“I waited all night, but I got even with that idiot!” Tony announced at about 5 a.m., as he was leaving the poker room.
“What are you talking about?” I asked, as we strode side by side toward the parking lot. It had been a great night for me, so I was in a tolerant mood, willing to play along with Tony’s peculiar and perpetual need to always share his poker exploits as if nobody else mattered.
“So, I start at noon,” Tony began. “and everything’s going fine. After about an hour, this guy I’ve never played with sits down and bluffs me three hands in a row! He shows the hands. And he’s gloating. I can hardly stand it.”
He paused and walked in silence for about 20 seconds, then continued.
Today, I’m going to save poker players worldwide from turning into pumpkins. Cinderella’s carriage could turn into a pumpkin at midnight, right?
Your poker carriage can do the same thing. Even you, yourself, do it, too — turn into a pumpkin. Maybe it doesn’t happen exactly at midnight, but it happens. So, let’s talk about how to avoid becoming a poker pumpkin and how to profit from your pumpkin opponents. Sound strange? Good. Let’s get started.
Here’s the premise, and you tell me if this seems right to you. To play poker successfully, you need a vehicle for transporting you and your advanced poker arsenal to a game. Call it a carriage. Yeah, that’s a stretch, but so what? If you don’t have all your tactics, attitudes, and ammunition (meaning bankroll) packaged sensibly, you aren’t likely to win this year.
That’s you ride, your carriage — all your skill, money, and state of mind. And you roll proudly into a game. That’s you or your carriage or both, depending on how you perceive yourself. And you’ve arrived at the poker table, ready to do battle and win.
But here are the things that will turn you and your carriage into a pumpkin.
About a month ago, I began discussing major disadvantages you’ll encounter at poker. You see, they won’t cost you as much money if you can recognize them quickly enough to diminish the damage. Today, we’re going to add four more disadvantages, but let’s call them “burdens,” because that turns out to be today’s word.
First, let’s quickly review the three disadvantages we previously talked about:
1. The disadvantage of having too many chips in a no-limit game. Contrary to the opinions of many serious poker players, it’s not always a good idea to have the most chips at the table. If you’re sure you have a major advantage against you opponents, yes, do it. Otherwise, with a smaller stack, you’ll often be able to go all-in more cheaply and make winning hands you would otherwise have folded. You’ll also have smaller fluctuations in your day-to-day results. So, look around the table. If there are threatening opponents with large amounts of chips in play, that’s a disadvantage — and you should reconsider your intention to add to your stack.
2. The disadvantage of silence. Laughter is what to look for when choosing a table. Opponents having fun are more likely to be playing for entertainment and not to maximize profit. When you’re at a quiet table, the silence suggests a disadvantage.
3. The disadvantage of a left-side attack. There’s a strong positional advantage enjoyed by players who sit to your left and usually act after you. For that reason, you want players sitting on your left who are least likely to take advantage of their superior position. Those turn out to be tight players who don’t play many hands and, therefore, do you less harm on your left. If aggressive and sophisticated players are on your left, you’re at a disadvantage. Beware! Change seats, if you can.
Okay. Now it’s time to add today’s four poker burdens.
Mastering poker means learning new things. Sometimes. But, you can also increase your profit or even jump from losing to winning simply by stopping. Stopping what? Well, stopping lots of stuff you may be doing that’s costing money at poker. Today’s words is “Stop.” And that’s all you need to do.
I’m going to give you a list of poker things you should stop doing, if they apply to you. My explanations will be brief. Ready? Good.
1. Stop complaining.
When you complain about poker misfortune, opponents aren’t sympathetic. They’re inspired. They think, “Hey, there’s someone unluckier than I am — someone I can beat.” And then they grow hopeful and play better against you.
So, keep your misery to yourself. Act lucky, even if you aren’t right now. Your good luck is what opponents fear most.
Poker success means more than finding advantages. It means avoiding disadvantages. Sadly, most skillful players are in perpetual search of edges. They fail to weigh what will reward them against what will destroy them.
I teach that you should always be very vigilant about identifying disadvantages in poker. Many can seem invisible, if you don’t look hard. But once you see them, it’s usually easy to stay out of danger. So, here is a short selection of three poker disadvantages, chosen from over 100 candidates.
Disadvantage 1: Too many chips
Many players like to have the most chips at the table in no-limit poker games. Is that the right strategy? Maybe. Probably not.
So many misconceptions muddle poker that I sometimes make lists. Today, I’d like to share three favorites from my collection, hoping that your game will improve, once you understand the truth.
Where should we start? How about bluffs. Whenever I warn about the badness of bluffing, some players get confused and think I’m telling them never to bluff. I’m not. There are clearly profitable times to fire a bluff into the pot. And there are specific opponents who make the best targets.
Fine. But I’m warning you that most players lose money for their lifetimes by bluffing. In that sense, yes, it would be better for them if they never bluffed. Here’s the strange part. Among all those millions of players who lose money bluffing, most probably think they earn money. I’ll tell you why that is in a minute.
When I was a kid, I was able to demolish local poker games in Denver just by entering pots with only my very best starting hands. We call that playing “tight.” It amazed me that opponents had so little patience. They were willing to sacrifice their chips to me night after night without me having to know much about poker to win. I just took advantage of their tendency to bet money on bad hands.
Of course, later I helped pioneer aggressive poker strategies that proved that the sit-and-wait era of winning was finally over. But it’s important to realize that playing tight often still wins by itself. It doesn’t win as much as my power poker tactics (a term I coined in 1978 for Doyle Brunson to use with his poker bible Super/System — A Course in Power Poker). But it wins marginally.
Many poker players lose for a single, simple reason. They don’t grasp the nature of the majority of their opponents. Because of this common and fundamental misunderstanding of opponents’ natural state at the poker table, players pour profit down the poker drain trying to accomplish things that are impossible. What does that mean? Listen, and I’ll tell you.
Why they play
In order to take advantage of your opponents’ greatest weaknesses, you first need to understand why they came to play poker. No, really. Let’s examine that. Imagine that you’re a regular guy or gal with a regular everyday job. Maybe it’s standing all day long behind a used tomato booth at a secret black market for fruits and vegetables. Maybe it’s painting over minor scratches on the bottom of automobile mufflers. Just some common job. Okay. Now imagine that your job is only thrilling for the first seven hours each day and that, by the final hour, you’re bored and eager to get home. Fine. So, that’s where you are right now. Home.
Then a monumental thought bombs your brain: “Maybe I’ll drive to the casino and play poker.” Immediately, your pulse quickens. An adventure awaits.
So, now I want you to stop imagining and jump back out of the head of your pretend opponent. You’re you again, in your own head. And that’s the “you” to whom I’m posing this important question. Here it comes. Do you think, while driving to the casino, your opponent is thinking, “I hope I can just sit at the table and not have to play any hands,” or “I hope I get to play a lot of hands”?
Are you ready for a poker test? Fine. This one won’t always be what you expect. It probes your knowledge of my Mike Caro methodology for winning at poker. That means, the correct answer to some questions may seem like opinions to you.
They aren’t opinions, though. When my correct answers differ from what you’ve heard elsewhere, then what you’ve heard is wrong. If that makes me an egomaniac in your mind, good.
I’ve done the research for decades, so you can decline to take this test and dispute the answers at your own risk. If you do, I’ll still love you, but I’ll be sad. Let’s get started with today’s two questions.
Question 1: Which statement below about the role of psychology in poker is most true?
(A) Psychology is overrated, because correct poker strategy is based on proven mathematical formulae.
(B) Once you have a solid foundation in normal poker strategy, most of your profit comes from psychology.
(C) Most serious poker players ignore opponents’ efforts to use psychology against them.
(D) It’s easier to determine how opponents play by watching for patterns than by trying to determine current moods.