"I better be careful not to get caught playing 2-3 offsuit. God forbid they think I'm a fish."
I went through that phase also. I cared more about whether I had built a solid table image and gained the respect of the other players than I cared about winning. I realize now that I was playing right into the hands of the more wily players at the table and hamstringing my own poker game.
The desire to play the game well is admirable. To my thinking, there's no reason to play poker at all if you're not striving to play well and improve as you go. BUT... The last thing you should do is define the quality of your play by the feedback you get from your opponents around the table.
Why? Let me count the ways...
- The most vocal players out there, the ones who most like to critique the play of others, tend to be mediocre players. It's the schoolyard bully complex. They're berating the play of others in order to feel like they know what they're doing. They're artificially padding their own confidence by convincing themselves they're surrounded by donks.
- The other players around the table want to take away your money (or PAX). It's only natural for them to be disappointed when you take theirs instead. Most players take this in stride, as a natural occurrence of the game, but many are less mature and will attack your poker game like a petulant child. It's often not based on any kind of logic. They're just sore losers.
- The third type of attack is far more sinister and dangerous than the first two... Some truly decent, wily poker players use these tactics to manipulate you. They take advantage of your lack of confidence to shake you and get you off your game. It's cheap and sleazy, but it's remarkably effective against players who are vulnerable... Remember that poker is a predatory game where lying and manipulation are not only accepted but encouraged and rewarded.
Allowing any of these people in your head is a bad thing. You're trying to improve your game through a natural, honest interchange of actions and responses... But poker is no place for such an approach. It opens you up to a whole lot of bogus input that will not only hurt your performance at the current game but could also foster bad habits down the road.
Instead, pay attention to the game its self. Remember what worked and what didn't. Remember how people reacted with the chips, not with their mouths. Measure the quality of your game by the long-term results. If you're making money (or PAX) playing poker, you're doing better than the vast majority of the people who're trying to tell you how to play.
If you MUST seek validation from other people, I suggest two methods...
- Read the advice of the pros. I'm not a big fan of picking up a bunch of books and trying to emulate the play of any given poker player, but reading their input, trying their tricks, and measuring their advice against results can be a good way to improve your game. I especially like Ed Miller's Noted Poker Authority site for powerful tidbits and "meat" advice without all the fluff and filler of the "how to" poker books. (http://www.notedpokerauthority.com/)
- Pick a player or two around the table whose appears solid and successful. If you can, talk to that person away from the table, preferably after you're no longer playing against them. Ask them honestly how your play comes across. It's likely they'll say you're too timid - it's the nature of your personality and why this blog post is for you. But they might have some other practical tidbits for you as well... (Besides, we're already working on the timid part by not letting other players get under your skin!)
Remember this... If you've got other players at the table steaming about something you did, and you took down the pot, that's a good thing. When they're saying "what a stupid play" or "how could you raise with that" and rolling their eyes, as long as you're scooping in the chips, you should be taking it as a compliment. You got the better of them.
So long as you're truly working toward a better poker game and never allow yourself to fall in love with gambling or getting lucky at the poker table, walk with pride. Ultimately you should play the game for yourself - not for the approval of anyone else.