Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. This 2004 column was the first from Mike Caro published in the reincarnated Poker Player newspaper.
In the 1980s, his column appeared there, and he served as its editor-in-chief. That pioneering newspaper, founded by Stan Sludikoff, was not published for many years, but has once again become a leading force in the poker industry.
Sometimes I like to call people idiots. Not to their face, because that might make them mad. Not behind their backs, because that would be beneath my dignity. So, I settle for calling them idiots in my imagination. I’m usually angry when this happens, but I get over it quickly, and then I regret hurting their imaginary feelings.
Like today. Right now I’m mad because some otherwise-intelligent experts keep diminishing the importance of psychology in poker. They say image doesn’t matter much. Today’s word pops into my mind. Let me set the record straight by sharing an Internet post I made on March 1, 1997. It has been republished several times, but it summarizes the philosophy that I’ll often use in this column to teach world-class poker, and I’d be honored if you’d read it now. It was in response to a question about what you should say after you’ve thrown your cards away and an opponent asks what you had. This is how I responded…
A land where money grows
This is a long answer to a very important question. What you’re asking about is not a trivial part of poker. Beyond the basics — well, maybe FAR beyond the basics — there exists the land of psychology and manipulation. It is the land of poker where money grows wild.
After you’re comfortable that you’ve mastered superior skills, you should always seek to enhance your image in a way that will bring maximum profit. Usually (not always), this means strengthening an image that will bring you extra calls when you have an edge.
Many will argue that you really want to be able to bluff, and — because stealing a whole pot can be so valuable relative to just winning an extra call — they believe you should strive for a tight image, instead of a loose one. Sometimes that’s right. But, the problem with their approach is that your opponents’ main weakness is usually that they call too often. You should take advantage of that weakness, and try to convince them to make their favorite mistake even more frequently. This can be a gold mine of extra profit.
I’m straying from the answer to your question, but I’ll get back to it, and it will all tie in. Trust me. If you are in a loose game and you try to create an image suitable to bluff with, you must first condition your opponents to ignore their weakness of calling too much, then take them through a time when they are calling about the right amount of the time, then — finally — into a mood where they are bluffable. It takes a lot of work to do this magic in a loose game, and you make less money than you would if you simply went after the calls in the first place.
Should you be in that game?
What about enhancing your chances of successfully bluffing in a tight game by creating a conservative (tight) image? Fine. But do you really need to be in that tight game in the first place? (By the way, it’s much easier to manipulate tight players into becoming loose players than vice versa.)
Now to answer your question. What should you say when an opponent asks what you had after you threw your cards away? Since I’m always trying to establish my most profitable image, anytime someone asks me to say something, I consider that an invitation to add to my stack without having to work hard.
If it’s a loose, wild, unpredictable image I’m working on (which is usually the case), I’ll say something playful like, "I wasn’t bluffing that time…oh, don’t give me that look [speaking to nobody in particular, but implying that someone is questioning me], I don’t always bluff," or "I’m embarrassed to tell you, but he [again speaking about no one in particular] saw what I’ve been playing. I was going to bluff, but I didn’t have to — I caught the perfect card. You made a good laydown." That latter bit, if delivered right, makes an opponent feel friendly toward me and determined to call me the next time.
There’s are hundreds of things I say, but the lines must be delivered smoothly. Your opponents must feel that they’re being confused, but not conned, by your words. What you put in their heads is very important. You are planting doubts for future use. As you sow, so shall you reap.
This is an art, and it will take a lot of practice to develop, but you have a great opportunity to add to your bankroll whenever an opponent asks about your hand. I know, I know. Many of you think this part of poker is frivolous and not in the same league with careful statistical analysis of how to play strategic situations.
I’m as fascinated by statistical analysis of poker problems as anyone. And I’ll continue to research, publish, and analyze in this area for a long time. However, when we argue statistically about the best play, we’re usually dealing with a situation that is close, and the resulting extra profit from making the right choice is sometimes small. But when we talk about the right image, the profit can be huge, and even the proper tone of voice can mean the difference between getting a call and not getting one, or making a sale and not making one.
That’s how my 1997 post ended. Think about it. And whenever people tell you psychology doesn’t matter much in poker, remember today’s word. — MC