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Mike Caro: Today's Word is... BURDENS

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.

1. The burden of big pots with few players. It’s natural to look for tables averaging the biggest pots when selecting a game. But wait! It’s also important to understand how the pots are being built. When you see big pots that have few players involved, that’s not usually as good as seeing pots of the same size with multiple players. Why? It’s because when pots grow big as a result of skillful and aggressive players making large raises and being called by a single foe, a smaller portion of the pot is contributed by weak opponents. That means you’ll often be targeting money that belonged to a serious player. That’s a burden, because you really want to target weak opponents. So, you should prefer games where big pots are built by many players, not few.

2. The burden of feared cheating. When cards run bad, it’s natural to feel as if you’re being cheated, even when you’re not. But just the haunting suspicion of cheating is a burden, even if it isn’t really happening. You’ll be wasting much of your mental energy worrying, rather than making quality decisions. So, here’s the solution: Quit. Whenever you’re strongly worried about the mere possibility of cheating, quit. Escape the mental burden.

3. The burden of an unlucky image. It’s lonely playing poker. You’re friends and family aren’t there to see the occasional miserable misfortune you encounter. And it’s hard to explain it to them afterwards. They might express some sympathy, but you’ll remain unconvinced that they completely understand the true depth of your bad luck. So, you’ll wish you had made a video to prove how terrible it was.

It gets worse. Since your friends and family aren’t there, you might seek out your opponents as surrogate sympathizers. Don’t! If you do that, you’ll be burdening yourself with an unlucky image. Opponents are actually inspired by players they perceive as unluckier than themselves. And, guess what? They play better against those seemingly unfortunate foes! So, don’t inspire your opponents. Never convey an unlucky image. Just keep your misery to yourself.

4. The burden of deceptive opponents.  Ideally, you want to play against opponents who call too often, who seldom raise, and who are predictable. Those are the easiest to beat, because they play hands that cost them money (which usually ends up in your pocket), they don’t take full advantage of you by raising often enough when they have the best hand, and they don’t employ sneaky tactics that will keep you guessing. Deceptive opponents are usually more skillful and often aggressive. They’ll interfere with you strategy and with your quest to win money from weak players. So, what should you do? Answer: Try to change seats so they usually act before you do — and try only to enter pots with medium-strong hands when they’re not involved. Deceptive opponents are often a burden that can be avoided.

Disadvantages and burdens are rife in poker. But that’s how nature intended the game to be. Along with that scary stuff comes advantages and benefits. The big harm happens to your bankroll when you fail to recognize when you’re taking the worst of it. If our exploration of some disadvantages and burdens helps you to minimize losses, you’ll have a bigger bankroll and I’ll be happy. Good luck on all you poker adventures.

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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