Mike Caro poker word is Rock

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2011) in Poker Player newspaper.

Let’s prepare for 2011 by talking about how the word “rock” applies to poker. A rock can be defined as a conservative player who is extremely disciplined and enters few pots. That’s the topic for today’s self-interview, as we search for the inner rock in all of us.

Question 1: Can a rock make money at poker?

Of course. In fact, it’s the only possible way for many players to win.

Playing super tight poker seems way too simple to succeed, so it’s only natural for most poker players to be adventurous. And inevitably it’s the adventure that destroys them. Anytime you’re in a typical poker game, facing average opponents, you can count on one thing: Players will be entering more pots than they should.

Because of that, they’re squandering money by playing hands that lose. The quickest way to capitalize on this mistake is to be a rock. Play only superior hands.

That’s not the most profitable style of poker, and most of my teachings are about growing beyond mere rockiness and exploring all manner of sophisticated tactics, tells, and psychological warfare. You could describe my own personal style of play as lively. But that’s because I know what to do and when to do it.

Most players don’t know which tactics to use when. They haven’t learned how to balance. So, when they stray from a super-tight strategy, they stumble. When they try to mix up their decisions, mimicking the play they see sophisticated opponents using, they destroy their bankrolls, simply because they don’t know when, why, and how to be creative.

So the answer is to fall back on the most basic winning strategy of all. Be a rock!

Question 2: If it’s that easy, why aren’t you a rock?

Actually, I began my poker career as a rock. I believed that tight was right. I won. And although I didn’t win as much money as I would have if I’d understood all the finesses I do today, my victories were more consistent.

That turns out to be an advantage of being a rock. Because you take fewer chances, your bankroll won’t fluctuate as much. As a result, you don’t need as much money to safely play in games of the same size.

Question 3: When are you good enough to abandon your rock strategy?

Never. You should always keep your core rock strategy to fall back on for safety. Often, when things aren’t going well, I become a rock – even today.

It’s important to understand that when you’re losing, opponents are inspired and play better against you. They’re not intimidated, so they take maximum advantage of their hands, betting for full value. When this happens, you should use your rock strategy and wait for the cards to help you to establish a dominant image. Only then should you venture beyond your inner rock.

Question 4: But don’t you have to play more hands in low-limit games?

Actually, in raked casino games, you should play fewer hands at low limits. It’s natural to assume the opposite, because there are so many players competing in average pots. But the rake – which is disproportionally large in low limits, when weighed against the size of the bets – means that many hands that would be profitable in a home game cannot be played.

In general, the looser your opponents are, the more hands you can play at a profit. You need to always be more selective than they are, but if they’re barging into pots with terrible hands, you don’t need to wait for your very best hands to have an advantage. But while that’s true, you still need to reduce your selections in low-limit rake games. So, a rock strategy usually works best.

Question 5: Won’t opponents bluff you, if they see that you’re a rock?

Sure they will. That’s why part of being a successful rock is realizing that you’re a target. Remember that although you often should be a rock when entering pots, you shouldn’t fear the combat once you’re involved.

One secret to being a successful rock is that you should call frequently. Don’t be a wimpy rock. Be a heavy rock – hard to push around. That means calling often once you’re in a hand. Opponents will test you – and you’ll be bluffed regularly.

Question 6: Anything else?

Well, beware of your emotions, because rocks can become pebbles. That happens when they get frustrated because they wait and wait for big hands and then lose with them. They suddenly feel, “What’s the use?” and start playing poorly. A rock should never act like a pebble. A pebble used to be a rock, remember. Millions of years of erosion diminished its stature. Don’t accelerate that erosion.

The frustration sometimes stems from seeing opponents who are far behind in chips get even by playing poor hands. Being a rock means you’ll have fewer opportunities to recover, so if you’re losing large for the night, you need to be content with just hoping to make a little back.

And, finally, be aware that some of the so-called poker superstars you see playing recklessly on TV are putting on a show. Their results seem genius when the strange tactics work, but they’ve abandoned their inner rock.

Eventually, they won’t win. Keep watching. You’ll see. Someone will always be in the spotlight, the magician of the moment. But it probably won’t be the same someone next time. Eventually, rocks crush pebbles.

The big secret – once you’ve mastered poker – is to be a rock with flair, but not for the sake of flair. Your core should always be rocky. Your image should not. — 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 Rock”

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  1. I don’t know where else to ask this question. Often, I try to encourage tight players to loosen up and it rarely works. Sometimes I hammer them with bets until I’m sure they’re fed up enough to play back at me. Usually, when they play back at me, it’s just because they have a big hand, not because they’re fed up.

    Is it a mistake to try loosening up tight players or waiting for them to loosen up on their own?

    1. Hi, Brandon —

      Essentially, you’re spending a lot of money targeting tight players in an effort to get them to do something you don’t want them to do. So, yes, it’s a mistake.

      When players are too tight, you’re already profiting, because they’re not getting value from other hands they could play with smaller advantages. If you succeed in loosening them up a little, you’ll merely encourage them to play a few more hands that are actually also profitable (though somewhat less so). What you seem to want to do is move them further along, through the point where they’ve loosened up enough that they’re playing the appropriate number of hands and then beyond that to where they’re playing too many.

      That probably isn’t going to happen. So what you’re more likely to accomplish is to simply make tight opponents play more profitably by selecting more hands. What you do want to accomplish, instead, is make them suspicious of you so they’ll call more often on later betting rounds (once they’re already in the pot) on the occasions when you hold superior hands. But you do that through image and psychology. You might also play rare weak hands “for show,” but this is primarily targeted at weaker opponents who are more easily manipulated. The carry-over effect it has on tight players being only a side benefit.

      In short, you should probably stop trying to make tight players enter more pots. By the way, if possible, you should choose seats or move so that they’re seated to your left, where they act after you and have a positional advantage. You can afford to concede favorable position to them because, by playing fewer hands, they’re not taking full advantage of their position, thus saving you money.

      I’m going to use your question and my answer in another entry, so this important concept can be more widely shared. — Mike Caro

  2. This makes me feel better. I wish I could build a pot but my rock playing has got everybody “folding” when I’m in the hand. I play against the same group of friends several times a month. They say, “everyone knows Jenaraye that you only play premium hands.” I always hear, “Jenaraye’s in the hand? Then I’m getting out, I fold.” At a casino with players I don’t know, according to my bankroll I’m doing fine playing this way. A “rock with flair”… I like that. I’ll work on it. Thanks Mike for all the help!

  3. You’re in a tournament and you have less than the average stack ( ≈ 20BB). Is it a good idea to forget about your wild image and to put on the rock suit? That way, you’re willingly avoiding weak calls. You get more folds, taking smaller pots safely.

    On the other hand, if you’re a big stack, is it better to keep a wild image to get a lot of weak calls?

    I don’t know if changing your image accordingly to your stack size is a good thing. Can you help me on that one?

    Thank you,
    Vincent Martin.

  4. Do you think having position on a rock is enough of an advantage to overcome his (usually) superior hand when he shows strength before the flop?

    1. Hi, Matt —

      Thanks for contributing your first comment and joining out Poker1 family.

      What I’m saying is that the nature of rocks is such that they don’t take full advantage of position, because they play too few hands. That means you can let them sit to your left without paying the full penalty.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

      1. Thanks for your reply!

        I get what you’re saying there, but on a side note… If I have a rock sitting on my right and he either raises or check raises me before the flop, and I think he has something like QQ or better. Should I give him action just because I have position on him? Would it be better to forego the hand?

        Thank you so much, I run into this dilemma all the time. Sometimes I call just because I have position on him and it costs me a great deal.

        1. Whether you should play (call or raise) with a pair of queens depends on how “rocky” the player is and how many seats he or she is from the blind. The earlier the seat, the more you should respect the hand and consider folding.

          However, in general, even rocks aren’t quite that selective, and playing the queens will usually be profitable. — Mike Caro

  5. Another great one Mike!!! I like being known as a rock because I can steal some blinds with marginal hands.

  6. I just finished Rob Tucker’s Playing No Limit Hold ’em as a Business and it basically has the same advice as above. You both seem to feel more comfortable at cash games.

    Even Doyle, who regularly advises being aggressive, but not stupidly so, is constantly referred to as a nit compared to a lot of other players. For all the bitching and moaning I’ve read on various forums about his play on High Stakes Poker, you’d think that he wasn’t one of the most successful poker players on the planet right now.

    I’ve been re-examining my play recently. This article hits home with a lot of the things I’ve observed over the past 18 months. I play cash games much more passively than I do tournaments. I’m also much more successful in cash games. The difference is in a cash game you’re only playing against the other players. In a tournament you are also playing against the clock. Your chip stack needs to keep up with the ever increasing blinds and antes as well as the other chip stacks.

    Also, I figure, if everybody else is being hyper-aggressive, at what point does out betting your opponent lose value? And in pot-limit or no-limit games where people happlily fire huge stacks of chips at you because that’s the “correct” way to do it, I’ve been very happy with just checking and calling like you’ve advised elsewhere. If scooping pots is wrong, I wish I was wrong more often :-)

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