Mike Caro poker word is Encourage

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2010) in Poker Player newspaper.

Some people look disdainfully on poker opponents who play poorly. I don’t.

Instead, I try to encourage bad habits and bad decisions. And, by coincidence, today’s word is “encourage.”

This self-interview discusses why bad play should be encouraged, rather than ridiculed.

Question 1: You say you shouldn’t be disdainful of poor play. But isn’t that a natural reaction for a superior player?

Being contemptuous of the way others play poker shouldn’t be a natural reaction.

What should be natural for winning poker players is to have a clear understanding of where their profit comes from. Suppose everyone knew everything you do about poker and played the same way you do. Now what?

I’ll tell you “now what,” but it isn’t pretty. Now everyone would have exactly the same expectation of winning or losing over the long run. Everyone would eventually break even if play continued forever in a game where there were no rakes and you didn’t tip dealers.

No profit

Even in that unrealistically favorable scenario, you couldn’t make a profit. And the reality is much more challenging, because there are rakes and dealer tips to overcome. Let’s say the average rake on a pot comes to only $3 and the average tip you give is just $1. That’s $4, on average, every time you win a pot.

Let’s suppose you win half the pots you play, which turns out to be about normal for many quality players, who select hands carefully. Some of your hands will be won without a fight, when everyone folds. You’ll win all of those. Some will be heads-up. You should win more than half of those, assuming you play hands more selectively than your opponents and usually have an advantage. Some will be multi-way pots, with three, four, or more players contending. You’ll win less than half of those, although you should win a greater percentage of them than weaker opponents. Put it all together and it turns out that winning half the pots you play is pretty much on target.

Fine. This means that you’re paying $4 every two hands you play. That’s $2 per hand.

Interestingly, if everyone played equally well, you’d probably win less than half the time, and your per play cost would be less than half of $4, so you’d get a break there. But you’d have no way to earn a profit through skill, so whatever the per-hand cost – say $1.75 – you’d lose almost exactly that, averaged over a long time.


If you are a skillful player and the $2 cost per hand applies, you’ve got to recover that somehow or you won’t win. This means you should, on average, play hands only if they have at least a $2 advantage in the long run – at least in the simplified example we’re using.

You can’t have a $2 advantage if your opponents play as well as you do. And, so, there’s the truth. You need opponents to play poorly. That’s what you want to happen.

To win at poker, you need to find opponents who play worse than you do, and it makes no sense to be scornful of them. That would be like opening a store to sell furniture and thinking of your biggest buyers as fools.

You should be grateful that you have poker customers. That’s what’s natural. They may play poorly and sometimes beat you, but that’s good. They’re the ones who make winning possible.

Question 2: Haven’t you ever criticized an opponent for playing badly?

Only players I’m teaching or whose hands I later analyze, away from the table, to help myself and others win. Anyone else is totally exempt from criticism, and I honestly feel happy that they play the way they do.

Question 3: You say you encourage your opponents to play badly. Does that mean you tell them to “keep playing bad hands”?

Of course not. That’s a form of ridicule and is usually said sarcastically. I never do that.

I’ve heard players make a weak attempt at encouraging opponents who’ve won a pot to continue playing poorly by saying, “Hey, I’d rather be lucky than good.” That sort of psychology sucks. You should never say anything to indicate an opponent played wrong.

Question 4: I don’t get it. How do you encourage opponents to play poorly without insulting them?

If an opponent plays 7-6 offsuit in hold ’em and sweeps in a big pot, I’ll say something like, “You’re not going to believe this, but I won with that same hand three times yesterday. I think we’re onto something!”

That makes the opponent feel okay about the bad play, because you’re not saying it’s bad and you’re stating that you do the very same thing. Additionally, you’re making weak hands seem fun.

Another thing I do to encourage poor play is to choose a few outrageously weak hands and play them. The weaker the better. I just giggle if I win and try to find a way to show the hand if I lose. I don’t want to invest a lot of money with weak hands, so I’ll choose situations that give me a good shot of being able to show a hand without paying a big price.


Sometimes, I’ll connect with a weak hand and pulverize my opponents. That’s good advertising, too. The point is, when you do something truly bizarre, like entering pots with hands that even weak opponents know better than to play, you’re giving them “permission” to continue playing their routinely poor cards without ridicule. After all, they aren’t playing as poorly as you are, in their minds.

What goes unnoticed is that you’re almost never playing substandard hands. The few you do play are incredibly weak, and that invites others to talk about your recklessness. Those hands are worth recounting for them, because they’re amused. And that’s free advertising. And cheap.

Telling opponents you played the same weak hands and won with them and demonstrating that you play even weaker ones – those are two things that will encourage opponents to continue their poor play.

Question 5: Anything else?

Well, it might improve your attitude to take a moment to give silent appreciation to the poker players who make mistakes. Without them, how can you win? — 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.


10 thoughts on “Mike Caro poker word is Encourage”

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  1. in Tournament he held AT and raised
    I called with JJ 70 % to win

    Flop J high had I checked he can chase free
    but I bet and he called with 8 % odds got a 9 now
    now he had 18% and I shoved he called
    and hit runner runner

    1. Hi, Nick —

      This reply relates to your comment above and others you’ve made of a similar nature.

      You’re absolutely right about the concept that in a proportional-payout tournament, survival is more important than adding small, risky edges. That’s because this type of tournament destroys aggressive tactics that have long-term advantage in regular games.

      I don’t know if moving all-in is the answer, because it depends on what that means in relative size. But you should definitely be less deceptive and bet more often with obvious advantages in proportional-payout tournaments.

      It’s simply a matter of your chips having a much different value, when translated to prize-pool results, then they seem to have at the table. In a ring game, if you double your stack, you’ve doubled your money. In these tournaments, doubling your stack doesn’t even come close to doubling your probable winnings.

      In regular games, you want to invite risk with advantages, not try to increase your chance of winning a pot. In proportional-payout tournaments, its usually exactly the opposite.

      — Mike Caro

  2. Mike, you have opened my eyes wider by illustrating that my best customers should be encouraged to continually play “those hands”. I made a point at a low buy-in, small stakes, home game, that was well attended by some very good customers of mine, to add a lot of table talk. This proved to be not only a lot of fun by generating good banter back and forth amongst everyone but very profitable.
    Words of wisdom, the customer is not always right.

  3. again BS – and no distinction made between T and Cash games,. oh he doesnt play tournaments he’s the best tournament player “

    1. I’m somewhat more likely to respond to comments that point out errors in or disagreements with the content that is under discussion.

      Actually, I make great distinctions between tournament and cash poker games. What differences do you think relate to the concepts in the article? How should I have included them? Feel free to provide some examples, when you have the time. Unfortunately, there are unnecessarily strict rules in some tournaments governing when and what you can say. Is that what you mean? Do you believe it was a mistake for me not to have inserted that advisory in the entry above?

      1. i dont want even 8% and i bet pot
        i now shove with nuts, if better nuts can come

        advisory good – i even showed card in tournament to forestall a call and got one round penalty – it was worth it

        i lose big tournaments on those geniuses getting runner runner from 8% positions

  4. i was always shocked when i would play online and see what people would say to these players that were making bad plays or playing too many hands. they would insult them so much to the point that the bad players would leave the game. but why would you want to push out the players that are paying you off. it makes no sence. your just making it harder for yourself.

    p.s i love reading everything to post mr. caro, it enlightens me every time! you really are an artist.

  5. You’re a master, Mike. Thanks for your wisdom! Logic and compassion. It’s definitely essential that people genuinely enjoy playing with you. Isn’t it a good thing if we’re all a little happier? And if you make your opponent’s feel that way, they will enjoy the game and playing with you more.

    1. Hi, Jake —

      Your kind thoughts are greatly appreciated. Thanks for making your first comment and joining our Poker1 family.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

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