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

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.

The premise

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.


Aggravation will quickly turn you into a pumpkin. And that’s not a good thing to be, because whenever you’re a poker pumpkin, you’re playing substandard and destined to lose. If you’re still wondering what I’m talking about and waiting for me to define “poker pumpkin” for you, you’re probably not yet an experienced player. I’m guessing almost every seasoned player reading this knows exactly what I mean. They’ve been turned into pumpkins. They’ve seen their opponents turn into pumpkins.

At first, you’re not a pumpkin. You’ve come to play brilliantly and you’re doing just fine so far. But along comes aggravation. It’s the product of bad cards or bad beats. If you get nothing good to play, you get bored, exasperated. And you wait. And wait. But midnight is approaching. Maybe not at a minute past 11:59 at night, but a time that feels like midnight.

Sometimes, you start to care less about quality decisions when you’re aggravated because no cards are coming. So, you play more hands — hands that shouldn’t be played. Or you finally play a major hand and it’s best all the way until the river and then it’s squashed. More aggravation.

The secret is to forget about everything that’s come before this deal. This deal, right now, starts the next phase of your poker career. And just as you wouldn’t have played your first hand of the night poorly, because you weren’t aggravated yet, you shouldn’t play this one poorly either. Think of it as the first hand. In fact, it’s always the first hand, beginning from where you are right now. Once you master that attitude, you’re ready to win.

And now that you’ve resolved not to let aggravation turn you into a pumpkin, you might as well look for those aggravated pumpkins that surround you. When you see opponents like that, expect their hands to average worse than normal, and you can adjust accordingly. But whatever you do, don’t try to bluff them. They’re irritated and likely to call.


Fatigue will turn you into a poker pumpkin. The more tired you get, the more likely you are to make mistakes. The truth is, you can start to crave rest or sleep so much that it’s appealing enough that your subconscious mind begins rooting for you to go broke.

Try making it your policy to quit whenever you’re tired. You might make exceptions if opponents are also tired or the game is extremely profitable. Otherwise, cash your chips and go home. There will be another game that you can attack when you’re more alert.

The same thing holds true for the times you concentrate too hard and too long. You’re facing mental fatigue. That usually means it’s time to quit. If you stay, you’ll turn into a pumpkin.

And, when you are alert, look for opponents who are mentally fatigued or just plain sleepy. Those pumpkins are much easier to beat.

And more

And there’s plenty more that can turn you and your carriage into a pumpkin. Like what?

Like treating poker as an amusement park ride, rather than an exercise in skill. If poker thrills you, beware. Yes, it can be entertaining, but if you’re playing because of the entertainment, you’re destined to destroy your bankroll.

Like fearing a loss. You need to cultivate an attitude that you don’t care whether you win or lose. You only care about making correct decisions. Fate will take care of the rest, but that isn’t your responsibility.

Like playing for pride. Don’t try to impress your opponents. It doesn’t matter whether you look good to them, it only matters that you get their money.

So, that’s my poker advice about carriages and pumpkins. It’s from Cinderella and if the shoe fits… – MC

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 or e-mail him at

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