I was discussing President Barack Obama’s reelection the other day, not from a political standpoint, but from a strategic one. And it related to poker in a big way. How come? It’s because you have to understand that not one thing makes the difference between winning and losing. A large number of things determine your fate. But each factor can sway the result all by itself. And that’s the topic of today’s self-interview.
Question 1: How does the Obama vs. Romney race tie into today’s word, “Difference”?
A number of factors made the difference in the 2012 presidential race. Some favored Romney. The biggest ones toward the end favored Obama. Weighed together, they provided Obama with a victory.
It’s the same in poker— competing factors. The right ones lead to eventual profit, if they aren’t overwhelmed by the wrong ones.
Question 2: Just curious— what factors are you talking about regarding the presidential race?
Romney seemed to be leading going into the final week. The brutal east-coast storm-or-hurricane Sandy largely removed Romney from public consciousness. For Romney, it was like having a threatening card show up on the turn in hold ’em. Then there was New Jersey governor Chris Christie warmly receiving President Obama, resulting in a photo opportunity that showed the president as, well, presidential.
That was equivalent to another escape possibility presented by the turn card. Obviously, Romney was up against it in the media. There have been times in history when most elements in the press favored Republicans, but that isn’t the case now. The majority of the major press served similarly to a 10 percent poker rake against Romney. But if your competition is weak enough and you play superior poker, well, maybe.
Obama appealed to most voters as a stable and caring family man, and this image made it much harder for Romney, having those same qualifications, to gain ground. Obama had the advantage of being an incumbent, too. And, yet, it was a poker game, and Romney didn’t seem to play correctly on the final betting round. He mistakenly expected the major media to put great emphasis on the Benghazi incident, likely to damage Obama, so he didn’t push it in the final two debates. He had the misfortune of having a CNN debate moderator interject to support a false claim by Obama to audience applause. And that moment stuck with the public, while the next-day quiet retraction by that moderator did not. Bad break for Romney.
But the pot was won for many other reasons, too. Romney seemed aloof to many and didn’t connect as a likely friend to everyday Americans. He was, perhaps, too rich and seemed too out-of-touch. He lacked foreign policy experience and some people worried about that. Whether the various impressions about Obama and Romney were fair or unfair doesn’t matter. It’s the reality of the game. You’ve got to play your hand.
Factors, factors, factors— they blend into a powerful force. And often each single factor, all by itself, is enough to sway an outcome. One factor, if added or subtracted from a game plan, can determine winning or losing. But, even though that’s true, you can’t say that one specific factor is responsible. Each factor makes a difference. But the determining difference is all the factors collectively.
Question 3: So what factors make that difference in poker?
I want you to think very clearly about this list. If you’re a small lifetime loser, then:
1. If you’d chosen weaker games, you probably would be a winner.
2. If you’d been slightly more selective about the games you chose, you probably would be a winner.
3. If you’d been drawn out on five percent less often, you probably would be a winner.
4. If you’d consistently paid attention to which seat you selected—sitting to the left of the loosest and weakest opponents, you probably would be a winner.
5. If you had chosen the most obvious tactics most of the time, rather than trying to be fancy and creative, you probably would be a winner. And this list goes on and on. It includes tells, bankroll management, choice of stakes, bluffing, calling, attitude, you name it. Improve one positive factor and it can tip the long-range scales in your favor. Take away one positive factor and you do much worse.
As an example, you might complain about times you get drawn out on in poker. But, remember, you draw out sometimes, too. And take away those lucky draw outs when you really didn’t “deserve to win” that pot, and you lose for your lifetime in a big way. In fact, no poker player ever won in the long run without drawing out on opponents.
Question 4: You some-times say that getting drawn out on is a good thing and that you should strive to get drawn out on more than you draw out on others. Is this a shift in your thinking?
Let me try again. Yes, if you get drawn out on often, as a portion of the hands you play, that’s a good sign and means you’re a likely long-range winner. That’s because it implies that you usually competed with the better hand and the only way you could lose was to be drawn out on. You had no opportunity to draw out on an opponent. That’s why weak players win a disproportionately large share of their pots by drawing out. And strong players lose a disproportionately large share of their pots by being drawn out on. Fine. But no matter how good a poker player you become, you’re still going to occasionally find yourself against a better hand. Sometimes, you’ll get lucky and win. I’m saying that without those lucky hands, nobody could win.
Question 5: Are you saying that luck determines whether you win at poker?
Nope. I’m saying that if you take away any one of many single factors that work in your favor—getting lucky by drawing out being only one of them—that it’s enough to turn winning into losing. Add in or improve anything from a list of positive factors and you can change from a loser to a winner. I’m talking about a bundle of factors. From now on, you need to start seeing poker skill as a bundle. Factors all make a difference collectively. Many of them make enough difference individually to determine your fate.
But, of these individual factors, you shouldn’t pick and choose. You wrongly conclude that hurricane Sandy cost Romney the election. Or you could say it was the impression many had of him as aloof—or the press, or any of many other choices. And each one did make the difference. But it’s the bundle together that did it. In poker, too, it’s the bundle that matters. Try to improve everything, because anything matters by itself. It’s the bundle.
Question 6: Any closing thoughts?
Like so many in our poker community, I was devastated that both Lou Krieger and John Sutton died this month. Lou was editor of Poker Player for years and a remarkable friend to poker. John contributed as much to our industry as anyone ever. Both lived lives of dignity. They mattered and made a difference. I will miss them always.
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.poker1.com or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.