McHaffie: MCU lesson 063 / Simpler is better


Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in Poker Player newspaper in 2005.

This is part of a series by Diane McHaffie. She wasn’t a poker player when she began writing this series. These entries chronicle the lessons given to her personally by Mike Caro. Included in her remarkable  poker-learning odyssey are additional comments, tips, and observations from Mike Caro.

Diane McHaffie index.

Diane McHaffie is Director of Operations at Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy. She has traveled the world coordinating events and seminars in the interest of honest poker. You can write her online at diane@caro.com.


Diane McHaffie

Lessons from MCU

— With bonus content by Mike Caro (pending) —

Lesson 63: Simpler is better

Today’s lesson pertains to being faced with an event that has occurred in which there are a variety of descriptions on how it happened. Now you’re faced with the problem of deciding which story is the correct one. Well, according to Mike, there is a 14th century English philosopher, known as William of Ockham, (spelled Occam today) who popularized a theory in his day that today’s scientists have reinterpreted. The theory states that when there’s a variety of speculations on how an incident came about, the simplest explanation is usually the best. So, simpler is usually better.

For instance, if you were up late the night before, alone, watching TV, then retired for the evening, the following morning you might make your way down to the kitchen to discover that the tea pitcher was mysteriously sitting on the counter. Now you could assume that someone had been in your house during the night and consumed some of your tea, or put something damaging into it, or you could have left it out the night before by mistake. Which is the most likely possibility? Yes, you are probably the guilty culprit. Someone else could have done it, but it’s most unlikely. It’s an Occam’s Razor concept – what happened to the tea pitcher is probably going to be whatever is most obvious.

Interesting advice

Now, as it relates to poker, Mike says, “the simplest choice of strategy is usually the best.” There’s been some advice handed out in the past about how you should handle the flop in hold ‘em if you’re holding an inside straight draw. Some have said that you should bet it, hoping opponents will be fooled and that you’ll either win because they throw their hands away or you’ll get lucky and make the straight when they stubbornly call.

That’s a complicated play, and it has its moments, Mike says. Against the right type of opponents, in the right states of mind, it can be profitable. But, it isn’t the obvious play. The obvious play is to check, because an inside straight draw isn’t strong enough to bet routinely. Mike points out, in response to the bet-the-inside-straight-draw recommendation, that “had this been presented as a rare exception, it would have been profitable advice, but the experts are violating Occam’s Razor by ignoring the obvious explanation of what you should do, and that is check.”

Even as a skilled poker player, the obvious conclusion is usually the right one. But, following that simple rule can sometimes be difficult, because when we acquire skills, we enjoy showing them off. It’s undoubtedly an ego thing – people are proud by nature. We want to be recognized for our talents. And poker can be frustrating, because it’s hard to make opponents recognize that you’re talented.

If we play hands the same routine ways that less-accomplished players do, we may fear that others won’t understand our superiority. People in everyday life like to show off their talents, too. But in poker, that can devastate your bankroll, according to Mike.

Sophisticated plays

He recommends that you save your sophisticated plays for times when they’re clearly to your advantage. When in doubt, choose the more obvious poker solution. When simpler strategies are better there’s no need to try fancier ones.

I hope you’ve found today’s lesson as meaningful as I did when I discovered it among Mike’s arsenal of poker wisdom. I can look back and remember times when I’ve acted fancy in life when acting less creatively would have been a better choice.

In poker, there’s a time and a place for tricky tactics, but – unless you’re sure – the solution is probably less involved. If you’ve acquired expertise at poker, be prudent about being fancy. Remember William of Ockham. Simpler is usually better. And simpler is also often more profitable when you’re playing poker. — DM

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