More things poker pros must never do


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


Last time, we discussed five behaviors that professional poker players should always avoid. Do you remember what they were? Of course not. I had to look them up, myself.

Here’s the short version of what was discussed:

1. Never assume your bankroll is big enough. Pros shouldn’t yield to the assumption that their bankroll is substantial enough to handle a crisis. They’ll probably encounter bad runs of cards that cost more and last longer than anticipated. The urge to siphon money from a fairly new and growing bankroll must be resisted.

2. Never be vacuumed into a game. Pros shouldn’t find the adventure of playing larger games irresistible.

3. Never get discouraged. Pros shouldn’t become discouraged when fate torments them.

4. Never try to impress opponents. Pros shouldn’t ever modify their poker tactics in order to show other players how good they are.

5. Never be embarrassed about playing smaller. Pros shouldn’t feel awkward about competing for smaller stakes. Finding the most profitable poker games at reduced risk is a key to success.

I explained that ignoring anything on that list could destroy a poker career. And I said the list wasn’t finished. Today, we’ll add another three things professional players should never do. Will that complete the list? No. But it will make it bigger. Here goes…

6. Never demean opponents. Wow! This makes me angry. And I’ve seen it violated so many times, I fell like barging headlong, full speed into a stone wall. But last time I tried that, it hurt.

Here’s the deal with this one. Some would-be world-class players tend to be sarcastic. They try to humiliate less-capable opponents who make weak poker decisions. This is especially true if the opponent got lucky with a terrible decision, costing the superior player the pot.

Ask those superior players why they do it, and sometimes they’ll say something like, “Ridicule aggravates the suckers and puts them on tilt. When they’re mad at me, they play awful!”

Of course, that’s a rationalization. That isn’t really the reason they demean weak opponents. They do it because they’re emotionally upset by the misfortune and are expressing anger, through ridicule. That’s what it is. Period. But, when they do that, they’re making opponents feel uncomfortable about playing poorly. We don’t want to do that, because all the money we’ll ever earn at poker in the long run comes from poor plays by opponents. If they played correctly, we wouldn’t win.

And, there’s something much worse that happens. Sure, we might – that’s might, maybe, possibly – get them upset enough to make another bad play, but what’s going to happen is they’re less likely to play inferior hands against us for fear of being humiliated again. Each player, even our loosest and weakest opponent, has a spectrum of hands that he or she will usually enter pots with. The weaker the low end of this spectrum, the more money we make.

When we embarrass these opponents, they become uncomfortable about stretching this spectrum against us and they play fewer weak hands. The trick is to make them feel happy about gambling with us. Treat them kindly whenever their weak plays win. Have fun. Giggle. Then they won’t avoid competing against us with poor hands in the future.

Listen! This is one of the great natural laws of poker. All opponents have discretionary money to spend recklessly. We want to encourage them to choose us. If we demean them, they play better, or choose someone more pleasant for their weak decisions.

7. Never let personal investment dictate a poker decision. Hey! It never matters mathematically whether the whole pot was donated by a passerby or if it’s mostly your money. What you have “invested” is never a factor. All poker decisions should be made on the basis of what you figure to win and how much it will cost to pursue the pot. Nothing else matters.

8. Never invent tells to bolster your preferred decision. I’m told that the studies I’ve published regarding tells have helped players win. I’m proud as a pigeon or a peacock or whatever each time I hear that. But I know that I’ve also hurt many players by talking about tells.

How come? It’s because the whole concept of poker tells is often used as an excuse to make inferior choices. Players want to call. Good players. Bad players. They all enter a poker game hoping to see action. They don’t sit down hoping they get to fold every hand.

So, what? I’ll tell you so what. It means that players – you, me, them – have a natural bias toward calling. Professional players must learn to use tells to enhance their decisions, regardless of whether that makes them call more or fold more. Here’s the problem. It’s human nature to notice tells that provide reasons to call and ignore tells that suggest we should fold.

If you approach tells that way, you’re better off not trying to use them at all. Worse, some players invent tells that push them toward calling. They pretend to see things that aren’t there. They trick their own brains. Professional players must never do that.

If you don’t approach poker tells scientifically, they’ll bite you in the butt. And players with sore butts lose money. Do the math.

Speaking of math, I’ve already told you that this list is incomplete. So, exactly how many items should there be?

Actually, the math used to logically calculate that answer is surprisingly easy. It’s simply 264 divided by 11, plus 57. That gives us 81 main categories of things that professional poker players must never do – which is pretty obvious when you think about 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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