Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2009) in Poker Player newspaper.
In this edition of my series of self-interviews, the key word is “something.” This means that I get to ask myself something that flitters into my mind, and whatever that happens to be, I promise to answer.
Question 1: What’s the most important improvement you’ve made to your poker game since you were just a kid starting out?
I learned not to be so fancy. In the middle 1970s, I was already skillful, but I wanted to prove it to my opponents. I developed a bad case of what I later named Fancy Play Syndrome — choosing a creative way to play a hand, even when the obvious choice was more profitable.
Eventually, I learned that you can’t prove poker superiority in 20 minutes. Often, you can’t even prove it in a month. Only long-range profit determines your status — and that’s something that isn’t usually obvious to opponents.
Question 2: Are there any other lessons you’ve learned along the path to becoming the greatest poker player who ever lived?
See, that’s the sort of question I like. Most interviewers are too timid to take a position on who’s the greatest. You, on the other hand, acknowledged an apparent truth in the way you phrased your question. I appreciate that. In fact, I’m humbled by it.
Let’s see — what happened to me along my path to poker mastery? Oh, now I remember.
Primarily, I learned to control my ego and play for the money.
The biggest discovery I made by studying the anatomies of poker hands was that most choices were marginal. Except for the routine folding of hands on the first betting round, the majority of decisions fell on the borderline. Players could call or fold, raise or call, and check or bet almost at whim. And because of this profound truth, it became apparent that these opponents could be steered in a direction most profitable to me.
It didn’t take much psychological prodding to make an opponent more likely to do what I wanted than to disappoint me. And that led to my shift from a mostly mathematical analysis of poker to the approach I teach today, where psychology and tactics combine for poker success.
Question 3: Is there anything that should be changed at the World Series of Poker?
Just one big thing. Why isn’t there a draw poker event? I mean, come on, Jeffrey — we’ve got all kinds of tournaments during the WSOP, covering all sorts of games, including some that many players have never experienced.
So why is the most universally understood form of poker, made legendary in movies and TV and understood by all, not represented? I’m speaking of traditional five-card draw poker — the American staple. Almost everyone has played it.
Before the California laws were changed about 1985, five-card draw (along with its lowball cousin) were the only forms of poker allowed. In part, the waning popularity after that was self-imposed by casinos, which could make more rake from additional betting rounds. There are only two betting rounds in draw poker.
Fine. Ban draw poker from casinos if you must. But please don’t ban it from the WSOP.
Question 4: Should you ever bet on the last round if you think you’re beat and know you’re going to be called?
Oh, good — a strategy question.
I make this bet all the time. What you need to ask yourself is: If I check and my opponent bets, am I going to call? If the answer is yes, then you’re usually better off betting — even though occasionally you might face a raise.
The problem with checking is that on the minority of times that you hold the winning hand, your opponent is likely to check, also, and you’ll win nothing. You’ll still get bet into and must call if you’re beat. So, by not betting, you’re surrendering profit when you have the winning hand and paying the penalty when you don’t. The secret is to bet.
Question 5: What’s your greatest weakness as a poker player?
Easy. I don’t recognize most players or remember many hands. In fact, in real life, I often don’t recognize people. I can be talking to someone I just met and, after they leave the room, change jackets and return, I’ll shake hands and introduce myself all over again.
I also don’t remember hands I’ve played. Players are often citing cards they played against me years ago, but I don’t even remember straight flushes I’ve lost with! It’s all a blur.
Remembering players, matching them to their tendencies, and mentally photographing hands that you’ve played is indisputably an advantage. But that’s an advantage I lack.
Question 6: What’s your greatest strength as a poker player?
It’s the flipside of my greatest weakness. It’s being able to understand who a player is and what he’s thinking right now — regardless of previous history. Players’ histories aren’t nearly as important as their current state of mind.
It’s a mistake to think that players — or people in the real world — have only one personality. They have many, and these are ever-changing. Worse, they’re chameleons, blending into the social situation or the group at the poker table — taking on a new identity, just to fit in.
That’s why Jane is a different person around Gloria than she is around Teresa. Jane becomes part Gloria or part Teresa, and it happens automatically. If you don’t believe me, just look around you.
And that’s an important poker lesson. Don’t expect your opponents to act the same or exhibit the same emotions, stability, or playing styles in different games or under different conditions. Sometimes a player’s history can deceive. — MC
Next self-interview: Mike Caro poker word is More