Poker’s most-powerful decision-making method

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was originally published (2010) in Bluff magazine.

Today I’m going to discuss one of my advanced poker methods. But don’t be scared; it won’t bother your brain. Even beginners will be able to understand the concept clearly.

I know something about you. You base your decisions about folding, checking, calling, betting, and raising on evaluation of the hands in accordance with your opponents’ traits and tells. Duh? What else is there?

I hear you. That’s the obvious way to go about it, and there’s nothing wrong with it. Except, often that isn’t the best method for making poker decisions at a world-class level.

Not influenced by the cards

What if I told you that most poker decisions aren’t influenced by the cards? You’d say I’d lost my mind and my credibility. And I expect you to say that, because you’re intelligent and care about winning.

So, it would seem as if I’m going to have a tough job selling you on the concept that the cards shouldn’t be your primary focus in making decisions. But you’re going to be easy to convince, simply because you are intelligent and want to win.

Besides, I’m going to hypnotize you. You’re relaxing, becoming very sleepy, whatever. Hey, I’m not very good at hypnosis, so help me out. Now, listen.

Most of the decisions you will make at poker won’t have obvious solutions. Advice that “you should always raise if” this or that should usually be ignored and from now on you will ignore it. There are few actions you should always take. Poker would be much easier if there were simple answers. There aren’t and that reality makes you happy. You feel that happiness spreading throughout your entire body, happiness because there are no simple answers.


You realize that among all the decisions you’ll ever make at poker, the only common ones that are easy are hands that should be folded. And the majority of those obvious folds occur before the flop. Most other decisions are close, not obvious.

Let’s try an experiment. The next time you play poker, you will pretend I’m paying you to play and am watching every decision you make. Imagine it now. It doesn’t matter to you whether you win or lose. It only matters that your decisions please me. Now, every time you have a decision, think of me.

What should you do to please me? Imagine that a startling truth is slapping you hard across the face. Feel the slap of truth. Except for those obvious folding situations in the beginning, most of the time you won’t be sure which decision will please me most! You’ve been playing poker for years and never realized how many of your decisions aren’t obvious. You see that now.

You have choices! There’s usually no clear answer. You shouldn’t always do one certain thing in a defined situation. From now on, you’ll think “I should be more willing to call” or “this means I should add more weight to folding.”

Because you now realize that most decisions are close, as I pay you to play, you’re confident that I won’t fire you for choosing one way or another in a borderline situation. Either way will be acceptable, unless you do one thing too often, making yourself so predictable that astute opponents can take advantage.

Three-way choices

Borderline decisions aren’t just between folding and calling, calling and raising, or checking and betting. You’re now realizing that you face three-way decisions – and each choice is reasonable! You’re experiencing an example right now!

You’re in a nine-handed, no-limit hold ’em game holding K♥ 10♦ on the button (dealer position). You see those cards now, because this is really happening. Everyone folds up to the player to your right, who calls the big blind. Should you fold, call, or raise? Your mind refuses to answer, because there is no answer – yet.

You need to know more. You could fold if you’re in a situation where the blinds are aggressive and likely to raise or if the caller is tricky enough to make decisions about what the flop will mean more difficult. You could call, knowing that you’re going to be in the act-last position on future betting rounds, especially if the blinds are timid and likely to let you see the flop for just the price of the big blind. And you could raise if the caller were very loose and unimaginative, hoping to chase the blinds out and isolate yourself against just him.

Each of those decisions can be reasonable. You’re not going to get fired, unless you do something silly like move all-in for 100 times the big blind.

But that isn’t the secret you will wake up knowing! And the secret isn’t even that in poker most of your choices are borderline and you need to decide in accordance with the traits of your opponents.

Different method

The secret is that there’s a whole different method – one that doesn’t involve the cards, but only the understanding that you will be facing borderline choices. You will use the method when you wake up.

Instead of letting your exact situation dictate your decision, you will make a choice before the cards are dealt! You’ll decide what mode you’re going to be in regarding borderline decisions. You’ll choose one of these: (1) I need to establish a more dominating image; or (2) I need to slow down.

Even though I teach more complex sets of objectives, you’ll just stick with those two for now. And you’ll profit from just considering those.

If your pre-deal decision was (1), to establish a more dominating image, then any borderline decision that can be either call or raise without me firing you (including fold-call-raise) should be simply: raise. Any borderline decision that can be either fold or call should be simply: call. If your pre-deal decision was (2), to slow down, then you’ll fold instead of call and call instead of raise.

Belongs to you

This powerful and profitable method is yours now. It belongs to you. You’ll find that most of your borderline decisions won’t be difficult. They won’t be made in accordance with the actual cards. Those cards can be anything, as long as you’re presented with two or more choices that are reasonable. Doing it that way, you’ll be acting in accordance with what you need to accomplish. Most of your decisions will be borderline, and you’ll know how to handle each one in advance.

You will modify your choice based on strong tells or other indicators, but whenever the decision remains borderline, you’ll know what to do. And you won’t wait for the cards to arrive to decide.

Unfortunately, I never learned to snap my fingers. So, when I clap my hands, wake up and win. Clap! — MC

Published by

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. Please explain, Nick. (Yes, I assume it’s you — or one of the other clones whose identities you assume for the purposes of goading web-site responses. IP addresses: Nick = Bob. Identical. You might be a kind and civil person in everyday life. It’s time to revisit the real world, perhaps.) Anytime you’d like to contribute meaningfully to any intelligent discussions at Poker1, feel free to do so.

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