Mike Caro poker word is Half

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

Before we jump into today’s pool of plentiful poker profit and today’s word “half,” here’s an announcement. In either my next entry or the one after, I’ll declare the winners of December’s “Finish My Lecture Contest.” I expect to finish grading all the entries by next week.

If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, that’s because you didn’t enter the contest or read the column four issues ago. Briefly, when sifting through my old documents, I came across a strange lecture transcript that seemed incomplete.

It was about the benefits of just calling, rather than raising, in the small blind. I suggested that there were times when raising was, indeed, the best solution, but that just calling was underrated. After posting the transcript, which covered several major points, I invited readers to complete the lecture for prizes.

The contest mentioned was held in 2007. Here is a link to the unfinished lecture and the winning entries completing it: Mike Caro poker word is Winners.

Below, you’ll find reasons to raise in the small blind, followed by reasons not to raise. After that, there’s a concept that explains the primary goal of high-low split poker.

Why raise?

The contest is now closed to entries. But, just so you’ll have something to ponder while I’m judging the winners, here are four important considerations that weigh on the side of raising when you’re in the small blind.

  1. You help establish a domineering image that can often work in your favor. (Applies to both limit and no-limit hold ’em.)
  2. It’s significantly more likely that you can win the pot when the flop disappoints you. When you’ve put the last raise on the initial betting round and then bet into your opponents when first to act after seeing the flop, they’re more inclined to fold than they would be had you just called. (Applies to both limit and no-limit hold ’em.)
  3. You can sometimes limit the field by chasing away early position callers when someone else has raised. The reraise makes it much less likely that they’ll stick around to beat you. Of course, if they’re actually taking the worst of it, you usually want them to stick around. But you want them to fold when they’d have an expectation of long-range profit by calling.

    You can sometimes elicit this type of fold by raising. (While this is obviously true in no-limit hold ’em, it particularly applies to limit games. There, the difference between calling just one fixed-size amount from a single raise versus two fixed-size amounts from a reraise can seem compelling to an opponent. In limit games, a raise isn’t likely to chase players out who have already invested in the pot by calling prior to the initial raise, but a double raise often chases them away.)

  4. When no other players have entered the pot and it’s just the small blind vs. the big blind, a raise has excellent chances of sometimes scaring off the only remaining player (the big blind) and securing a small immediate profit. (Applies to both limit and no-limit hold ’em.)

Why call?

And here are three important considerations that weigh on the side of just calling when you’re in the small blind.

  1. If you just call with a strong hand, you add an element of deception that can assist you in maximizing profit on the later rounds of betting. (Applies to both limit and no-limit hold ’em.)
  2. You’re getting better pot odds when you just call. One common definition of “Pot odds” is the amount of chips in the pot right now weighed against the size of your bet. We’ll use that definition for this example, although “pot odds” can also be based on an estimate of how big the pot will eventually be and how much it will probably cost you to pursue it.

    Using the first, simpler definition, let’s say you’re playing a $10 fixed-limit hold ’em game, with blinds of $5 (your small blind) and $10. Let’s say that when the action returns to you, there’s $45 out there, consisting of the $10 big blind, three $10 calls, and your $5 small blind.

    If you just call $5 and the big blind doesn’t exercise his “live blind” right to raise, you’re getting $45 to $5 or 9 to 1 on your money. If you raise, making it $20 and everyone calls (which often won’t be the case), you’ll have added $15 to a pot that will have grown to $100. You will have invested $15 against $85, and the pot odds will be only 5.67 to 1.

    The reduced pot odds mean that there are many hands you cannot justify playing for a raise, because the odds against them succeeding exceed the proportional size of the pot. This is a hard mathematical reality that disproves the notion that you should “always” raise if you’re going to play. (This example applies mostly to limit, but is important in no-limit as well.)

  3. The flop will usually disappoint you. Perhaps that’s the saddest fact in hold ’em. No matter what hands you start with, you’ll wish you had a different flop most of the time. Because of this, the flop is so speculative that it’s often more profitable to see it cheaply. (Applies to both limit and no-limit hold ’em.)

Today’s word

Now let’s examine today’s word: “Half.” It used to be that I was apprehensive whenever I wrote about hold ’em. Too many readers didn’t fully understand how it was played, and I felt compelled to explain the procedures each time. Nowadays hold ’em has become so popular I worry that readers may lose interest if I talk about any other type of poker.

Nonetheless, I’ll risk it, because this next point is short and important. It’s about any form of high-low split poker. This is the text of a quick lecture I gave many years ago. In fact, it’s one of the earliest in my series of vintage lectures that I’ve been sharing with you over the past two years. Here goes…

The truth about high-low

Here’s the most important thing I teach about the nature of high-low split poker. You need to usually play hands that have a chance to win both high and low.

Many players make the mistake of thinking that half a pot is worth half as much as a whole pot. It isn’t. You need to win more than two split pots to equal the profit of one whole pot. Listen. I’ll make it clear.

Imagine that you’re at the showdown. The pot is $200, and $50 is what you invested to get there. If you win the whole pot, you’ll earn $150 profit, right? That’s the $200 in the pot minus the $50 that was yours to begin with. But what happens if you only win half the pot? Then you collect half of $200 or $100. But you still invested $50, so your profit is only $50 – one hundred minus fifty.

You can see that, in this case, winning that whole pot is worth three times as much in profit as winning half the pot. Remember, in high-low split, winning half a pot twice is never worth as much as winning a whole pot once. That’s why you have to play mostly hands that have a chance of winning it all.

This is “The Mad Genius of Poker” Mike Caro and that’s my secret today. — MC

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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. Great post, There is so much I don’t know its incredible, I learn every day. Thanks’

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