In order to maximize profit you need to remain mindful of what hand you are representing during the course of a poker hand. You must always view how any action you take will be viewed by your opponents. This is perhaps the most important basic concept relating to strong post-flop play. It governs everything you do.  What action to take as well as your bet sizing are both influenced by the hand you are attempting to represent. In this article, I will cover how to use the concept of representing to help you start playing every poker hand better.

What does representing a hand in poker mean? Representing in poker means to take a particular action that leads your opponent to believe you have a particular holding. This concept can be used to exploit an opponent’s preconceived notions of what they think about your range based on specific actions in particular situations.

I feel this basic concept is where a lot of players miss the boat and is what separates the very good players from the ones that are just clicking buttons.

How to Use Representing to Maximize Your Profit

In order to maximize profit, you will usually want to represent the opposite of what you actually have in a particular situation. In other words, when you are value betting you want your hand to look like a bluff so it is more likely to get called. And when you are bluffing you want to represent a value hand so you achieve more folds.

The key factor to remember is that most players think other players think like they do. Thus, when a player is attempting to decipher what you are doing they base their decisions on their own thought processes. In other words, if they would do something a certain way, they assume you will too. Therefore, we should base our decisions on how an opponent thinks we will react based on how they would play in a similar situation. 

Playing Weak Hands and Strong Hands

When considering a bluff, if you cannot credibly represent a strong hand with your perceived range on a  particular board, then it is probably not a good idea to attempt a bluff.

On the other hand, this is why you don’t want to slow play when you have a big hand in that particular spot either. To maximize value with a strong hand, you want to try to get into the mind of your opponent and figure out what he would perceive a bluff line to look like.

Figuring out Your Opponents

As you learn about the various player types, try to think about how each one of them would react in different scenarios both pre-flop and post-flop. Once you gain a feel for how these players think, then adjusting to them and optimizing your lines will become much easier. Let’s take a look at a few common player types and make some generalizations about how we should use representing against them, if at all.

  • Nits- Overly tight players tend to be unbalanced toward value with both their bets, raises, and calls. Therefore, you should be unbalanced toward representing strong hands on early streets. These players also tend to be looking for reasons to fold, so if a really good situation arises to barrel off, you should always take it. Just make sure your bluff looks credible because Nits generally have some modicum of hand reading skill.
  • Calling Stations- Unlike nits, calling stations are looking for reasons to continue, not to fold. Generally, they have terrible hand-reading ability and are only playing their cards. Therefore, forget about representing against them and instead play level 2 poker. In other words, play their range and you will be fine. Widen your value range and tighten your bluffing range.
  • Loose-Passives- High VPIP loose passives should be treated the same as calling stations. They are the worst players on the table and will feed your bankroll without you having to worry about representing. Bet big when you have it and small when your hand is marginal and you will dominate them.
  • Maniacs- Overly aggressive opponents rely on fold equity, whether they realize it or not. Generally, you have little chance to represent anything against them. The best policy is to tighten up pre-flop and then put an iron grip on your cards when you flop equity and hang on for the ride. Play passively with your made hands and aggressive with your strong draws. The turn is typically the best place to represent a strong hand with your draw versus maniacs. Let them build a pot for two streets, then lower the boom against their weak range. You will typically get more than enough folds to make this uber profitable.
  • Loose-Aggressives- Today, the better regs at the table will tend to be somewhere between 22/17 and 28/20. They typically are aggressive, have good hand reading ability, and will play a “stabby” style of poker. Their game is to chase small pots and only build big pots with high equity, so these are the best opponents to practice your representing skills against. Forget about playing your hand and instead play both your ranges. Practice your level 4 play and have fun with it. This is the time to get creative and seek out their imbalances and represent strong hands with bluffs and bluffs with strong hands to your fullest capacity.

Let’s clarify this information by taking a look at some examples.

Putting Representing into Practice

The two areas of your game you need to be most aware of what you are representing are how you size your bets and what lines you take with particular hands. Everything you do must tell a story as you attempt to maximize your long-term expected value for each and every situation you face. As always, you must assess the dynamic before you start playing high-level poker. Otherwise, you will level yourself and become a play machine. Always keep your opponents in mind and, for heaven sake, take good notes.

Why Are Notes and Other Reads Important?

Good notes can put us in our opponent’s mind for future hands. For example, if an opponent likes to bluff shove the river when a scare cards hits, then we should be less apt to bluff shove in a similar spot against him because he will tend to call there much lighter. This is because since he would bluff shove that spot, he believes everyone would do that there and will tend to be much more likely to look you up. Conversely, if a so-called scare card gives us a very strong hand, we should look to shove all-in rather than making a smaller value bet.

Let’s take a look at an example. I’ll leave the details blank, since they don’t matter anyway for the purpose of this exercise.

  • Pre-Flop- We open ATo on the Button and get called by a borderline TAG reg, likely a level 2 player, possibly level 3.
  • Flop- We flop air but have two overs and get a really good two-tone flop that we can think about barreling off on. If called, we can barrel just about any turn card, since we can still represent about half the deck. Additionally, many cards will give us more equity. Also, our Ace and Ten are potentially live as well.
  • Turn- An innocuous low card comes and the villain calls and we see a river. We still have a ton of cards that we will be able to shove the river on, so along with fold equity our turn bet is massively +EV.
  • River- Unfortunately, we don’t get one of the cards we had pre-decided to shove on. Even worse, the board pairs. Notoriously, non-draw completing paired Rivers are about the worst cards possible to bluff, since it generally polarizes our range when we bet. Therefore, we check back and saves the rest of our stack, since it is highly likely that Villain will look us up with a wide part of his flop and turn continuing range. We can discount him having a draw himself since those often get raised on the flop or turn by an aggressive player. And if he did happen to have a draw, our Ace high will beat some of those hands.

This hand illustrates why you also don’t want to slow play when you do have a big hand in these same spots. To maximize value with a very strong hand, then you want to try to get into the mind of your opponent and figure out what he would perceive a bluff line to look like. A TAG would have seen our shove as frequently being a bluff, so there’s a great chance we would have gotten looked up. So no matter what happens, we have a +EV situation. We have profitable flop and turn bluffs when weak and uber profitable barrel-offs when strong.

How would we have played this hand versus the other common types of players?

  1. Versus a Nit, we would have played it the same. These players would have a similar range to the TAG in this spot and played post-flop similarly. However, we may have made a slightly smaller flop and turn bet since NITs often play fit or fold.
  2. Versus a Calling Station, we would have likely bet small with our overcards and Ace high that could be good and set up a free card for ourselves. Planning to barrel off unimproved doesn’t make sense since these players aren’t likely to be worried about scare cards as much as other players. The lessened fold equity makes us basically drawing to 6 outs if we are lucky. This makes barreling likely -EV.
  3. Versus a Maniac, we probably are well-served to check back the flop on this board. We have 6 outs to improve and we can raise a lot of scare cards on the turn. Maniacs may be crazy, but when they have air they often do respect turn and river raises. They are used to dealing with standard lines that include c-betting and barreling. Let’s take them out of their wheelhouse and use more tricky lines against them.
  4. Versus a Loose aggressive, it really depends on how good we perceive them to be. If they are a big winner we might mix things up by checking back sometimes and betting other times. This is where gameflow and recent history come into play. For me, it really comes down to my current image. If I have a tight image at the moment, I bet the flop with plans to barrel. If I have been active and my image is loose, I will often check back. The one thing I am never doing is playing one and done poker against a good LAG. This is a recipe for a downward spiraling graph. If I perceive my LAG opponent to be mediocre or bad, I will play it just like I did against the TAG in the example.

The key factor to remember is that most players think other players think like they do. In other words, when a player is attempting to decipher what you are doing, they base their decisions on their own thought processes. Therefore, we should base our decisions on how an opponent thinks we will react based on how they would play in a similar situation. Most players deduce our thought process by using their own thought process. This is why good note-taking is important.

Let’s look at another example :

  • Pre-Flop- We open JJ UTG and get called by the SB. Let’s keep the player type unknown for now.
  • Flop- The board comes QT2 two-tone. This is a good spot bet small against pretty much all player types in order to get value from worse and even induce bluffs from aggro players to setup a profitable bluff-catching spot.
  • Turn- An offsuit 5 comes. Against any player, we decide to bet the turn as well both get value and set our price for showdown.
  • River- An offsuit Queen comes, pairing the board. Once again, we get a polarized river spot. This is where things get interesting and reads really come into play. Let’s analyze the spot.
  1. Versus a solid thinking player, this is a great spot to over-bet, since he might overbet bluff a busted draw here, he may view our big bet as a busted draw as well.
  2. Versus a bad player or fish, who is not likely good at hand reading, a smaller bet might be better. This is because weaker opponents might only play the hand this way with a very strong hand, we want to give them a good price to call with their made hands. A 1/3 to just under 1/2 pot-sized bet might maximize in that scenario.
  3. Versus a maniac, we may make a tiny bet in order to try and induce a river raise. This is because they might make small bets with marginal hands on the river and think they can get us off a piece of the board in this spot.

Final Thoughts

The same logic illustrated in the examples can be applied to just about any scenario. As you continue to play and learn about the various player types, try to think about how each one of them would react in different scenarios both pre-flop and post-flop.

Once you gain a feel for how different types of opponents think, adjusting to them will become much easier. Through good note-taking and labeling, you will be able to make more precise adjustments in the heat of battle. After a while, you will be altering and optimizing your lines to like clockwork.

I hope this article has been helpful. Please leave a comment if you have any questions or criticisms. Thanks for reading!

Video on Representing

Here is a detailed video explaining the concept of representing that I did awhile back.

Jim James

Jim James is well-known as the world’s leading expert on playing short or mid-stacked poker. He has over 15 years of experience playing poker professionally, has written extensively on the topic, and is the author of the best-selling poker strategy book Automatic Poker.

Using a no-nonsense mathematical and logical approach to beating the games, he has won 7 figures at the poker tables. His innovative simple poker charts make the game easier for everyone willing to learn. Today, he helps other players demystify what it takes to win money in No-Limit Hold’em and has helped countless people become winning poker players through his Online Poker Academy.