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Diane McHaffie

Lessons from Mike Caro University of Poker - Benefiting from advantages

by Diane McHaffie

You can’t win at poker for very long without an advantage. And your advantage has many ingredients.

Position, for example, plays a large part in having an advantage. If other players are acting prior to you, this allows you an opportunity to view how things are developing and determine what your strategy should be.  Your hands may give the illusion of being stronger, when you have the luxury of acting last. You see, the later you act the more dominant your cards will be.

Last - In fact, if you're last to act, it isn't always necessary to have a great hand to take advantage. Say, in hold ’em, you hold two top cards of the same suit and the flop gives you an opportunity for a flush, straight or pair. Then many times it's advisable to raise, since you could easily connect on the turn or river, could win the pot right now without being called, or could intimidate opponents into checking on the next round and leaving you in control. So, being aggressive when last to act can add to your advantage.

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by Diane McHaffie

 I learned a new Mike Caro poker word the other day: teetering. I can hear you now, you think you know what he is referring to. I believe your definition is going to be way off. Teetering is described in the dictionary as wobbling or moving unsteadily. Those from the poker world might expect it to mean that you’re on the verge of going on tilt. Ah, but that’s not Mike’s definition. So, poker aficionados as well as the dictionary would be wrong. Mike says teetering is a decisionmaking concept.

 Goaded. Now, a borderline decision is one in which your choice of whether to fold or call, call or raise, or check and bet is a real toss-up. Mike describes teetering as “a state in which near borderline decisions exist.” It seems the really vital part of the meaning is near! To qualify as a teetering choice does not mean that the decision is borderline, but instead that it has to be goaded, encouraged, shoved into teetering, otherwise it remains intact, just merely borderline.

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An Issue With Luck

by Diane McHaffie

So, you say you have an issue with luck. Bad luck, to be precise. You feel as if everyone, everything, every happening is out to get you. You feel things couldn’t get much worse. Here’s the question: Do you think you’re unlucky or are you truly, in reality, unlucky?

 Many people think that somebody else is at fault for their bad luck. They feel an overwhelming need to blame someone. Not gamblers, though, they’ve gone a step above blaming humans. They blame - events! Events, happenings, occurrences, those are responsible for gambler’s bad luck. Events. You see, in poker or in real life, there will be events, be they good or bad, that will affect you, sometimes drastically. Some events may just be ho-hum and not a determining factor in your life, just a break-even moment, as Mike Caro would say.

 Speaking of Mike, as you know he’s a probability guy. He emphasizes that people, over time, will likely have as many good days as bad days, compared to the expectation of average days. Along the way, you’re likely to receive unusually weird breaks, good ones and bad ones. That’s normal. But the common notion that over your lifetime you’ll eventually break even in the luck category has Mike fervently disagreeing. Here’s why: Your life isn’t prolonged far enough into the future to allow circumstances to break even. If you could live forever, perhaps.

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by Diane McHaffie

Rookie poker players are often easy to spot. Either they are the tentative ones, like Allen, who glances nervously around the poker room, undecided which table to choose, where to take the plunge. Or, like Bruce, the cocky one, who saunters daringly into the poker room, striving to appear confident, smug in the knowledge that he’s read enough books to empower him with the ability to play like a pro.

 Appearances. Once seated Bruce will probably be quick to assert himself, as he wishes to appear knowledgeable and worldly. Allen will most likely sit back, quietly withdrawing into his chair, trying desperately to appear inconspicuous, while glancing thoughtfully at his opponents in trepidation. Perhaps he’s delving into the recesses of his memory, attempting to recall all those precious tidbits of wisdom he has previously read.

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Braving Short-handed Tables

by Diane McHaffie

  I have to agree with Mike. I, too, prefer short-handed tables. With fewer players you should be involved in more pots, resulting in additional opportunities to win. Often your play will differ, becoming more aggressive. With fewer players, it’s easier to develop a relationship and manipulate your opponents, which has the potential to prove profitable.
 Another positive to a short-handed table is that everyone is playing more hands, allowing them a chance to compete at a pace that prompts, with the end result -- more chips sliding your way.

 Waiting. You absolutely must check out short-handed tables whenever you get the opportunity. It’s imperative that you know how to play in these circumstances. Not only does it prepare you for final stage of tournaments, when the tables shift down to fewer players, but it’s also an educational experience preparing you for occasions when it’s necessary to join an undermanned table. Are you actually stubbornly going to wait for a full table to take a seat, or will you join a possibly more profitable table comprised of only six or fewer players?

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Pre-flop Raising

Too often, players feel the overwhelming need to raise prior to the flop. Surprisingly, many skilled players are guilty of this tactic. Sure, it’s possible to win and profit by making this move, but it may also jeopardize additional profit that could be acquired from weaker opponents waiting to act, who may be intimidated and not play their substandard hands.

 Impressive. Prior to the flop, you only have two cards in your hand. Unless they’re superior, your next step is questionable. Yes, it’s acceptable to jump in with a raise before the flop. But, it isn’t something you’ll want to do on a regular basis, unless you’re in late position. When playing from an early position, you are at a distinct disadvantage. Your actions pre-flop will often influence your actions after the flop, and on remaining rounds.

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Basic Tells

by Diane McHaffie

Sometimes, I “people watch” at the mall, instead of shopping. There’s a wide variety of people, and they all have different ways of dressing, walking, and little traits that set them apart from others. In my latest lesson at MCU, Mike informed me that studying people would also be an important factor in playing poker successfully. In a long line leading to the cash register, a lady stands impatiently with her arms crossed, tapping her foot. In poker, as in the mall, people have subtle (sometimes not-so-subtle) mannerisms that give away their secrets. These are what we call tells, and that is what I’m witnessing from this woman. She is impatient and frustrated at the wasted time.

 Everyday tells. Then, I notice a teenager standing near a CD rack. He is glancing about him with shifty eyes, his hands in the huge pockets of his baggy jeans. His eyes are telling a story of their own. At any moment, I expect him to slide a CD from the rack neatly into his pocket, thinking no one is going to see. Only when he notices my presence does he walk away.

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Hold ’em and Pairs

by Diane McHaffie

One of the first lessons Mike taught me was that Hold ‘em is by far the most popular poker game in casinos. This was news to me, because I had always thought that stud poker or draw poker were the main types of poker, since they were the ones always represented in movies. The movies are probably one of our first introductions into the poker world and can be vastly misleading.

 With 7-card stud you receive seven cards total, four face up and three face down (the ones face down are your cards that no one has seen). When you play 7-card stud against opponents, anything is likely to happen with the cards that are dealt. A small pair to begin with, in 7 card stud, often would be pretty good; however, that would not be the case in hold ‘em.

 I have learned that in hold ’em, one of the most common mistakes happens when players try to think the same as in 7-card stud. They think that a small pair has more value than it actually does. That isn’t the case with hold ’em.

 Hard to improve. Hold ‘em starts with two cards face down to the player. Those are personal cards that nobody has seen, and they can’t be used by anyone but yourself. All the other cards (five more total) will be communal, dealt face up, to be used by both your opponents and you. This means that it is hard to improve a small pair in hold ‘em, because it is impossible to catch another pair on the board to improve your hand.

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by Diane McHaffie

Impulse is an abrupt, spontaneous urge to act, often with dire consequences in poker. How long would you survive if you allowed impulsive actions to govern your decision-making? Not very.

 Moods. Don’t allow impulse to dictate decisions in poker. What sort of mood are you in? Upbeat is good. Depressed is bad. A negative attitude means you probably won’t play your best game. Go to the park instead. If you’re coming to the table to improve your mood, I’d reconsider. That doesn’t work. If you’re angry with someone, chances are your nasty mood will lead to impulsive decisions. Not good!

 Observe the players prior to joining a game. Do they appear to be rookies? If so, expect them to act on impulse, and that’s money for you. If they’re meek players, calling frequently, but rarely raising, you’ll likely be rewarded. They’ll make impulsive calls when you hold big hands.

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Don’t Be a Whiner!

by Diane McHaffie

Sympathy and empathy impact poker. If you hope to elicit an empathetic response from your opponent by sharing your sad story, save your breath. The player to whom you’re whining probably knows a better one.

 Sometimes, you’ll evoke an insincere sympathetic utterance, because sympathy is easy to express. If you’re just responding politely to make someone else (or yourself) feel better, that’s everyday sympathy. If you really feel another person’s agony, that’s empathy. While some poker opponents feign sympathy, they almost never feel empathy.

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