Creating your Own Luck at the Poker Table

The Money
"The more I play, the luckier I get" - Gary Player

Don’t worry, you’re not about to read some new-age hippy nonsense; creating your own luck in poker has nothing to do with karma and everything to do with your micro image.

All poker players are familiar with the idea of a table image. But it’s your micro image that actually affects how your opponents play against you.

If you’ve spent some time reading articles on this site, you might remember an article by Dan Skolovy on Exploiting your Table Image.

If you haven’t read it, take a second to read it first as it’s crucial to understand the basics of table image before trying to grasp micro image.

Your Table Image

How you look, what you wear, how you talk, what you say, what you don’t say - and most importantly how you play - will all affect your general table image. The more time someone spends playing with you the more detailed your table image will become for that person.

In general, your opponents will use your image to file you into a broad category of poker players. Are you a fish? A regular? Strong; weak; a rock? Totally wild?

Your general table image will include some noted specifics about how you play. And if you don’t bleed any huge tells, these will be few and often forgotten.

But it’s these basic elements of table image that become the foundation of your micro image.

The Micro Image

Your micro image has three elements:

Joseph Cada
Sometimes luck finds you anyways.
  1. Your table image - all micro images have to fit into your perceived table image
  2. Your history at the table
  3. How you’ve played the previous few relevant hands.

While your table image will rarely change (you’re wearing the same clothes and talking the same way now as you were an hour ago), your micro image is always dynamic.  It’s also specific to how you’re actually playing your current hands.

This is always what your opponent uses when judging how best to play against you.  Your table image will affect how your opponents plan to play against you over the session, but your micro image will affect how your opponents play against you in the current hand.

Creating your own luck at the poker table then comes from knowing how to exploit that micro image.

Step 1 in Creating your Own Luck

Before you can exploit your micro image you need to know what your opponents assume about your game and how that affects the way they play against you.

Look in the mirror and be honest with what you see. Do you look like someone who is tight with money or someone who doesn’t care about it? Do you look reserved or outgoing? What about how you play? Do you splash around or are you a rock?

If you can, talk to a good honest friend who can tell you exactly what your image is at the table. The more you know about how others perceive you the better you can exploit your micro image.

Step 2

Step 2 is the easiest. All you have to do is play cards. Feel out your table, play your standard opening game and observe your opponents.

Take note of whose paying attention and who thinks he can pull one over on you. It’s during this opening phase your opponents decide on your general table image.

Since micro image is an offshoot of general table image, you have to spend enough time at the table for players to fully form a picture of your image. Once that’s happened, move on to step 3.

Step 3

Phil Hellmuth
Hellmuth's table image is ideal for micro image exploitation.

Despite the title of this article, it’s impossible to actually create luck. What you’re going to do is create the opportunity for luck, then take advantage when things fall into place.

It’s your job to create the opportunity for good luck as frequently as possible. You’re going to use your micro image to set up these situations and count on luck to finish the job.

If you have the table image of a strong, aggressive player, players will be cautious. Your general image then does not lend well to making money - so you have to use your micro image in its place.

An Example:

Say you make a button raise with a marginal hand such as 8 9. You’re raising a real hand but it’s not a premium.

This isn’t a reckless - or even a really loose play - but it’s something a rock will never do. Either way, you bet the flop and take down the pot.

The next hand you’re dealt A Q. As you’re in the cut-off you raise again, this time getting two callers. The flop comes 7 Q 4. Your opponents check to you and one player calls your three-quarter pot-sized bet.

The turn brings the 10 and your opponent checks. Since you almost certainly have the best hand, you bet again and get a fold from your opponent.

The next hand you’re dealt A A. You open for a raise and everyone folds to you.

At this point, you’ve only raised and bet because you’ve had strong hands. You haven’t done anything reckless or absurd. But to your opponents (who haven’t seen any of your cards), you’ve raised and bullied three hands straight.

Your current micro image is you’re a table bully or are simply bored and raising everything. At this point, your opponents will want to take a stand and put a stop to your aggression.

The next hand you’re lucky enough to be dealt A K. After a few limps you make your standard raise and actions folds around to the button. He slowly makes a raise 3x your bet.

At this point, you’re now poised to take advantage of your micro image.

Chips and candy
Creating your own luck: like taking candy from a baby.

Yes, it’s possible your opponent fell into AA or KK here. But chances are he’s playing back at your image rather than playing the strength of his own cards.

He thinks you’re bullying, so the best thing you can do is nurture that belief. You instantly ship all in when action is folded around to you. Your all-in is for the rest of his stack - about 7x the size of his 3-bet.

If we’re correct, and he made his raise simply on the notion we’re being a bully, he can have any two cards here. Chances are he has a weak ace or a small pair and is raising thinking he has a slight edge on your random two cards.

Your overbet here is also way too strong and reinforces the idea you’re actually weak and being a bully.

End result: You get a call and play a 300bb pot with A K against his A 9, all-in pre-flop.

Key Takeaways

As you can see from the example, exploiting your micro image requires the perfect set up. This will seem as if you’re a complete luck sack to your opponents.

But you should be constantly monitoring your micro image and making plays that allow this sort of situation to materialize. You spend all night working on exploiting your micro image and then you hope the cards come through for you.

Yes, you got lucky. But you would never have had the opportunity to get lucky if you hadn’t created the situation leading up to it.

Your goal is to repeat Step 3 as many times as you can. The more you play and the more often you set up a situation that allows you to be lucky, the luckier of a player you will become.

Remember: that player would never have put it all in with A 9 against you on his own - it was the situation you created that allowed that to happen.

All it takes is attention to detail, thoughtful plays and the eye to take full advantage of the situation when luck does show up. Rather than just thinking about the hand in progress, think about how your actions in this hand could benefit you in a later hand.

Once you’re operating with this mindset, you’ll bring your game to a whole new level.

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Arty Smokes 2011-06-15 23:09:54

The psychology in this article seems sound enough to me, and I've certainly been the beneficiary of loose raises/calls from people taking a stand against my apparent bullying. What happens more often though, in my experience, is that other players become more timid when I'm on a rush. If I've just won 3 hands in a row, it usually becomes easier to steal the blinds on the next couple of hands. There might be one tilted player that pushes all in with A9, but there are usually a few players that continue to wait for a monster. You have to be careful not to get complacent, as you might steal the blinds for 5 hands in a row, then try doing it a sixth time with KQ and find yourself up against AA for most of your stack. In my experience, it's better to win the blinds for five hands and then fold KQ when re-raised, than to assume the re-raiser is making a stand with "nothing". Who cares what your "micro image" is for 5 hands, if you lose your entire stack on the sixth? I'm more concerned with the table image of my opponents than what they think of me. I could be the most aggressive player by far, but if I see a rock pushing all in against me, it's a mistake to assume he has A9 or worse. Let's face it, unless this on a high stakes table, he's not likely to be playing against ME personally. He's playing his CARDS. Table image (micro or otherwise) counts for nothing if you've got aces. Spending time trying to cultivate a micro image sounds to me like a potentially costly form of vanity.

Chris 2010-07-08 22:03:20

I know what your trying to explain here Sean...It happens every once in a while for me especially in tournaments. When I am very tight in the beginning and then start to loosen up and become very aggressive when its 3-4 handed...I can bluff hard for 3-4 hands then I start catching good starting hands and its just off to the races from there.

Sean Lind 2010-04-30 19:11:09


Stop thinking or worrying about this, and don't change a single thing about your game.

You're chipping up without any risk, then you're getting it in good. The fact that you're getting brutally sucked out on is irrelevant. You just need to wait it out, changing your game will only hurt the things you're doing correctly.

Keep on keeping on, and hopefully luck turns around for you.

Kyle 2010-04-30 05:03:26

I would like some feedback on whether I have a leak in my game. I play a Thursday-Sunday poker tournament at a bar nearby. I'm careful to play solid poker early and to expand my range after the break when the blind start to become a significant portion of the stack. Here's the problem. I'm managing my image and increasing my stack and getting my money all-in with the best of it, and I keep getting bad beat to lose my entire stack. Here are some examples.

1. I've been steal raising effectively for about 3-7 hands and have the chip lead at my table by a substantial amount (3-1). I have Q-Q in the cutoff. I raise 3X BB facing only the button. Button calls. Flop comes Jd-7c-10h. I go all in and get called by 2-2 on the button. Button spikes the deuce on the turn and doubles through.

2. Next hand. I get 10-10 on the button. I raise and get called by cutoff. Flop comes 10-2-2. I go all in and get called by A-K off. Turn and river come 2-2 and I lose to runner-runner.

I shove my 3 BB left on the next hand a lose a coin flip with J-8 off to pocket 5s. Done.

Next week. I'm fairly card dead all night, missing a number of draws in position, including open-end straight flush draws (X2). Call an all-in in the cutoff with Ad-Jd, and find out I'm against Qd-10d. Make Aces and Jacks and lose to the river King. End up getting it all in preflop for 8BB first to act with Qc-10c. Get called by BB with 2-2. BB spikes 2 on the turn and I'm drawing dead on the river.

This week. I accumulate a strong stack and have been bullying the table, stealing the blinds with raises between 5-10X BB (5,000 - 10,000). I wake up with AA in the small blind. I raise 7X BB on top of my blind. Button calls. Flop comes Q-4-3 rainbow. I push all-in. Button (who has me covered by 500 calls me with Q-9. Hits 9 on turn, which holds up to send me home.

From one perspective, I think that all of these plays are pretty good, getting my chips in either as a prohibitive favorite or as a coin-flip in a position where I have to make something happen. On the other hand, I keep losing in these situations.

Should I be playing more pot control here and avoiding coin flips when I'm ahead? (In reviewing these situations, I don't know how I would have folded when a deuce hits a dry board or when I 9 hits a dry board when I'm ahead, and I would hate to fold these hands to a bluff.) What do you think? How can I improve my game?

Robert 2010-04-19 01:51:45

If you can, talk to a good honest friend who can tell you exactly what your image is at the table.
I did this. He is now my ex-friend :)

Sam 2010-03-17 02:40:11

Very good article. Makes alot of sence. Very well written. As I read this article I could think back to times I fell victom to this very play. Glad it is part of my game today.

budgerr 2010-01-27 12:48:51

Peter, if's a but's, well, F*** if's and buts. theres no room in poker for if's and buts. Good players or even great players dont have if's or buts anywhere near their game. When a new situation arrises, deal with it from knowledge of the game from a different angle.
When the setup doesnt work first time, re group and try again, wait for situations.

I have used what has been described in this column numerous times although never had a name for the setup.

Nice read, ty.

grouch7 2010-01-11 21:14:46

I can testify that this works... I apply the same concept with pretty good results, even the hands were the same I got my AK called by A9

ross 2010-01-06 12:42:37

So in conclusion "create your own luck" by being dealt AQ ,AA and AK consecutivly and hope someone stacks off with garbage to stop you running over the table..very helpfull

Bobby C. 2009-12-26 02:38:07

The point: other players 'play back' because they believe--

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