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

About 1985. The conversation goes something like this: “If you want to win at poker, stay out of the spotlight,” a friend named Jackson tells me.

 “How come?” I probe.

 “When you draw attention to yourself,” he explains, “you’re inviting disaster. Players will watch you more closely and spot tells. The right way to win is to be invisible and strike when they least expect it.”

 Let’s examine Jackson’s advice in today’s self-interview.

 Question 1: So, was Jackson right in stating that being invisible is the right way to win?

 Absolutely not!

 You don’t want to be invisible at the poker table, if your intent is to make the most profit possible. Being in the spotlight makes it much easier to win extra money. You do this by manipulating your opponents. Don’t worry about giving away tells. The mere fact that they’re observing you means you can broadcast lies about your hands through your speech and body language. And you can do that specifically because they’re tuning in to your channel. So, manipulate.

 But, by saying to manipulate, I don’t mean that you should do that in any mean-spirited manner. And you shouldn’t gloat over your successes afterward. You need to make yourself fun to play with. Lively is the image you’re targeting. Fun is the reward offered to your opponents. Lively and fun. And in the spotlight.

 Question 2: But what if you’re naturally uncomfortable onstage?

 Many people, probably most people, aren’t comfortable taking the stage.

 The spotlight scares them. So, if they want to profit from poker showmanship and interrelations, they’ll have to conquer their natural anxieties. Some can. Some can’t.

 But the good thing about poker is that you can always try to find players much weaker than you are and still win, whether you’ve mastered the art of hogging the spotlight or not. So, I’m saying that spotlighting yourself isn’t essential to win. There are many other high-profit aspects of poker you can master. But if you do decide to seek the spotlight, you can make even more money – a lot more.

 Question 3: What are the main advantages of putting yourself in the poker spotlight? Think of it this way: In any endeavor in which you need to influence other people’s decisions, you need to inject yourself into the mix. You simply can’t influence anyone unless your presence is known.

 In poker, you’re constantly trying to influence opponents’ decisions. You want them to make errors. You want them to decide wrong. When you have a strong hand, you want extra calls. When you have a weak hand, you want them to fold.

 You need to become a master of psychology to influence opponents. You need to say the right things at the right times. Just bab- bling usually won’t do the trick. You must babble brilliantly. Before you utter a single word, jump inside your opponent’s head. Become that opponent. Feel what he or she is feeling. Not sure? Guess. Keep trying. The skill will come to you in time. Now pre-listen to the words you’re about to utter, as if they’re on tape delay. Will they make opponents more or less inclined to do what you want them to do? If the words help, utter them aloud. If not, dummy up. Same with gestures. Put yourself in your opponent’s head before you use them. The secret is to always watch and listen to yourself from the receiver’s point of view, never from the broadcaster’s.

 Question 4: Can you share some of your techniques for taking advantage of the spotlight?

 Sure. I want to be unpredictable. If that means playing silly hands and giggling, I’ll do that. I want to make plays that are so outrageous that they’ll stick in the minds of my opponents.

 Just playing a little bad fails big time. That’s because most opponents also play marginally bad hands, and if you do the same thing, you’re not going to get attention.

 Although you’ll usually lose money on the terrible hands you play, opponents will begin to think of you as a wild player. That’s the payoff. When that happens, you’re one step ahead of them. They may realize that they’re being conned in a friendly way, but it won’t matter. It will be fun to give you extra calls. It’s worth the risk to them, as long as you giggle along, win or lose.

 And what they don’t realize is that you’re playing far fewer ridiculous hands than they perceive. Mostly, you’re just playing strong poker and still getting extra calls when you hold superior hands. When you “advertise” in bizarre ways, you should find the cheapest method to do it. Maybe you can accomplish the mission by just calling a small bet on the river with a hand that can’t beat the board! That works for me. It’s very cheap advertising.

 Be creative and throw money away rationally. That’s the method I use. You’d think that most opponents would be too sophisticated to fall for it, but they aren’t. When you’re comfortable in the spotlight, you can do amazing stuff that seems insane. And the result will be that you’ll win extra money.

 Question 5: Do you ever step out of the spotlight at the poker table?

 Yes. The spotlight works against you if you force it when your cards have been very bad and everyone knows you’re losing.

 You can’t easily manipulate or intimidate opponents who have seen you losing. They’re inspired by your failures and aren’t feeling threatened.

 Your bad luck makes them think you’re somebody they can beat, and they play better against you. That’s the time to abandon the spotlight and wait for a good run of cards when you can begin your magic anew. There’s another key time I step out of the spotlight. When there’s another ultra-animated, wild player in my game, I often surrender the stage. I sometimes can benefit from the chaos that player will bring to the table without having to advertise on my own. And it will be hard to compete for the spotlight, anyway, so why even bother?

 Question 6: Any final advice to share?

 Only that the poker spotlight is your friend.

 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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