dirty old man and foul-mouthed woman established a distinct table image.  Surely, when the professional books on poker address one’s image, they typically refer to the strategy of play, rather than physical appearance.  From what I noticed, the shenanigans actually began to take control of the game.  The whole room was distracted, anticipating more drama to come.  No one’s ego, including my own, would tolerate losing to an unpredictable potty mouth or an apparel offender.  Each remaining player knew the game might temporarily be on pause, but eventually get rolling again.  Some went on tilt, trying to pounce and drive the two into passivity.  We were in a mode to protect our chip stacks and pride; secretly wanting to demolish and take down the two clowns.

Sitting in the middle of the sudden three-ring circus, I couldn’t help but wonder what was my table image?  When asked what I did for a living, I was told that I didn’t look like an English teacher.  How to take such a response left me puzzled – compliment or otherwise?  Within the same conversation, the man sitting next to me said I looked like a financial investor.  Hmmm.  Is it my dressy clothes (“dress for success”), manicured nails, dangling earrings, or analytical approach to the game?  I wonder how I can capitalize on the perception others have of me.  This is another strategy I need to explore.

Other times my presence at the table somehow evokes some men to go into the protective mode.  They stifle cussing or sexual innuendos, because “there’s a lady at the table.”  I’m pleased to see that my table image triggers such respectful treatment.  However, this is somewhat surprising, because I’m truly not offended.  When I enter what is typically an all male domain, I don’t react when F-bombs are dropped or when the typical male banter is tossed about.  The majority of the time I’m the sole female, so I consciously avoid playing the girlie card in order to establish myself as a valid competitor, since that is what I’m there for—to compete and hopefully book a win.  

In fact, time and again, I’ve seen women play the damsel in distress to get their way, especially in such a competitive setting.  They play dumb, flirt, talk incessantly, or spur on girl power.  Perhaps these are strategies in a woman’s arsenal they can tap into rather successfully, while men can’t.  

Recently, while playing 4/8 at the Lucky Derby, a woman next to me had the audacity to tell me that I needed to “flash some boob-age” to the guy stacking chips, so that he’d be distracted and stop winning so many hands.  Are you kidding me?Apparently, this was her natural reaction for not being able to roll with the punches of her own dwindling chip stack.  Does promoting one’s sexuality cause others to be distracted with their game?

After these experiences, I have to ask myself what ever happened to dignity, especially for women?  I would think one would be a student of the game: read, observe, and reflect, in order to avoid utter humiliation.  Then again, that’s me. Some people have no problem throwing themselves into the deep end without a care in the world as to what could be lurking in the water.  If I’m going to belly up to the table, I’ll prepare myself as best I can and test out the kiddy pool first.

Poker is unpredictable as are the individuals who play the game.  When making a move in a hand, one must consider if the decision is strategic or a reaction to the player.  Either way, hopefully the outcome will be a stack of chips pushed to the deserving winner; a winner secure with their image.

~Daniela Thompson: 8/2008; 2/2015; 7/2015               –

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