Mike Caro poker word is Yes

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2009) in Poker Player newspaper.

Sometimes you don’t need to elaborate on an answer. A simple yes or no will suffice. Today’s self interview deals with questions about poker that can be answered with a simple “yes.” In some cases, I’ve added words of explanation, anyway — and in some cases, I’ve added nothing.

Although today’s word is “Yes,” in accordance with my lifelong quest to seem creative, I’ll sometimes use synonyms that mean the same thing. But if that annoys you, just pretend I said “yes” verbatim.

Question 1: Phil Ivey made the final table of the 2009 World Series of Poker main event. Did you expect this to happen?


Question 2: Would you like to elaborate?

Uh-huh. And I believe that this explanation will provide you with a better perspective on what actually happens in poker tournaments.

There were 6,494 entrants. We’re down to just nine players remaining and waiting a few months for that final table to see action. (Follow-up note: Joe Cada won; Phil Ivey finiished 7th.)

If everyone were equally skilled, the chances of any single player arriving at that final table would be about 721-to-1 against (more precisely, 720.556-to-1 against). In other words, any poker player, among equals, could expect to reach that final table every 722 years. Such a player could expect to win once in about 6,500 years.

So, why did I expect Phil Ivey to be at the final table? It’s because I predict something like that will happen every few years. I’m not talking about Ivey specifically, but about someone similar who you’d recognize and respect as being at the top of the poker-playing profession.

Very long shots

In a normal tournament, I believe the best players have about three times the average chance of winning. That still makes even the best players very long shots to win or even to make the money

I believe the play at the WSOP main event is more capable, on average, and so I estimate the best players only have slightly better than twice an average chance of winning. If you accept that, then any single world-class player can expect to make the final table in a field of 6,500 about once in 300 years.

Fine. Now the challenge is to make a list of the 100 most-likely players to make the final table. If you do that, you can expect someone on your list to be at the final table every three years or so, on average.

That’s why I’m not surprised that Ivey is playing at the final table. He’d be on my list – near the top. But I’d have 99 other horses in the race. Although I shouldn’t (and didn’t) expect one to appear at the final table on this specific year, I expect one to appear fairly often. That’s why I said yes.

Question 3: Suppose the top 10 players in the world have a slightly better chance at making the final table – say once in 290 years. Would you be willing to estimate your own personal chances?

Definitely. Once in 289 years.

Question 4: Did anything make you especially happy at the WSOP?

Yes. I was pleased that 1983 main-event winner Tom McEvoy captured the Championship Invitational event and became the Champion of Champions. I was glad to see Card Player editor Jeff Shulman make the final table. I was merrily astonished by the turnouts in tough economic times. And I was pleased that ESPN filmed my seminar.

Question 5: Anything unusual to report?

Well kind of – I mean, yes. I eliminated Tom McEvoy from one event but got eliminated by Phil Hellmuth in another.

I hated the second part. I had an overpair (medium) after the flop and reraised Phil. The amount of chips I put in fell short of the size of raise I’d verbally declared, resulting in Phil trying to make a raise, but putting in too few chips to actually constitute one. He had responded to the chips in the pot, not what I had declared.

The dealer ruled that Phil had just called. Phil explained that he had meant to raise – and had raised — the amount of my physical bet. Everyone testified they’d heard the larger amount I’d declared, including Phil, who appropriately wanted a floor ruling nonetheless.

As reporters began crowding the table, I knew this wouldn’t be good for my public image, so I blurted, “Whatever Phil thinks. Let him raise.” I realized I probably had the worst hand and would be “priced in” for the remainder of my chips, if Phil was restricted to just calling. That would deny me the opportunity to quietly and correctly fold against a large raise. I didn’t especially want history to record me getting knocked out by Phil while holding the worst hand.

If you’re confused about why I would bet now, but would have folded against a large raise on the previous betting round, the answer lies in the possibility that, by betting, I could win unchallenged — without a call. Calling Phil’s intended previous raise would have been different, because then there was no chance he would fold. He would have already committed his chips to the pot. Additionally, there was the possibility that the turn card had disappointed him, reducing his confidence about winning and making it more likely he would now fold.

No escape

But the ruling was made. Phil could only call. Now the bad part.

Even though I thought I was beat (and announced this, just to make it clear to the cameras), I realized I would have to bet on the turn. That’s correct strategy, of course, because my chip situation was such that there was no escape. If I checked, I might let Phil off for free on the less-likely chance that he did have a smaller pair, two overcards, a speculative hand, or had been trying to bluff with his raise.

It was an unusual situation in which cameras and reporters threatened to make me change my mind about betting. But I stuck to what I knew I should do. I bet and lost to a pair of kings. I just wish Phil hadn’t insisted on calling for a ruling. I was perfectly happy to let him do whatever he wanted and slip quietly from the room.

Poker SuperStars

It reminded me of how my appearance on the televised Poker SuperStars a few years back almost caused me to throw away a hand I knew I should call with. I only held king-high on the river against Todd Brunson.

The circumstances were such that it wasn’t really a daring call – almost a routine one. But, with cameras rolling, it might have been the toughest call I’ve ever made. I was thinking, “If I make this call and I’m wrong, what’s that going to do to book sales? Unsophisticated players won’t understand how I can throw money away with king high. They’ll laugh at me. I’ll look ridiculous.”

Cameras sometimes do stuff that makes poker unusual. I called anyway, and fortunately won. It was the most important and suspenseful call of my life — not because of the size of the pot, but because it suggested much bigger consequences in real life.

Question 6: I don’t have any more questions. Are you ready to end the interview now?

Okay. — MC

Next self-interview: Mike Caro poker word is Something

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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. Hi,master
    Accepting your assumptions I found 28.24% as chance for any top 100 to reach final table.

  2. dear mike, a friend of mine keeps moaning about the number of times she gets rivered , she plays $7 – $15 9or 10 seater SNG games . she thinks the machine that deals the cards are fixed . could you explain to me the reason why you think this is not a fix . then I can explain your answer to her thanks mike . eddie p.s sorry about my writing , I am not very good at computers

    1. Hi, Eddie —

      Thanks for your comment.

      Unfortunately, I can’t tell you why I think the game your friend is playing has an honest deal. That’s because, I don’t know. It’s possible that the deal is dishonest. However, our analysis of actual online poker databases suggests that the cards are distributed as expected in those cases.

      You and your friend should also understand that you can be cheated and experience more bad beats on the river at the same time that the deal is fair. How? If opponents know which cards are coming, they might play cards when they know the river will help them. It’s not possible for anyone to know that, though, if the software is designed correctly and protections are in place.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

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