Mike Caro poker word is Continued

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2007) in Poker Player newspaper.

In the last two entries, I’ve answered key questions about poker concepts and tactics. So far, we’ve dealt with four topics. And today the series will be continued (today’s word) with three more. What’s so special about those questions?

Okay, I’ll tell you what’s so special — I get to ask them. When I do interviews, I’m at the mercy of the reporter. Some questions are prescient, but others are lame.


Of course, it doesn’t stop me from rambling on, regardless of the merits of the question. You can always give brief acknowledgment to the core of the question and then use that as a springboard into more important stuff.

But why waste time having to mold meaningful answers to off-target questions. When I pose the questions, they’re precisely what I want to be asked — and the responses encompass exactly what I want to convey.

I have fun and you get rewarded. So, let’s move along…

Question 5: You’re at the final table in a proportional-payoff tournament. Three players remain. First place pays $100,000, 2nd place pays $50,000, 3rd place pays $25,000.

You’re in the big blind holding Q♣ Q♠. The total chips in play amount to $300,000. Blinds are $5,000 (small) and $10,000 (your current big blind). You started the hand with $100,000 and each of your opponents also started with $100,000. The player in the dealer position moves all-in and the player in the small blind calls. Now what?

You should immediately fold! If you make it a three-way scramble, it’s hard to say what your exact chances of winning the pot are, but I’ll provide a rough estimate.

If you do claim the pot, you’ll win the tournament immediately. While it depends on the traits of the opponents, a good guess would be that you’d win 40 percent of the time and each opponent would win 30 percent of the time. That sounds like a great deal for you, but it isn’t.


Let’s do the math. If you play and win, you pocket the $100,000 first-place prize. If you play and lose, you share the second-place $50,000 and third-place $25,000 prizes with the other losing player. You win $37,500.

So, your decision will leave you with $100,000 40 percent of the time and $37,500 60 percent of the time. If you prorate those chances, the amount of prize money you average by calling is $62,500

That’s better than $58,333.33 —  one-third of the $175,000 remaining prize pool. So, by calling, you’ll fare better than you had expected to prior to this hand.

But, wait!

Better still

But you can do better still by folding! If you fold, there will be just two of you competing for the remaining $150,000 in prize money.

In tournament chips (which are much different than actual money), you’ll have $90,000 left, having surrendered $10,000 as the big blind. Your lone opponent will have $210,000. For simplicity, we’ll ignore the minor significance of who takes the next blind.

Mathematically, your chances of winning are pretty much proportional to the total chips you control. So, you have 30 percent of the chips and, thus, you should expect to be crowned champion in similar cases 30 percent of the time.


Fine. This means that 30 percent of the $100,000 first-place money is $30,000 and 70 percent of second-place $50,000 is $35,000. By folding, you’ve increased the theoretical value of your cash-out to $65,000. That’s more than $2,500 earned by folding.

In this example, you should probably play a pair of kings or aces, but not queens. There are some situations where you shouldn’t even play a pair of aces!

And, of course, we could quibble about whether your pair of queens will win more or less than 40 percent of the time — and against some loose players, it’s correct to call.

But that’s not the point. The point is that you should often avoid committing your chips to a pot in the final stages of a poker tournament when someone else is likely to be eliminated.

And, if you have fewer chips than your opponents, you should obviously fold.

Question 6: What does it mean when an opponent starts to tremble when making a wager?

A lot of ancient poker literature had this tell backwards. Even today, many players instinctively come to the wrong conclusion.

The obvious, but wrong, answer is that players begin to tremble when they’re nervous about making a bet. This leads many to believe that a shaking hand is a sign that an opponent is probably bluffing. This is hardly ever the case.

When opponents bluff or bet weak hands, they bolster themselves. They tend to become more rigid. They’re afraid that anything they do that’s abnormal will make you suspicious and invite an unwanted call.

That’s why bluffers seldom move much or say much. Look for an artificially stiff demeanor. You won’t often see trembling when opponents hold weak hands; you’ll see just the opposite. Look for robotic movements and hands that seem very steady, because a great effort is made to keep from shaking.

Release of tension

Anytime you see a bettor who was previously composed tremble when making a wager, that’s a release of tension. It’s a natural reaction that occurs when the suspense ends and a huge hand — often a straight flush, a big full house, four of a kind, or an unbeatable flush — has unexpectedly been made. You’ll save a lot of money by simply folding whenever you see a trembling bet.

Those aren’t the obvious answers, but the most obvious poker decisions aren’t always right. — MC

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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.


3 thoughts on “Mike Caro poker word is Continued”

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  1. I have a question using this example. What if instead of being the BB behind the SB that called the Button's All-In, what if YOU are the SB with the BB yet to act? You have the same pocket Queens…

    1. Hi, Rob —

      I don't have an answer for that one, fitting all scenarios of table chemistry, player traits, and stack sizes. However, it's entirely reasonable that you would fold, anyway.

      In fact, that's the first thing you might consider doing. And you could stick with that decision unless specific factors overwhelm it and dictate a different choice.

      Remember, if you commit to a major war, you'd like to have a very large advantage to justify the risk late in a tournament. Do you have a significant edge here? That's the question you must deal with.

      Often the answer will be “no,” and you should fold.

      Straight Flushes,

      Mike Caro 

  2. Timely, for me, but a day late! Yesterday I went out in an earlier spot than necessary because I was distracted and played a big pot late with a good hand and a big stack and ended up a small one.

    I’ll try to remember for next time!


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