The great “Don’ts” of professional poker


Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was originally published (1992) in Card Player magazine.

Rediscovered and added to Poker1 in 2014.


Here I am in my room, sad and sulking. Today a reporter asked me what professional poker players do that’s different from what typical, friendly, Friday-night losers do.

I said, “Pros treat poker like a business. Pros respect the game enough to study the strategic science of poker. And that science eventually overwhelms luck at the poker table.”

My words were forceful and true. But it wasn’t a good answer. And that’s why I’m sulking and sad. What I should have said was: “It’s not what pros do, it’s what they don’t do that makes them excel.”

How to win by not doing things. Here’s a list of some great “don’ts” of professional poker. All are things that most pros usually don’t do, and because they don’t do them, they win.

1. Pros don’t count their chips while they’re sitting at the table. Like hell! I just put that in to get your attention. Contrary to folklore, most pros know exactly where they stand at all times. They equate this to a football coach looking at the scoreboard.

2. Pros don’t try to prevent bluffs when they intend to call. Violation of this drives me nuts every time I see it! Typical poker players feel uncomfortable with medium-strong hands on final betting rounds. So, often they reach for their chips early to threaten opponents into not betting. Then, if the threat fails, they call. Bad tactic! If you expect to call, you don’t want to discourage bluffs. Bluffs are what you can beat!

3. Pros don’t worry about whether they win or lose on a given day. It’s the amount of chips they accumulate in their lifetimes that matters to them.

4. Pros don’t bet marginal hands into foes who bluff too often. When you know opponents are bluffers and you have a reasonable hand, it’s often better to check and call than to bet.

5. Pros don’t worry about winning pots. They worry about making profitable decisions, even if this means surrendering a pot they might have won.

6. Pros don’t believe that bad luck can stop them. They expect to win eventually, and they will.

7. Pros go into a game with a basic strategy. Therefore, they aren’t bewildered by confronting common poker situations. They know what to do in advance, and they can use their mental energy to look for extra edges.

8. Pros don’t try to impress opponents. They just try to win.

That’s what I should have said.  — 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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  1. Good stuff as usual Mike. For me the best bluffs are situation based. If I have two or three limpers and I make a big bluff bet, usually (but not always) I can take the pot down. I will only do that in position and if I sense a lot of weakness around the table. Just my view.

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