Exploring even more of poker’s hidden concepts


Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was originally published (2012) in Bluff magazine under the same title.


Poker is a game of deep theory and great illusions. Some of the most-profitable truths aren’t obvious. In two previous sessions, we’ve explored four of these hidden concepts. Today, we’ll add two more.

Concept 5: The fountain of poker success

I still remember Howard telling me something decades ago that haunts me today. It was his most profound advice and he was perfectly proud of it. “If you get good enough at poker,” he asserted, “you don’t need to worry about how good your opponents are. Once you become the best, the money flows from a fountain. And it doesn’t matter who you play against.”

I said nothing.

He continued, punctuating his final words with a dramatically deepened voice. “So, once you’re that great – and I think I am – you don’t have to look for good games. Every game is good.”

Still I said nothing. Not then. But I’ll say it now.

Why Howard was wrong

Let me tell you why Howard was wrong. First, he was wrong because he wasn’t as good at poker as he believed, and he sadly went broke several months later. He vowed to return, but it never happened. Second, he was wrong because there isn’t that much difference between the best player in the world and the thousandth-best player. Sure, there’s a difference, but it’s hard to prove.

We all have egos. I sincerely believe I’m better at playing poker than any living human. But I don’t play many tournaments – today’s apparent measurement – so, it’s difficult to demonstrate. Why do I think I’m the best? It’s because I’ve done the research that many talented players use and I’m arguably as good at reading tells and manipulating opponents as anyone. But you don’t have to give me credit for Caro’s Book of Tells or for my work with artificial poker intelligence. You can believe I can’t play worth a lick. And maybe you’re right. That isn’t the point.

The point is that I think I’m the best, but I realize that in a nine-handed game against the next-best eight players, I would have to be lucky to win. There isn’t enough difference in skill to prove anything. In such a game, lucky players would win in the short term. And even during a year of play, luck could easily overshadow tiny differences in skill. Do you hear what I’m saying?

No guarantee

I’m saying that being the best poker player isn’t enough to guarantee you profit, when you consider rake and other expenses. In a raked poker game among the top nine players in the world, everyone will eventually lose. Your chance of winning depends on whom you play against. And that’s why when Howard said that money flows from a fountain to the best player in the world, no matter the opponents, he was talking nonsense.

Indeed, money does flow from a fountain in poker. And if you have great skills, you can win because of that. But you have to understand one more thing first. Listen closely.

It isn’t your skill at poker that determines profit. It’s the difference between your skill and that of your opponents. It’s the difference. The difference. The difference.

That’s why your main mission is to find the weakest opponents you can. Being capable of playing against the best players at the biggest table is great. Just don’t do it. Most players who do that end up losing. At the same time, some players with only medium-strong skills win tons of money, because they find opponents much weaker than they are.

So, that’s the hidden truth. You can be a great player and still lose. Or you can be a mediocre player and win consistently forever. Whatever your skill, you need to start finding the easiest opponents.

Concept 6: Your opponents should have fun losing

If you can decide the right decisions to make based on how opponents should logically play, you’ve chosen the wrong opponents. Yes, there’s a time for figuring out an opponent’s reasonable thought process and trying to use superior counter measures to win. But that’s only when you find yourself against sensible opponents. And the less that happens, the better.

Now that you understand that you need to find weak foes, there’s something else you need to know. Most weak opponents play poker for the thrill. They hope to win, but that isn’t their motivation for playing. They want to have fun.

If you’re grumpy or if you ridicule their play, they’ll grow uncomfortable and have less fun. Your objective should to make them happy. Don’t be upset when they make ridiculous decisions that cost you the pot. They played unprofitably and that’s what you want them to do. Be glad.

Weak opponents are your best customers, and your job is to make them happy. Never forget that primary goal. Socialize. Be friendly. Make them happy.

Remember, you can beat players who are predictable and logical. But you’ll make a lot more money against opponents who are unpredictable and illogical. The trick is to sit in a game against players who will play poor hands in unpredictable ways and giggle while they do it. — MC

Published by

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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