Tuesday Sessions 36: Answering common questions

Index to Tuesday Sessions

The following lecture was the 36th Tuesday Session, held June 15, 1999, and later appeared in Card Player magazine.

Classroom Lectures: Some of Poker’s Most Meaningful Questions

There are questions I get asked over and over in poker. Many of them don’t have interesting answers. We’ll ignore them for now. But many common questions do have interesting answers, and I’ll deal with some of those today. And you know what? Sometimes poker players talk about interesting stuff related to the game – stuff that suggests a common question that they simply forget to ask. That drives me nuts. So, I’ll ask some of those questions for them and I’ll give you the answers.

The following is taken from the 36th in my series of Tuesday Session classroom lectures at Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy. The lecture was held on June 15, 1999. This is from the handout that accompanied the lecture, and it has been specially enhanced for Card Player. The title of the lecture was …

"Answering Poker’s Most Common Questions"

1. Should you play seven-card stud or hold ’em?

Now that’s an interesting question, and one that I hear over and over. I guess the reason is that the questioner is either thinking about specializing in a single game or believes that one of the two forms of poker is the clearer path to riches. Actually, the answer is that you will earn more money overall if you learn to profitably play seven-card stud, hold ’em, and other popular forms of poker. Then, you can choose the best game that’s available at any given time. You don’t want to be sitting in a hold ’em game, unable to play, on that rare occasion when some Bill Gates clone unloads $10 million at the stud table five feet away. Just listening to the BGC giggling and not caring might permanently scar you psychologically. However, in general, you’ll have fewer fluctuations and will win more consistently playing hold ’’em. Also, hold ’’em tends to be more profitable against inexperienced opponents. Assuming that you know what you’re doing, when hold’em first is introduced in a locale, the games tend to be incredibly good for a while. As new players learn that a pair of fours wasn’t as good as they thought, they tend to play better and the games get tougher. And as new players who don’t learn that a pair of fours wasn’t as good as they thought, they go broke and the games among surviving players become tougher. That’s a good time to find a lively stud game.

2. In which game does position matter most?

Position matters most in games in which you consistently can act last during all rounds of betting and that are neither too loose nor too tight. "Crapshoot" games with many players paying reraise prices to hope for miracle cards are not as greatly positional. You don’t need to know what opponents are likely to do before they act. You already pretty much know one thing they’re not going to do – fold. When you’re against sensible opponents, some of the best positional games are hold ’’em, draw, and lowball.

3. What’s the most profitable advice for most players?

Quit. Since most poker players lose, and cannot easily be urged to learn enough to win, the most profitable advice is that which keeps them from playing. I don’t want you to quit, because I think you’d be missing one of the greatest experiences in the history of humanity. Even if you don’t win overall, you’ll probably find poker to be a worthwhile adventure. But why not win?

4. When is it bad to choose a tricky alternative strategy?

When it’s not needed. The most obvious and straightforward strategy makes the most money. Deviate from it only if there’s a reason to do so, such as being deceptive for future profit or making extra money right now. That’s a tough thing to teach, because skillful players often enjoy making unusual plays. The trick is to mentally condition yourself to make these plays only for profit, not for show. If there isn’t a clear and compelling reason to play a poker hand in an unusual way, don’t.

5. Should you play tighter on a limited bankroll?

Yes – unless the bankroll is so small that it isn’t worth protecting. You need to sacrifice some of the aggressive but risky profit you’d make with daring bets, raises, and calls. Survival becomes the more important factor with a limited bankroll. So, you should play tighter.

6. In hold ’’em, should you play 9-8 suited if first to act?

Only in a loose game without many aggressive opponents, and just sometimes. This hand, and 8-7 and 7-6 suited even to a greater degree are tremendously overvalued by average players, and often are played unprofitably by pros. Be selective with these hands.

7. Is a player probably bluffing who says that he’s bluffing?

No. But he’s more likely to be bluffing than usual, and you often should call with borderline hands. We’re talking about limit poker here. Because the size of the pot usually is much greater than the size of the call, you don’t need to win very many similar calls to show a profit. A player who tells you he’s bluffing is somewhat more likely to be bluffing. In fact, players verbally tell the truth about their hands a surprising amount of the time. Of course, in most games, a player who claims to be bluffing probably is lying more than half the time. So, you’ll probably lose if you call. But he is telling the truth enough of the time that if your decision was otherwise borderline, you should strongly consider calling.

8. What percent of players have more winning hours than losing hours?

Zero. In most full-handed poker games, an hour is too short a time for you to have a sufficient chance of winning the big pots that often are needed to score an overall profit. Often, you will win no pots whatsoever in an hour’s time. This is easy to grasp if you asked, "What percent of players win more than they lose in a one-minute period?" Clearly, most players will just lose an ante – if there is one – on a given hand, which is all you can expect to play (at most) in a minute. The same concept applies to an hour, but to a smaller degree. So, yes, I’ll entertain arguments that some players in some games can have more winning hours through eternity than losing hours – but it’s not likely.

9. Who keeps accurate records of how much money they make bluffing?

Nobody. They can’t. If your bluff seems successful, you’re seldom sure whether the hand that was folded was actually better than yours. This illusion – that a bluff succeeded when you might have won anyway – is one reason why so many players think a bluffing strategy works better than it does. Against most opponents, you need to pick your bluffing spots very carefully. They tend to call too often – and this means that you are apt to lose money to them in the long run if you bluff. – MC

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Mike Caro

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Known as the “Mad Genius of Poker,” Mike Caro is generally regarded as today's foremost authority on poker strategy, psychology, and statistics. He is the founder of Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy (MCU). See full bio → HERE.

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