Tuesday Sessions 43: Advice from earlier sessions

Index to Tuesday Sessions

The following lecture was the 43rd Tuesday Session, held August 10, 1999,
and later appeared in Card Player magazine.

Classroom Lectures: Profitable Poker Insights From The Very First
Tuesday Lectures At MCU

Today we will conclude our classroom lectures that I originally presented live at Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy at Hollywood Park Casino. In the next issue, we’ll move on to new territory within the poker frontier. If you’ve followed this series from the beginning, you might have noticed that I skipped some of the earliest sessions. That’s because I hadn’t yet transferred them from a computer at my Hollywood Park office to the home computer where I usually create this column. I still haven’t done that, but I’m working on a secret method to discipline my life and conduct myself normally like everyone else. That method could be activated any year, at any time. I’ll let you know. Meanwhile, I thought the very last lecture in the Tuesday Session series would be a good way to close this classroom experiment. It was about some of my favorite advice from the earliest sessions. Some will be new to you and some will re-emphasize some important concepts you’ve already read earlier. When I finally send the four or so missing sessions to my home computer, I’ll write columns about them, too. So, eventually, we’ll each have a complete set.

The following is taken from the 43rd and final lecture in my series of Tuesday Sessions at MCU. The lecture was held on Aug. 10, 1999. The title was …

Favorite Advice From Our Earliest Sessions

1. If you scrutinize opponents, you can make them put on "acts" – and they’ll become easier to read. If your opponents don’t think you’re paying attention, they’re much less likely to go to the trouble of acting in a way designed to deceive you (and, unintentionally, in a way that makes them easier to read). But the more your opponents believe they are being watched, the more likely they are to act deceptively in an effort to deceive you. So, just making opponents aware that you are watching them closely sometimes can help generate tells. Remember, when they act weak, they’re apt to be strong; when they act strong, they’re apt to be weak. Conversely, there are some nonacting tells that you are more likely to spot if opponents don’t think you’re watching – quick, secretive glances at their chips in preparation for a bet, for instance.

2. When you see a tell, don’t react right away. If you react without hesitation – or, worse, if you brag about deciphering the tell – you might prompt your opponent to make a correction. But if you hesitate briefly before you fold or call in reaction to the tell and act as if you’re uncertain, you’ll probably be able to profit from that same tell again in the future. This is one of the things that is hardest to teach, because players naturally have pride in their poker skills. But sometimes it’s a profitable poker skill in itself to not make others aware of what you know about them.

3. Pay attention to the tail end of a bet. Subtle extra emphasis or force means the opponent is apt to be bolstering himself to convince you that his hand is strong. It’s probably weak, so tend to call. This extra emphasis is very difficult to spot at first, but becomes easier and easier with practice. One of the "missions" I sometimes recommend to students is to spend an entire session just watching the tail ends of bets. If there is a little extra flare, the chances are greater than usual that the hand is weak – or that you’re watching a bluff in action.

4. Watch for wiggles. On a final-round bet, if you act as if you’re about to call and your opponent freezes, this usually means you’re facing a weak hand or a bluff. If his wiggling continues, you’re usually facing a strong hand and the bettor isn’t concerned about a call. This is a powerful category of tell that you should pay special attention to if you want to extract the most money from your opponents.

5. How can you handle a bully? It’s not uncommon to find players who through their demeanor and actions try to "bull" the game. Your best strategy isn’t to retaliate. It’s simply to call more often, but to otherwise play rationally. There is no meaningful defense for this tactic.

6. What to do against a bet when you’re in the middle on the last betting round. You usually should just call with most hands that seem strong enough to raise. Save your raises for your very strongest hands. Research has shown that you’ll make more money just calling with powerful, but not cinch, hands. The exception is when you think there’s a strong chance that the bettor is bluffing and you have a good chance of driving out a potential winning caller who is waiting to act. So, the secret on the final betting round is, don’t raise in the middle from strength, seeking extra calls, unless you have overwhelming strength. If you raise with lesser-quality hands, make sure that you have some other motive in mind.

7. Strange, but true: One professional can play twice as many hands as another forever and both can earn the same amount of money! That’s because the bulk of "playable" hands are marginal. Tight players can avoid them almost entirely and loose players can play a few too many. These two types of not-quite-perfect pros may make identical profit with vastly different styles. Of course, the player who errs on the liberal side – without the psychological skills to take advantage of the effect that loose play has on opponents – usually will suffer much bigger up-and-down bankroll swings than the player who errs on the conservative side. That means more risk for the same amount of money. But if you know how to use a loose image to manipulate opponents, you can make them give you extra money with their submarginal hands. Still, the concept that one winning player can enter twice as many pots as another winning player is an important one. They both can earn the same in the long run.

8. If you’re averaging a big profit on your calls … you’re probably not calling enough. Unless you’re making all that profit on tells or by calling foes who bluff too much, you would like to see yourself break about even by calling on the river – on a per-call average. You easily could be the world champion of "profit per call" by calling only when you’re absolutely sure you’ll win. But then you’d lose money on all of the other calls you didn’t make – all of the times you didn’t defend against a bet because you weren’t positive of victory. Remember, in limit poker games, you need to win only once in a while to break even by calling on the last betting round. If the pot is $100 large and it costs $10 to call your only opponent, you need to win only one out of 11 times to break even. If you wait until you’re the favorite to win, your average call will seem to be worth a lot, but you’ll actually be losing money overall.

9. When to bet "second pair" on the flop in hold’em. Tend to do it (1) into timid foes, (2) when you have a big kicker, and (3) when the top rank is small.

10. Overcalling on the river. You need a substantially stronger hand than you would need to make the first call. If you think that you have just as good a chance of winning as the opponent who made the first call, that often isn’t enough! Again, assume that the pot is $100 large and it costs $10 to call. Against a single opponent, you should call if you’ll win at least one time in 11. But if another opponent calls first, the pot now is $110. It still costs $10 to call, so now you need to win only once in 12 times. But this is much harder to do, because if you beat the original bettor, you still have to beat the first caller. And you’ll beat the first caller only about half the time. That means that to justify an overcall, you need a hand that has almost twice as good a chance of beating the bettor as you would if you were the only opponent. In general, even professionals seem to ignore this concept and overcall too frequently in many situations. There are other theoretical factors that we should consider (such as how everything we’ve just discussed influences the first caller’s strategy), but we’ll leave it the way that it is for the sake of simplicity.

11. On the river, you often can bet weak hands into other hands that seem weak. Don’t wait for the showdown. You often will win a whole pot that you might win only half the time by checking to find out who’s weakest in a showdown. And you might have the best hand and lose the whole pot if you check and your opponent bluffs.

12. The less often an opponent calls … the more you should bluff and the less you should bet medium hands. I see many otherwise skillful players damage their bankrolls day after day by betting marginal hands aggressively into tight opponents. These are the people you should bluff, not the ones you should value bet.

13. The looser your image … the more easily you can fold strong hands! Most opponents bluff you less often when you’re loose or wild.

14. Against deceptive opponents … seldom raise with marginally strong hands. Violation of this rule also is among the main reasons that strong players damage their bankrolls. Value bets work best against opponents who call too often but don’t maximize their profit by raising with medium-strong hands. If you choose just loose and timid foes as targets of your value bets, you’ll do fine. Make it your policy. – 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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