by Mike Caro
The process of poker requires extracting profit from pain. Your pain and theirs. Life itself is that way, too. And once you truly understand this, winning gets easy.
So, today I’ll tell you about the pain of poker. But don’t get scared. Poker pain is your friend.
Huh? Well, let’s start with some simple truth. Mental anguish and anxiety is unavoidable in life, and it’s magnified in poker. Why? Because you’re choosing to place yourself in an arena that simulates the ups and downs of a lifetime in a single session of poker. In fact, that’s the thrill of the game for many. You get to experience the unexpected treats and tragedies, highs and humiliations, all in a few hours.
Now I’m going to warn you about some things. If you just play poker for pennies, or whatever amount you can totally afford, there isn’t going to be pain involved in poker. But few people do that, because it would be like sleeping through a roller coaster ride. What would be the point?
A disagreement with Doyle
Often you can know with almost absolute certainty when a poker opponent is bluffing. Few players understand how that’s possible.
So, they fold—failing to catch the bluff—when they could have won huge pots by calling.
Obviously, knowing the secret will add significantly to your bankroll. And today, I’m going to share it with you.
First, we need to talk about Jack. In the 1970s, he was a hostile and intimidating force — a barroom brawler that people avoided. And he brought his menacing disposition to the poker tables in Gardena, California.
It was a tiny scratch on my neighbor’s new car. And that childhood memory relates to poker in an important way. I’ll tell you about it in today’s selfinterview.
Question 1: What color and make of car was it?
It was a black Pontiac, but what difference does it make?
Question 2: None, I guess. But you’re the one who brought it up. What am I supposed to ask?
Don’t look at me that way! Stop staring, really. Okay, I think I know what you want me to ask now. How did the scratch happen?
It doesn’t matter.
Question 3: Well, what does it have to do with poker?
Finally! Let me answer this way...
This is another one of those days when I’ve instructed my interviewer to ask non-specific questions. I’m not in the mood to be pinned down.
You might argue that, since this is the latest in my series of self-interviews, I’m actually instructing myself to ask only nebulous questions. Well, you can complain and quibble all you want, but that’s the way it’s going to be.
Question 1: What would you like to talk about first? And please explain what it means.
Let me answer it this way. The question, as I understand it, is when should you quit a poker game? There are several reasons to quit, and solid reasons to keep playing, even when many players think they should quit. Here’s the deal. The trick is to find games where you can make the most money possible at reasonable risk. Notice that I said, “the most money possible.” That means you shouldn’t always remain in a game that’s profitable. There may be more profit in switching to another game. And if the profit is too thin to justify the time you’ll invest, you’re probably better off not playing. So, quit.
One thing you shouldn’t do is quit in order to preserve a win. That’s never a good reason. Dividing your playing time into artificial days or sessions is silly. The only reality is how you do overall. It’s much better to win $500 once and lose $50 three times than to win $50 three times and lose $500 once. In fact, in the first case, you net a $350 profit and in the second you suffer a $350 loss—so it’s a $700 difference.
Yet, somehow, some players feel better about amassing many wins, even if small. Winning many days in a row shouldn’t be your goal. Only your longterm results matter.
Specifically, you shouldn’t quit a game because you might lose your profit. That profit is potentially fleeting, and you’re just as likely to lose it tomorrow as today. It should be considered only a small part of the big poker game—one that lasts forever.
Mentally breaking it up into segments doesn’t change this simple reality: The more hours you play under profitable circumstances, the more money you’re likely to win. If conditions are favorable and you’re not tired or impaired, physically or emotionally, stick with it. If you quit now, you’ll only be playing fewer profitable hours—whether you end up winning or losing this time.
But, if you’ve been losing and opponents are inspired and playing better against you, because they perceive you as a target, that’s often a time to quit. You don’t have psychological control of the table.
Question 2: Thank you. Could you answer my second non-specific question now?
Poker is built on deception. If you want to extract the most money possible from opponents, sometimes you need to temporarily switch your strategy. This is known as shifting gears.
But wait! The problem with shifting gears is that most players do it at the wrong times or for the wrong reasons. They would be better off not shifting at all. In this self-interview, I’ll show you how to shift correctly.
Question 1: So, why do you need to shift gears?
Ideally, you shouldn’t shift. You should have one single most-profitable gear. But in practice, you can earn more money sometimes by shifting in order to appear less predictable. You shift because there’s always a lag between when you do it and when astute opponents realize it. They’ll be responding to your previous gear, and that gives you time to profit. But confusing your opponents isn’t the only reason to shift. Sometimes you do it to adjust to game conditions. Remember, if your opponents play way too many hands, you can stray from the standards that are profitable on paper and play more often. That’s because the average opposing hands will be weaker than usual, leaving you the opportunity to liberalize and still make more money.
So the two main reasons to shift gears are to confuse and to adapt.
Question 2: What methods of shifting do you recommend?
In poker, position is profit. Today’s self-interview explains what you need to know to get the most from where you’re seated, relative to your opponents. First question, please…
Question 1: How much does position really matter in poker?
Well, how about this: The majority of the best poker players in the world–and possibly all of them–lose money for their lifetimes to opponents on their left. There! I said it, and I’m proud.
That’s a statement of fact that will probably shock most readers. Almost all the profit you’ll ever make playing poker will come from players to your right–players who usually act before you do. I said usually, not always, because sometimes players to your right act after you.
That happens on the first betting round when you enter a pot from an early seat and the opponents to your right are in the blinds. However, you regain positional advantage on all subsequent betting rounds, when they’ll act first. You also temporarily lose your positional advantage of acting last when you’re “under the gun”–meaning first to act–in a non-blind, ante-only game. But you’ll regain the advantage quickly on future deals.
Overall, you’ll be acting after players to your right most of the time. And, in poker, getting to see what opponents do before you act is a huge advantage. In fact, you can’t overcome the positional advantage of an opponent sitting immediately to your left in a full-handed game–unless your level of skill is monumentally better. The best you can do is play good enough that you diminish your disadvantage.
And, in fact, averaged over years of play, you’ll lose money to players on your left and make money from players on your right. This effect is so powerful that if you looked down at a poker table from a weather satellite in space, you’d see a phenomenal and continuous poker storm. The money would be swirling around the table in a clockwise direction, because that’s the way the action flows. Money would blow from players acting earlier to players acting later.
Of course, there would be some cross currents, too–currents that went against the direction of the storm. That’s because short-term luck would cause gusty distortions in the dominant direction. But, averaged over time, the money flows clockwise.
So, your mission in poker is to win as much money as you can from players on your right and lose as little as you can to players on your left. Your goal is just that simple.
Question 2: So, how do you go about maximizing profit from players on your right and decreasing your losses to the left?
To succeed at poker, you need to survive. Today’s self-interview deals with bankroll survival, with tournament survival, and with the powerful truth that survival isn’t a factor at all when making decisions in regular non-tournament games.
I’ll explain it all. So, let’s get started.
Question 1: What does survival have to do with making poker decisions?
In everyday poker games, outside the tournament arena, you should never be thinking about survival when you make decisions. If you’re playing for uncomfortably high-stakes and worried about surviving a large pot, then you’re competing in a game too large for your bankroll. You shouldn’t be there. You see, the nature of a winning poker strategy dictates that you must invite risk, not avoid it. If your personality is such that you crave reduced risk, poker probably isn’t the right game for you.
A primary goal of poker should be to put your money at risk. You should be eager to do that, as long as that risk offers a long-term advantage. You could play more safely by declining to exploit small advantages and waiting for really big edges before risking your money. But, then you’d be surrendering the sum of the profit from all those small edges. And those small edges added together often comprise the largest portion of your profit.
So, you should want to take risks. You should be looking for opportunities to put your chips in jeopardy. I know that sounds strange, but that’s really what successful poker strategy is about – finding ways to increase risk at an advantage.
Question 2: Can you give an example of how poker players make a mistake when playing to survive?
Over decades, I’ve identified one of the main reasons that the majority of skillful poker players fail to win. It’s surprising, and it isn’t what you think.
It has to do with their inability to “stabilize.” And in today’s self-interview, I’ll explain what I mean.
Question 1: What does the word “stabilize” have to do with poker?
A lot. Like I said, it describes one of the primary reasons that poker players lose.
Question 2: Before we get to that, you said it was “one of the primary reasons” for failure to win. What are some of the other reasons?
Besides an inability to stabilize, which I’ll discuss shortly, presuming that you ask relevant questions, there are several reasons for failure.
Going on tilt is one. Competing against too strong a group of opponents is another. Being cheated is one, also. Not treating poker as a business, playing too large for their bankrolls, playing too creatively, entering too many pots, not choosing the right seats, and poor game selection are others.
Question 3: Wow! Interesting list. Is going on tilt really that common a reason for losing money at poker?
Time to go public. My behind the- scenes campaign to protect Internet poker has failed.
Timing is crucial to maximizing poker profit – but probably not in ways that come immediately to mind. Let’s discuss that in today’s selfinterview.
Question 1: What does timing have to do with poker?
When players say, “Bad timing,” or “Your timing was off,” they’re often responding politely to an opponent’s failed bluff, after calling with strong hands. They either mean to make that opponent feel better or they’re using a psychological ploy. It’s one intended to suggest that they wouldn’t have called, had their hand not been so powerful, thus inviting the foe to bluff again in the future. When you hear similar words when you’re caught bluffing, you should back away from bluffing that opponent.
You also hear someone talk about their own bad timing – or yours – in the context of having a strong second-best hand or having made a flush on the river that loses. And there are other ways that the word “timing” is commonly used in poker.
However, I’m not talking about that today. Let’s explore what I am talking about. Next question.
Question 2: I get it, you’re talking about the flow of the game, getting in sync with the action. You need timing there, right?