Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in Poker Player newspaper in 2009.
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 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 email@example.com.
Lessons from MCU
— With bonus content by Mike Caro (pending) —
Lesson 162: Comprehending your adversaries
You take a seat at a table, ready to play poker. Curious about your adversaries, you glance around. Your observations will determine how you’ll play.
You make some immediate determinations, realizing that these initial guesses may be false or need to be modified. Still, you’re willing to stereotype, because it gives you a starting point, which is usually more profitable than making no assumptions at all.
One of the players is clothed in a vivid Hawaiian shirt. You muse that he’s probably going to play rather loosely, making it easy to get calls.
The gentleman next to him is sitting stiffly, wearing a dark shirt and sports jacket, suggesting that he’s a serious player who will rarely bluff. If he bets or raises, he probably has an impressive hand. Beware!
Then there’s the rotund guy in jeans and a tee shirt emblazoned with a growling Rottweiler. He’s puffing a cigar, beads of sweat gleaming on his balding forehead, bragging loudly about a recent conquest. He’s the bully of the table, launching himself daringly into many hands. Don’t go to battle with him; allow him to hang himself.
As you play your first hand, you continue to make assumptions. If the lady sitting next to you, wearing a floppy hat, sporting overpowering perfume, bets and leans over and tells you not to call, should you believe her? Yes, she’s usually being truthful, but secretly hoping you won’t believe her.
You’ve just glanced down at your cards, wishing that lady had skimped on the perfume, to discover that you have an awesome hand. You want as many calls as possible. Understanding that your opponents came to the casino to be involved in pots, you know it’s up to you to manipulate them. So, you rustle around in your chair, as if trying to get comfortable, while accidentally knocking over some of your chips. Reuben, the Hawaiian shirt guy immediately calls you. Fantastic!
Hey! Mike was right! The players do come to the game with a “calling reflex.” They merely need a reason to call. Well, all right! Let’s give them reasons. Clyde, the bully, glances at you, puffing on his smelly cigar. You unwrap your bubble gum and pop it into your mouth, chewing rapidly. Clyde smirks and calls. Gotcha!
You’ve been involved in the game for quite some time now. A new player arrives. Timidly, in a quiet voice he introduces himself as Evan. Ah, here’s your golden opportunity. You guess that this player just made a deal with himself; he’s going to play better now. No unnecessary risks, no siree! Bluff him! Go for it while you can. It will take Evan several hands before he loses the bargain with himself. Unless he holds excellent cards, his money is yours for the taking.
Reuben hasn’t been having a nice evening. His chips are dwindling. Suddenly he wins a pot, then another, his chip pile now gradually rebuilding, gaining momentum. He’s going to tighten his play now, to refrain from endangering his newly acquired chips. No longer will he be loose and wild, ready to call anything.
The player to your left needs to be your best buddy. It’s necessary to chat in harmony with him, inspiring him to like you. Buy him a soda, be compassionate. If he likes you he’ll be less likely to pounce at every opportunity. He has positional advantage over you so it is within his power to make your life miserable. Spare yourself the misery.
Mike claims that women are more inclined to call than men. And they’re often correct in this inclination, because they tend to be targets of bluffing more often than men. Older men are more susceptible to bluffing, whereas the youngsters at the table are less likely to be reeled in by your bluffing attempts.
So, the next time you sit down at a table, glance causally at your adversaries and make determinations. Are they conservative, loose, or bullies? Play accordingly, unless they demonstrate that they are different than the stereotype. Mike says that, in poker, an intelligent guess is usually more profitable than waiting for evidence. — DM