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.
Sadly, I must report on a poker epidemic. It’s destroying the profit of millions of serious hold ’em players. And it’s happening before our very eyes.
I’m talking about the epidemic of raising too often before the flop. Many players are doing this to command the table and to reduce risk when they hold hands that have an advantage right now, but are vulnerable to the flop.
So, what’s wrong with that? After all, you see modern players doing it on TV and winning. It must be right. Don’t old-time strategies fall victim to this trending new pre-flop aggression? It seems like it.
But, wait! It’s an illusion When players are overly aggressive, they win a lot of pots. As they accomplish this, they seem superior to other players, but their profits diminish. It’s the only thing that can possibly happen.
You earn poker profit only if your opponents make mistakes. That’s the fundamental truth about winning.
Nobody plays poker perfectly, so the battle is over mistakes. The players whose mistakes are the fewest or least costly eventually win. Mistakes made by opponents will naturally occur. But why settle for just those. You should entice even more of them. Today, we’ll examine how to do that.
Enticing covers many things, from projecting a personality that makes losing more comfortable for your opponents to eliciting bets and raises through subtle psychological maneuvers. But let’s go a step further. Let’s simply entice weak opponents to play in our pots. That’s indirectly enticing mistakes, because weak opponents make plenty of them.
Where the money lives
The most important key to enticing is to make yourself someone who weak opponents prefer to play against. Look at it this way. You’re trying to play in a land of weak opposition, because that’s where the money lives. Right?
Poker is a business. And as in most businesses, it can pay to advertise. Many players don’t advertise effectively when they’re in a game. They do it at bad times. They do it too often or not often enough Their “ads” are poorly conceived. Or they pay too much. Today, I’ll explain the art of profitable advertising in poker.
When you sit in a poker game, you’re setting up shop — you’re in business. The first thing you must do is find the best location — the right game that affords the most potential to make money.
That usually means choosing a table where players are entering pots and calling more than they should. Avoid games with many raises from aggressive players, though. You really want loose, meek opponents who will reward you by calling when you hold superior hands, but won’t press every advantage. When you see them, it’s the right place to locate your business today.
And remember, most physical businesses must choose a permanent location. And you’ve heard that location is everything when measuring the success of a store. Same in poker — except you have the luxury of moving to a better location anytime you want.
Store? How does that apply to poker? Don’t stores sell things?
Let me teach you a poker trick that makes winning much easier. It’s about caring—and it isn’t what you’re thinking.
Yes, you must care about money when you play poker. But that isn’t the big secret. If you want to win mountains of extra chips, you need to convince opponents that you don’t care. Now I’ll explain why and tell you how.
People like to spread rumors. They’ll tell you that Rosemary was out all night with Jasper, repeating what someone else said. They’ll claim that John was arrested for soliciting prostitutes. They heard it. Everyone knows it by now. So, why not repeat it? Well, maybe because it might not be true.
But this isn’t a lecture on morals or ethics. It’s about how rumors circulate and get enhanced. Maybe you heard that I like to burn $100 bills at the poker table. That “rumor” circulated for decades. People wanted it to be true, and they heard it from many others. So, what’s the harm in broadcasting it?
You’ve probably heard that you need to adjust to your opponents to win at poker. That’s wrong! In fact, you risk costing yourself money whenever you make an adjustment. And today, I’ll explain why. I’ve previously taught you about hundreds of adjustments that are profitable. Fine. Now I’m warning you that the practice can be dangerous. If you take poker seriously, it’s important to understand the theory behind this mysterious poker phenomenon. So, let’s talk about it.
Among the oldest common sense poker advice you’ll hear is that if the game is tight play loose, and if the game is loose, play tight. The advised trick is to take advantage of opposing weakness by veering in the opposite direction. Seems to make sense.
I teach five levels of winning in poker. Together they define a path to success and, eventually, to world-class play. Today, we’ll examine those levels, so you can see where you are now and plan for future improvement. There’s nothing sacred about these levels. And five isn’t a magic number. An intelligent poker trainer could define different levels—maybe 2, maybe 30—and they could include other sets of conditions and goals. Still, I think my plan is superior, and I want you to understand it. I’ll share it today.
Remember, I said “five levels of winning.” These don’t cover the total poker experience, because—for most players—there are requirements that come before winning. Like what? Well, you need to know the rules. You need to be comfortable with acting in turn. You need to learn the common language of poker. Fine. Let’s say you’ve done that. Now it’s time to win.
Winning at level 1
You can be a lifelong winner as a Level 1 poker player. You really don’t need to do anything else. It’s just that you won’t win as much as you should.
This level requires you to play very conservatively and to choose opponents who are weak and who play too many pots. This is largely the arena of smalllimit home poker games.
Extremely tight is right at this level.
Why does it win? Even though you’re sacrificing many hands that can be proven to have an expectation of profit, you aren’t sure which they are. So, you stick to the obviously strong hands. By contrast, your opponents are dancing into pots with cards that are clearly unprofitable. If they aren’t, you’re in the wrong game. This is the level where you first learn the importance of always finding players who play worse than you do.
When you enter pots only with superior hands, you usually have such a great advantage that it overwhelms the disadvantages of not playing other facets of poker effectively. Find a weak, loose game. Play super tight. You’ll usually win, but not nearly as much as you could.
Winning at level 2
I teach that you usually should make your actions at the poker table swift and certain. Swift. And certain. I call this playing crisp—which is today’s word. Now I’ll explain why playing crisp can bring you mountains of profit. And I’ll point out some exceptions.
Let me ask you a question? What do you fear most about your poker opponents? That they’ll draw out and beat you when you have a great hand? That they’ll cheat you? That they’re superior to you? Sure, you should be concerned about that and more.
Fine. But psychologically, there are two thing players fear most about their opponents—good luck and strong confidence.
Fear of good luck