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Mike Caro: Today’s word is... MISCONCEPTIONS

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.

Poker thrill

First, I want to share the reason why bluffs lose money overall. It’s because opponents call too often. Most of the poker opponents you’ll face in the real world have a bias toward calling. They’d rather call than fold. It’s part of the poker thrill for them. It’s what makes the rides at the amusement park more exciting than sitting on a bench, watching the crowd walk by them. Calling is a thrill ride. Folding isn’t. For most of your opponents, it’s just that simple. And that’s why they’ll invent reasons to call your bluffs, reasons to be suspicious.

Now, as promised, I’ll tell you why so many players think they win by bluffing, when actually they don’t. It’s because they score it in their minds as a success when they bet a weak hand and nobody calls. Let me ask you a question. How do you know that bluff succeeded? If you were checked into, what would have happened if you hadn’t bet? If your opponent’s hand is equally miserable, you might have won in a showdown. That means betting might have secured the pot for you, but maybe you didn’t need to bluff.

This is one of poker’s great illusions — that bluffing is more profitable than it is in reality. So...

Misconception #1: You can accurately monitor the success of your bluffing.

Now, let’s move to the next misconception. Many players think that the winners of the most events on the tournament trail in any year are the best players.

Before I get to that, there’s an even bigger related misconception. It’s the notion that the winner of a single tournament is likely to be a superior player. Simple math, coupled with simulations I’ve created and run, quickly disprove that.

Am I saying skill doesn’t matter in a poker tournament? Nope. Skill matters. But it doesn’t matter enough to make superior players rise to the top in a day or even several days of competition. What skill does is provide the best players with additional chances of winning.

That means if you play a million events as a world class player in fields of 500, your “fair share” is 2,000 wins. That’s 1,000,000 divided by 500. But if you have great tournament skills, you can stretch that to, say, 5,000 wins — two and a half times your fair share.

But, wait! That still means that, on average, you’ll only win once in 200 times. And when you lump all the likely world-class players in any tournament together, there aren’t enough of them to make it more likely that a superior player wins than that an average or worse player wins. Yes, the weaker players have less of a chance, but there are so many of them that when you total all their chances collectively, they overwhelm the likelihood of a world-class player winning.

The same goes for a year of tournaments, but to a reduced degree. The players you see at the top of the yearly tournament standings are still unlikely to be the best players. Too much luck in the short term. And a year is the short term. That’s why you often see a group of hot players fading and others rising to temporarily take their places — until they, too, often fall into obscurity. So...

Misconception #2: The best players usually win poker tournaments.

And now I’ll tackle a related concept. It’s that 100 hours of play will determine whether you’re a winning poker player. I don’t know why that 100-hour sample size got so popular, but it’s a bad one.

In truth, the biggest year-after- year winners in poker often lose over 100 hours of play. You can have a significant edge and lose for months! If you’re planning to be a professional poker player, expect great droughts along with the glory. But, don’t worry, you’ll eventually win, if you don’t let short-term disappointment spoil your strategy. So...

Misconception #3: You can determine if you’re a winning poker player in 100 hours.

Let’s leave it there for today. There are dozens of major misconceptions in poker. Plus, there are hundreds of minor ones. But if you think about the three we’ve just talked about, you’ll help your bankroll by having a better understanding of what to really expect when you compete and, also, when you bluff.

Mike Caro is widely regarded as the world’s foremost authority on poker strategy, psychology, and statistics. A renowned player and founder of Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy, he is known as “the Mad Genius of Poker,” because of his lively delivery of concepts and latest research. You can visit him at www. or e-mail him at

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