You can read all kinds of books about poker. Most will help you with the situational math, aid you in figuring out your odds to win a pot depending on your holdings and teach you basic and advanced strategies for playing winning Hold'em.
But to win on the game's biggest stage, like here at the 2008 WSOP Main Event, you'll need something more. I'm talking about creating a table image, because if the best in the world don't leave home without one, neither should you.
This is not to be confused with the loose or tight table image you create by playing more or fewer hands. What I'm referring to here is the image you create with your actions and words at the table beyond the cards and one need only look to Phil Hellmuth, the self-proclaimed greatest Hold'em player in the world, to see how effective a table image can be.
Having watched Hellmuth play here in the WSOP for the past two years, and all over the globe in between, I've come to a conclusion regarding his egomaniacal, self-centered boorish and berating behavior: it's all an act designed to help him win.
As Day 5 came to a close Saturday we were all treated to a typical Hellmuthian moment when he berated Cristian Dragomir for calling his pre-flop raise with naught but T♦ 4♦.
Turned out Hellmuth had A♠ K♥ and missed the flop. Dragomir didn't; pushed Phil off his hand and showed his meager holdings. In usual Hellmuth fashion he called Dragomir an "idiot" and "the worst player in history," but while discussions on the rail began about Phil tilting and possible penalties, it dawned on me that there is a method to his madness.
Hellmuth berates players to aid in developing two different outcomes. First, he wants his raises to get through. When he screams at players for calling his raises light, he tries to ensure that player, and others around the table, don't try it again.
Regardless of what a player thinks of Phil, no one wants to feel the brunt of his bullying and as a result he is effective in getting the players around the felt to play his game.
The second outcome he creates is much like a false tell. When going through one of his patented blow-ups, Hellmuth appears to be on tilt and just when you think you can take advantage of that, he shows you the nuts.
Phil eventually busted today, but not before making a little more noise, and he's not the only one to use his larger-than-life personality to his advantage on the felt.
Chino and the Mouth were the most vocal players at their table and proceeded to discuss how tight and solid each had played the night before, all the while raising two or three hands each per orbit.
In fact, Matusow's constant chatter at poker tournaments helps him get over on opponents all the time.
You can play winning poker by getting great cards, making solid decisions and outthinking your opponents. But the best in the world have an edge because even when they're card dead, make mistakes and aren't thinking straight, they effectively use their personalities and table image to pick up chips they'd otherwise have no right to.
So the next time you sit down at a card table, try being the most vocal player there, try talking your opponents into making a bad call and try letting your personality shine.
Poker's stars shine, and if you want to be one of them, I suggest you do the same.