Mike Caro poker word is Mistakes

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2008) in Poker Player newspaper.

It’s time to talk about mistakes. In poker, novices make an avalanche of mistakes. Experienced players make many mistakes. World-class players make some mistakes.

But be assured that all players make mistakes in the course of a poker game. You need to think about it this way: Your profit is a direct result of the penalties opponents pay, on average, for their mistakes minus the penalty you pay for your mistakes.

So your goal should be to find opponents who pay more in mistake penalties and, at the same time, to minimize the amount you pay in mistake penalties. With that in mind, let’s move on to today’s question-and-answer session where, as always, I get to both ask and answer my own questions.

Question 40: Are you saying that mistakes you and opponents make account for a large portion of your expected poker profit during poker games?

No. I’m not saying that mistakes account for a large portion of expected poker profit during poker games; I’m saying that mistakes account for 100 percent of expected poker profit.

Over time, the cards probably will nearly even out. And you’ll have no control over the luck factor, anyway. It will be only mistakes that make any difference at all in your outcome relative to the cards you’re dealt. And it’s simply their mistakes versus yours that matters.

Question 41: If you make fewer mistakes than your opponents, does that mean you’ll eventually win?

No. It isn’t the number of mistakes you or your opponents make that determines your advantage or disadvantage, although fewer is better. It’s really the degree of the mistakes.

It’s possible that you can make fewer mistakes than a poker opponent and still be playing an inferior game. If your opponent makes the mistake of entering pots one seat earlier than advised for those hands, that’s lots of mistakes in the course of a poker session. But if you make the mistake of always bluffing a loose opponent by moving all-in, you will make fewer mistakes total, but you’ll pay more money in mistake penalties.

In other words, if you pay three $25 parking tickets, that’s not as bad as one $500 speeding ticket.

Another thing to consider is that you need to have more than just a slight edge to cover the rake or table rent. So, even if the difference in mistake penalties between you and an opponent favors you slightly, that might not be enough for you to win. There needs to exist a significant gap.

Question 42: What’s the biggest mistake players make?

Playing too many hands. There’s no bigger mistake. And you should always seek games where opponents are entering way too many pots. It also helps if they’re unaggressive about pursuing those pots, being content to just call and not raise when they have the best of it.

Question 43: You’ve written about mistakes players make regarding bluffing. Can you explain?

Basically players bluff too often.

There’s a mystique that’s evolved around bluffing, but it’s fatally flawed. In the real world, most opponents call too often. And whenever that’s so, it’s unlikely that you’ll find many profitable opportunities to bluff. When you do decide to bluff, you need the chemistry of your opponents and the action leading up to the decision to be just about perfect. Keep in mind that usually it’s not the right time to bluff.

Question 44: But don’t some successful players keep accurate records proving how well they fare bluffing?

Nobody keeps accurate records of their bluffing success or failure.

That’s because it’s often impossible to know whether a bluff succeeded. Many bluffs seem to succeed, but actually were made against folded hands that might have lost in a showdown, anyway. If you keep a notebook logging each of these wins as a bluffing success, you’ll be getting a distorted view of how profitable your pot-stealing tactics really are.

On the other hand, it’s true that sometimes you would have lost by checking a weak hand, instead of “bluffing,” because the opponent will then bet an even weaker hand and steal a pot you would have won in a showdown. But that fact merely helps argue that you should be alert for times when you believe both you and your opponent are weak; then you should consider betting to avoid a showdown. That’s different than a true bluff.

The truth is that most players lose money for their lifetimes on their bluff attempts. They just don’t realize it.

Question 45: Can you give a tip for favorably balancing the mistakes among you and your opponents?

I like the way you phrased that question. In captures the entire concept of poker profit.

In order to win, your opponents’ mistakes need to weigh more than your own. And that doesn’t mean they need to merely weigh more collectively. If you’re in a nine-handed game, then you have eight opponents. If the collective penalties opponents make through their mistakes is eight times as great as your penalties, you haven’t gained anything. Your opponents’ mistakes need to be more than eight times as great in order for the scales of profit to balance in your favor.

Players often see many blunders surrounding them — more than they make themselves. Well, duh! There are lots of opponents and only one of you.

Pay less

In order to win in the long run, you need to pay less in mistake penalties than the average amount paid by your opponents. And, of course, you need to pay less by a margin great enough to cover any rakes, table rents, dealer tokes, and other expenses.

Anyway, you asked for a tip. Try this: Since you can only do so much to minimize your own mistakes, and since your profit comes entirely from the average opponent’s mistake penalties minus your own, it’s crucial to find games where opponents make plenty of costly mistakes.

Make it a lifelong policy to study games, identify mistakes, put penalty values on them, and choose the poker tables with the highest-priced total of penalties. That’s where the profit lives.


It is a mistake in itself to think you’re good enough to make your biggest profit against tough competition. You might win, but when you subtract your mistake penalty from that of tough opponents, the result obviously will be smaller than if you subtracted from a more generous mistake pool where weaker players splash around. And, remember, it’s not the cumulative mistake pool that counts — it’s that pool divided by the number of opponents, then measured against your mistakes.

Yes, you want to minimize your own mistakes. But if you play your best game all the time, then your mistakes will be rare and fairly constant. It’s what you subtract those penalies from that makes the difference.

I hope that helps you understand in a whole new way why you absolutely must find the best games. — 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.


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    1. Let me rephrase that:

      You’ve heard the quote “if you can’t spot the sucker in the first half hour that you’re at the table, you are the sucker”?

      Do you think it’s worth staying in a game where you can’t spot anyone playing particularly poorly?

      1. Hi, Jonathan —

        You need to be able to identify mistakes made by opponents in order to win. This doesn’t mean that the old quote about you being the so-called sucker if you can’t is true, though. You can still be a superior player. But if you can’t find enough key mistakes being made by others, everyone could have a losing expectation, when the rake and other expenses are factored in.

        You can have an advantage against your opponents, but still not have a big enough one to justify playing.

        Straight Flushes,
        Mike Caro

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