Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2011) in Poker Player newspaper.
From time to time, we talk about concepts that govern poker and life. But what exactly is a concept? A winning tactic? An unproven theory? An opinion? A tip?
In today’s self-interview, we’ll talk about some of the key concepts of poker. Then you’ll understand what they are and why they work. Go.
Question 1: Before you do that, don’t leave us hanging. What is a poker concept, actually?
Who cares? The word “concept” covers a lot of territory and means different things to different people. It has multiple definitions in most dictionaries. Mainly it’s just something that was thought up by someone.
A concept can be visionary. It can be a mental image of your dream home. It can be a governing idea about how people interact or about how something should work. Concepts are abstract. They exist in your mind and you can convey them to others. They can encompass great truth or be wholly false.
So, I guess you’re asking what I mean, personally, by a poker concept. Okay. When it comes from me, it’s a great, governing truth that originated in my head – often supported by my poker research and analysis. When I use the word “concepts,” I’m talking about poker gospel. I don’t promote concepts that are speculative. If I talk about a winning concept surrounding poker, you can take it to the bank. It’s the nuts.
Question 2: Well, aren’t you just a little too egotistical today? So, what would be one of your poker concepts that you can take to the bank?
Caro’s First Law of Tells states: Players are either acting or they aren’t. If they are acting, then decide what they want you to do and disappoint them.
The entirety of my teachings about poker tells is based on that single concept. It means that, when you’re playing at a poker table, your first job is to decide whether or not your opponent is acting.
You often can determine this by asking yourself a simple question: “Is Bob’s action necessary?” When Bob is involved in a pot, he’s going to keep his actions focused on the decisions he needs to make in pursuit of the money. Anything abnormal or unusual probably is an act, even if it seems subtle.
So, listen and look for Bob’s unnecessary sounds or motions. What’s he saying? What’s he doing? If anything seems exaggerated or beyond the flow of the situation, it’s likely to be an act. And if Bob is acting, those actions, words, or other sounds are intended to deceive opponents. So, when you notice any of this, try to figure out what Bob is trying to convince you to do.
If there’s a faint shrug or sigh accompanying Bob’s bet, it was done to influence you. It suggests Bob has a weak hand. But the truth is the opposite. He’s trying to trick you into calling.
Don’t. You can take the money you save to the bank. So, that’s the concept: Disappoint Bob.
Question 3: That’s a good one. Any more?
How about Caro’s Conception? That’s a concept that says life and poker often mimics the game of rock, paper, scissors. In that game, two players simultaneous make one of those three gestures with a hand. Rock wins by breaking scissors; paper wins by covering rock; and scissors win by cutting paper.
There is no one gesture that outranks the others. Each is ideally suited to win against one opposing gesture. Caro’s Conception suggests that something similar happens at the poker table and in real life.v
In poker, it explains why Felix wins money against Bill and Bill wins money against Linda, but Linda beats Felix. You might assume Linda would be at the bottom of that poker heap, but she’s also, simultaneously, at the top.
Bluffers beat timid players. Timid players beat loose players. But loose players beat bluffers. Not in every case, of course, but whenever those traits collide, that’s who has the advantage. And, sure, weak players eventually lose and strong players eventually win, regardless of the strategies.
That’s not my point. Against equally skillful poker players, strategies can overlap. Some strategies beat others. But the losing strategy in that matchup might be conceived to beat a different strategy. And that second losing different strategy, seeming to rank at the lowest level, actually is perfectly designed to beat the first strategy that seemed to rank highest.
Caro’s Conception also applies to real life and explains why Paul is great friends with George, and George is pals with Richard, but Richard and Paul hate each other.
In poker, you need to be on alert for collisions in strategy that aren’t working in your favor. That’s why you often need to shift gears in a poker game and vary your tactics, depending on the opponent. Learning how to adjust correctly is pure profit.
Question 4: That’s pretty good. Could you share one final concept today?
Okay. Let’s talk about Caro’s Law of Loose Wiring.
This is how it reads: If choices are not clearly connected to their benefits, people usually interact in ways that make outcomes unpredictable. If choices are clearly connected to their benefits, people sometimes interact in ways that make outcomes unpredictable.
In poker, most decisions are borderline. Most hands that are played could have been folded. Most hands that are bet could have been checked. And so forth. Only a small percentage of poker actions have an obvious single choice.
Because of this, the same players, playing the same cards could create a huge pot one hand and a tiny pot the next. The opponents competing for the pot could be different, too. That happens when players make decisions by whim.
Since so many decisions are made by whim, anything is possible. But the good thing is that these players are standing on a fence and a gust of wind can blow them off toward one side or the other. That’s one of your jobs in a poker game – to provide the wind.
You can influence players who have borderline decisions to make. You can convince them to fold if you’re bluffing and convince them to call when your hand is strong. It’s the power of poker psychology and the reason I spend so much time describing people tactics, and not only pure mathematically derived strategy.
It’s because of Caro’s Law of Loose Wiring and the concept that if decisions aren’t clear, anything is possible (in poker and in life) and you can influence the outcomes. You have that power in poker.
Question 5: Are there any concepts you’re working on that you haven’t made public yet?