It’s not just how you play poker; it’s where


Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. Originally published (2007) in Casino Player.


If all I taught was how to play hands correctly in various situations, I suppose that would be valuable. But it wouldn’t guarantee that you’d win at poker. Nobody plays hands well enough to be assured of poker profit — even in the long run.

I know that sounds strange, and you’re correct to be skeptical. But it’s true. You could rank 200th out of 200 million poker players in the world, meaning your skills are essentially one in a million. And that still doesn’t mean you’re going to win!

What if you always played against the top 20 opponents in the world? You’d habitually be taking the worst of it and, eventually, you’d lose for certain.

Or you could be among the worst 100,000 players the world has ever known, meaning only one in many thousands of poker players has ever brought lowlier skills to the tables. And yet you could get rich playing poker. All you’d have to do is consistently play against those rare opponents who were much weaker than you.

The best player

If the best player in the world is only slightly superior to the 10th best player in the world, he might lose money through eternity when pitted against the nine next-best opponents. That could happen because, although he’d fare slightly better in the long run than his tablemates, nobody would do well enough to beat the rake.

Do you see what I’m getting at? How good you are as a poker player won’t determine how much money you win or lose. Eventually, how well you play relative to the opponents you’ve chosen to compete against will determine your fate by itself.

Look, it’s like this. Poker is a retail business. You go into games hoping to sell your best hands for the most amount of money you can earn. In most retail businesses, the main factor in determining success is location. You want to operate where you can find customers to provide the greatest profit. Poker’s the same. Except in poker, you get to relocate anytime you want, choosing a different casino or a better table in the same casino. You don’t have to do business in the same storefront tomorrow.

Strangely, some of the best players act as if they must play in one location. They return to the same tough game day after day, competing against the same superior players. It would be hard for me to count the number of players with unusually great poker skills who have spent most of their careers broke and borrowing.

Game selection

That’s because they didn’t treat poker as a business. Maybe they spent a lot of time learning how to play hands. Maybe they became masters of poker strategy. But they neglected the one aspect of poker that meant the most. I’m talking simply about game selection. You must learn to play where the profit is.

If you want to earn the most money possible, you must always prefer games where your opponents are much weaker than you are, instead of games at that same limit where competition is more difficult. You must religiously seek the easiest games. I know that’s damaging to your ego if you treat poker like an old-time Texas gunslinger out to challenge the best. But the simple, perhaps sad, truth is that the secret to poker success lies not in who’s the best player, but in who plays against the worst opponents.

Sometimes you can earn more profit at reduced risk by playing at a smaller limit. Sometimes the best chance at profit will be in the biggest game in the house. Sometimes you will find no game worth entering. Just remember, you’re in the poker business, you get the luxury of choosing your location, and how well you choose will determine your fate.

Look around you. You’ll see that while many of the top players struggle, many lesser players consistently earn significant incomes at poker. Why? Location. That’s the secret.

Your success at poker isn’t mostly determined by how you play hands; it’s mostly determined by where you play them. — 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.

5 thoughts on “It’s not just how you play poker; it’s where”

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  1. Does time of day or day of the week figure into this at all? I mean, playing on weekdays vs weekends or late at night rather than during the day? I’ve done some of both with mixed results, just wondered if you had any wisdom to share. Thanks!

    1. Hi, Erich — You’re absolutely right. Games often are much looser and more profitable late at night and on weekends. — Mike Caro

    1. Hi, Lex —

      Thanks for making your first comment and joining our Poker1 family.

      The best way to determine if opponents are easy to beat is to remember them from past encounters. Beyond that, here are two excellent factors in choosing the right game.

      1. Laughter. Games where players are having a good time are usually the most profitable. Avoid silence, because that’s an indication that players are taking the game seriously.

      2. Count the players who call each hand. Get an average by dividing by the number of hands you’ve observed. Ideally, you want a lot of callers, but few raisers.

      Both of these methods are described in other entries you can search for here at Poker1.com.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

  2. I HEAR WHAT YOU’RE SAYIN ABOUT COMPARING POKER TO A BUISNESS…..FIRST 3 RULES IN BUISNESS IS LOCATION,LOCATION,LOCATION….. NEVER THOUGHT OF IT LIKE THAT BEFORE…..AS WITH MOST OF THE POSTS I READ BY YOU, I LEARNED SOMETHING NEW…AGAIN…YOU ALWAYS HAVE A WAY OF MAKIN ME SEE THINGS FROM DIFFERENT ANGLES…THX AGAIN , MR. CARO

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