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Mike Caro: Today's word is... DON'T

There are things you don’t do if you want to maximize poker profit. In fact, what you don’t do often builds and protects bankrolls more powerfully than what you do.

 Since that might sound confusing, I’ll explain it in today’s self-interview. And I’ll provide a selection of high-profit advice from poker’s “don’t” list. So, let’s get started.

 Question 1: How am I supposed to ask you questions about poker strategy you don’t do?

It’s easy to ask for your advice about what to do, but how should I ask about what not to do? Can you give me some guidance, so I can conduct a better interview? Sure. Just ask me if there’s anything I recommend that players don’t do regarding a specific poker topic of your choice.

 Question 2: Okay. So, what would you recommend that players don’t do regarding bluffing?

 Don’t bluff unless you have an obvious reason. Most opponents are too eager to call. And that makes most bluff attempts unprofitable. You must rationally believe that a bluff right now against this opponent will succeed often enough to provide a long range expectation of profit if repeated a million times. If you don’t believe that, seldom bluff. I say “seldom,” instead of “never,” because there are rare occasions when you might bluff in unprofitable situations just because you’re enhancing your image in hopes of making more money later. But that won’t happen often.

 Usually, just remember this: Most poker players lose money bluffing for their lifetimes. That fundamental fact means you shouldn’t bluff at whim or at random. Don’t bluff at all unless there is a compelling reason to do it.

 Question 3: What would you recommend that players don’t do regarding betting?

 Again, don’t bet without a compelling reason. Your policy should be to check unless solid arguments dancing around in your head persuade you to bet.

 Question 4: What would you recommend that players don’t do regarding raising?

  Same thing. Don’t raise without a compelling reason. One concept most otherwise skillful poker players get wrong becomes obvious when they raise to chase opponents out of the pot. That’s seldom a profitable motive. Actually, the raise might turn out to be the correct tactic, but the reason for the raise is usually misguided.

 Usually, when you raise, you should hope to be called. And most strong hands make more money long term against many opponents, rather than against just one. Players get confused about this, because they’re worried that more opponents mean it’s more likely that one of them will get lucky and draw out. That’s true. You’ll lose more pots against more opponents. But so what? The pots you win will be bigger. And since you had the superior hand when you raised, callers were at a disadvantage.

 You take a chance by having more opponents in the pot, but that’s why you win at poker. You take chances with advantages. If your aim is to reduce risk, poker isn’t your game. Your aim should be to seek opportunities to take risk whenever risk is profitable.

 Yes, mathematically there are some hands in some situations that are more profitable if played against fewer opponents. But those situations are rare. So, in most cases, don’t raise to chase players out. Raise and hope they call.

 Question 5: What would you recommend that players don’t do regarding checking?

 Don’t be afraid to check. You’ve probably heard players say that checking and calling is weak, that you should either bet or you should check and then fold if someone bets. Actually, checking and calling is one of the most natural tactics in poker. You check because your hand isn’t strong enough to bet. And you call because your hand isn’t weak enough to fold. It happens constantly. For most players, checking should be the decision of choice once they’re involved in a pot. Unless there’s a clear reason to do otherwise, check. And don’t be afraid of what some players will say about you. They don’t know what they’re talking about.

 Question 6: Finally, are there any other poker questions about “don’t” that you could answer?

 Of course there are. In fact, there are probably thousands of them. But let me conclude by giving “don’t” advice for one more topic you missed.

 Don’t spend your bankroll while you’re building it. All players encounter long losing streaks. And we often aren’t expecting them. We need to keep enough money in reserve to provide shelter from poker’s bad weather. Don’t be surprised by a probability storm.

 You didn’t ask about game selection, attitude, table image, tells, manipulation, folding, or calling. Those and many more aspects of poker have powerful “don’ts” associated with them.

 Most importantly, don’t let this interview limit the things you don’t do in poker. Begin to think about winning as being based largely on things you personally don’t do. Make your own list. And don’t ignore it.

 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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