Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was originally published (1987) in Poker Player Newspaper.
Rediscovered, updated, and added to Poker1 in 2014.
NOTE: This opening paragraph has been left intact for historical purposes only. Skip to next paragraph for logical beginning of this entry. Special message to friends, business associates, students and anyone else who’s been trying to reach me: You can’t. My phones are all off the hook, including the answering machine. I realize this is socially irresponsible, but it’s only temporary. I’m trying to meet a bunch of deadlines on various research and publishing projects. You understand don’t you?
Poker1 entry begins… Just got back from Reno. I’ll tell you why I was there in a minute. First I want to explain what happened between the times I was doing what I was there to do. Specifically, I played poker. The biggest game I could find in all of Reno was $10/$20 hold ’em. There’s nothing wrong with that limit if you’re a professional poker player. Colleagues tell me an expert can earn $50 an hour and more at that level in Los Angeles.
But when $10/$20 is the biggest game in town it may be less desirable because all the pros might be drawn to that one game. This concept applies to larger games as well. For instance, I typically find $50/$100 game more profitable when there’s a $100/$200 limit game in progress than when it is the biggest game going. Oddly, the exact opposite can happen sometimes, meaning the bigger game can be easier to beat. We’ll talk about that, too.
There are a couple of exceptions to the concept suggesting that the second-largest game is more profitable. First, if many serious players in the largest available limit want to play even bigger, they may feel frustrated and play poorly. Second, the largest limit sometimes attracts weak players with lots of money who would play bigger if they had the chance.
If a $100/$200 limit is the biggest the house has to offer, that game might collect every casual, unsophisticated players with money to burn. They’ll all be in that one game, but had they been given a wide selection of limits they might have divided themselves among $150/$300, $200/$400 and $300/$600 games. That having been said, it’s still true that in general the larger the limit, the tougher the competition.
Anyway, I played at the Reno Hilton. Nice folks. More relaxed than either Vegas or California. Lots of action at this $10/$20 table. So I decided to play practically every pot on the theory that you can be sociable and then make your most critical decisions after seeing the flop. Obviously, that’s not a good way to pursue maximum profit. But it’s a good way for the “Mad Genius” to show off by playing Harlem Globetrotter style poker. And that’s what I chose to do.
At a less-exaggerated level, there’s actually a key concept associated with this — one that I teach serious students. The concept is that you can afford to take the worst of it early if the later betting stages allow you to significantly outplay your opponents. In other words, you can afford to play somewhat looser than usual before the flop if your opponents play very weak beyond the flop.
It worked well. Played five hours, won $865. Then I met my brilliant long-time friend Dick Turnbull who has temporarily escaped from executive pressures and deals poker at the Hilton. This is truly a change of pace for Turnbull who toured the country giving Great Books Discussion leadership training courses when I was in high school. I invited him to sit down and watch me play expecting to put on a good demonstration of super-loose hand selection, even joking with opponents that I was going to play at every opportunity and to come and get me. This time I lost $1,220 in three hours.
Update: Sadly, Dick Turnbull was killed when hit by a car in Las Vegas during the 2013 World Series of Poker. He was the oldest active poker dealer. You can read about it here: → Oldest WSOP dealer killed — my friend (Caro blog).
When I cashed out, they thanked me for playing and said to tell everyone about the game. So I’m telling you Reno Hilton, great game.
“It’s hard to play seriously when the stakes are smaller than you’re used to.” Dick sympathized. That’s true, but I was playing seriously — playing a lot of hands, but playing a lot of hands seriously. In fact, except when I’m putting on what I call “poker exhibitions” (and announcing them to opponents in advance), I always play my top game, even if it’s 10-cent limit. Playing poker seriously, no matter what the stakes keeps your game fine tuned.
Now, you may think that losing a total of $355 in a $10/$20 hold ’em game in eight hours is nothing to brag about. But a thoughtful American can always find some reason to be proud. Look at it this way, Could you play almost every pot for eight hours and only lose $355? Try it. (And let us know when.)
Oh, yeah, almost forgot. The reason l went to Reno was to deliver two papers to the Seventh International Conference on Gambling and Risk Taking. One was titled How A Computer Program Called ORAC Attempts to Play World Class Poker and the other was Inside Mike Caro’s Poker Engine. I’ll tell you about these sometime. There were many intelligent people at the conference and I feel bad about sneaking away to play blackjack. I used something called the Mad Genius Memory Management System (that’s memory management, not money management). It worked. Won $4,200 in two hours.
Maybe casinos should worry. Maybe I’m bluffing. You, never know. — MC