"We have to remember that what we observe is not nature herself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning."
- Werner Heisenberg
Nobel laureate and theoretical physicist Werner Heisenberg helped create the field of quantum mechanics with the publication of his uncertainty principle, and that was just the beginning. He made important contributions to the fields of hydrodynamics, atomic energy, cosmic rays and more. He was a man who looked at science in a very controlled manner, not prone to the wild-eyed observations of a Carl Sagan or Richard Feynman, keeping his eye firmly on what the work was he was doing.
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This week's quote from Heisenberg about nature and observation is a great starting point to talk about table image in poker. Your table image is more than just the way you play your cards the majority of the time; it can also serve as a smokescreen against other players. For example, if you sit down to a new game and stick to premium hand selection, other players will believe you're very tight. That image makes it possible for you to make the (very) occasional bluff when a lot of money is on the line.
Other players may be doing the same. You have to remember that as much as poker is about the psychology, there is also simple, provable math that can help you determine the truth at any given time. For example, betting patterns that make no sense. If another player checks before the flop and checks on the flop and checks on the turn, but suddenly raises when the 3 of clubs hits the felt on the river, they’re probably bluffing. While it's possible they made a set, it's more likely that they are trying to put you in the corner.
When you play poker, you want to control what other players observe from you with the limited information they have. A tight image allows you to successfully bluff other players more often than a loose image does, but you're less likely to get paid off with a big hand because your opponents are going to suspect you're holding something that is, at the very least, playable. A loose image can help you get paid off in bigger pots, but it carries the risk of more variance because you're entering more pots with substandard hands.
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Table image and player observation is really only useful if your opponents are actually noticing how you play. In microstakes and tournaments with lower buy-ins, it's very common for players to just pay attention to their cards and the board, ignoring everyone else. The importance of table image and the observations you make increases as the stakes get higher.
Poker and Philosophy: Isaac Newton
Poker and Philosophy: Carl Sagan