# Research on the effect of a screen name or avatar in online poker

In online poker there are very few things you can bring to the table that will bring you some kind of meta advantage over the other players, in my experience there are only two, and on some sites just the one.

The two weapons I'm talking about are the screen name you choose and your profile picture. I know that they have an effect, I just don't know how to work out what the effect is.

A personal example:

I used to play on PKR, and years ago I came across a player named 'IHAVEBIGBALLS', we got chatting and he told me that his screenname really helped him to rake it in. I was sceptical at first, but having little luck with my then course of action, I decided to make an account called 'BLOWMEHARDER', after experiencing much success in freerolls and microstakes, I was able to build up a bankroll of \$10 without putting any money in. PKR then disabled my account for having a 'rude' name.

Another example of using visual psychological factors to gain an edge:

On PKR you can extensively customise your own 3D avatar, I used to use my old 'possibly-childish' screen name, with a well dressed old man in a blue shirt. People trusted me a lot more, and folded to my bluffs often when I had built my desired table image.

I arrived at this conclusion after trying many different combinations of clothing, colours and personas. Interestingly, when wearing red/orange people rarely folded to me.

These personal experiences leave me with little doubt that you can use the few customisable options you have available to gain an edge, or display a well-thought-out image to subtly manipulate your opponents.

Nowadays I play with a different, possibly-childish screen name, on a number of sites, and after a fair amount of adjustment to my play, I eventually found a way to use their 'silly' impression of me profitably.

That was until.. I added a picture of me. It's the same picture I'm using on this site, a young, smiley guy.. I feel like this picture incites bullying and re-raising as they assume I'm a fresh-faced amateur.

I wouldn't mind, but the awful re-raises and wrong moves are working out for them as I lose with AT vs 84 after calling a first-to-act-LAG all-in on a 933 flop.

Without the picture, they appeared to fold or play cautiously a whole lot more.

How can I gauge a general opponents impression of me based on my screen name alone?

What, if anything, would you recommend as rules/guidelines to stick to when choosing a screen name, and why?

I'm looking for research that highlights psychological factors worth considering when choosing a screen name and image, or adapting better to an existing one, particularly in anonymous online screen names.

This type of research may be similar to looking at people's chosen Twitter names and display pictures to perceive information about them on those two factors alone.

• Never thought about this. For me, the only purpose of name + picture is to rapidly and efficiently identify a player in a big crowd. However, there may be some subconcious effects of this. I may be wrong, but I think there's a high chance some research on this exists. Nice question :) – Radu Murzea Sep 10 '13 at 7:43
• Gathering evidence on this would be heavily subjective, anecdotal, and prone to confirmation bias. Almost impossible to quantify in a meaningful way. – Toby Booth Sep 10 '13 at 9:21
• Very difficult to quantify. Hero might actually be playing a certain way because of their name/image rather than villains being subconsciously affected by the hero's name/image. There is a whole branch of science dedicated to how selected avatars drive our behaviour: bitchbuzz.com/tech/can-avatars-change-our-behaviour.html – Robbie Dee Sep 10 '13 at 11:02
• I'm not sure if I agree with the premise, but some of the top online pros have also followed this strategy: Tom Dwan is known as durrrr, and Phil Galfond is known as OMGClayAiken. Phil specifically chose this name so that others would be "embarrassed to lose to him": youtube.com/watch?v=NUUx0wcn29A – Cory Kendall Sep 10 '13 at 18:24
• Feel free to have a go and answer your own question ;) – Toby Booth Sep 10 '13 at 23:00

Poker players on real poker sites choose their name wisely, by that I mean they want to play there often and choose a real nick like "Destroyer666" or "Billy the Cid" whatever. But they won't go for PEtewr345353 or Hello324234 , it's not about the name only, it's more about the player who choose the name. I sometimes like a rude name like "r4p3tim3" but i chose that with care and not just because it's rude or something. What I want to point out is, that the name shows you if the player plays often or not. strange numbers after the name is an indicator for someone who created the account just for fun and they probably dont play with bankroll management and everything , so they are probably fishes.

There was a fair bit of discussion about this back in the poker boom days on DeucesCracked. The conclusions were mixed (and based on very anecdotal data). Three items of consensus appeared:

1. Names in CamelCase and names that referred to "grinding", "graphs", "ev", "flips" or any other regular slang denoted a "regular" of some sort. Not necessarily good but with at least a grasp of the basics and usually not terrible.
2. Names that referenced live poker players in a non-ironic manner were almost always "recreational" players of some sort, usually fish.
3. Names that referenced sports teams of any time were also "recreational" players.

This was based on our collective observations at the time (4 years ago now probably)

I dont know how much of an affect it has to be honest, I dont really care what someone's username is or what picture they have, i just play them the same as anyone else.

One thing I would say is that the name can sometimes help socially.

Using PKR as an example as you have, my name on there is Daddy_Cool (cannot even remember why), this usually gets people talking if they notice me. There was one guy I kept bumping into at the tables and in the forum, everytime we met he would start "singing" Daddy Cool, or linking the YouTube video.

So as I say it does have an effect in some ways, as people will notice some names more than others and remember them in the future.

• On some sites e.g. Pokerstars, you can block images. Not sure if there is an option to block usernames on any site - e.g. make all players: Player 1, Player 2 etc. Another thing to consider along with name and image is table chat. What you say (as in real life) also contributes to your image. If a player is on tilt, I'm more likely to call/re-raise against their hand as the tendency is often for players to play wilder/looser after a beat to recoup their losses. – Robbie Dee Sep 12 '13 at 11:32
• in real life tournaments i always went in black with a Punisher hoody, I was ranked 5 out of some hundreds and a real bunch of people were watching the tournament. After that I was recognized as "the punisher" by everyone, even though I didn't wear the hoody in all casinos around. That is like a nickname as well. Just a side story – RayofCommand Sep 16 '13 at 7:48