Mike Caro poker word is Disguise

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

Poker is about deception. And winning at poker requires an ability to disguise who you are at this very moment and a talent for making your intentions unclear. Let’s talk about that in today’s self-interview.

Question 1: Is it necessary to be deceptive in poker? Can’t you win by being yourself?

Actually, I’ve occasionally known players who could win by just being themselves. But don’t expect that to happen to you.

Those rare individuals had personalities that naturally confused opponents. They were not mellow, nor did they seem reflective about their decision making. Instead, each of their actions seemed to be spontaneous, mysteriously motivated, and unpredictable.

The reason they won was because their decisions turned out to be pretty reasonable. But their natural mannerisms appeared so out-of-sync with rational thought that opponents perceived they were playing weak hands and bluffing more often than was factually the case.

Notice that this is precisely the table image I recommend, because it’s the most profitable. You need to bewilder opponents and make them believe you’re less rational that you are.


Of course, you and I must work to perfect that image. Those few players I’ve been talking about seem to possess it by nature. Their bizarre personalities probably don’t work well for them in business or personal relations, but do at poker.

Now to the first part of the question: Of course it’s necessary to be deceptive. Deception is what poker is about. You’re always trying to trick opponents.

You want them to call when you have the best hand. If they knew for sure they were beat, they wouldn’t call. If they knew for sure that they had you beat, they could always bet – or deceive you by checking and letting you do it for them.

The point is, most of the time neither you nor your opponents know for sure what each other has in poker. And the better you are at disguising your poker hands and your poker emotions, the less certain opponents will be and the more money you’ll make.

Question 2: Can you describe a way you use today’s word “disguise” to win at poker?

Sure. Be a “rock,” meaning you should choose hands you enter pots with conservatively. But, at the same time, project an image that suggests you’re reckless. Nothing wins more money than this.

Question 3: What other disguises earn money?

You need to disguise your poker prowess. It’s tempting to let players at the table know how smart you are. Don’t do that.

Make it seem as if every success, every hand you win is the result of good fortune. When I spot a tell that means I’m going to win a pot by calling, I never say, “I’m calling, because I know you’re bluffing. You shouldn’t have stopped chewing your gum.”

Instead, I act as if I’m unsure about the call. I hesitate and finally toss the chips in reluctantly. I won’t try to convince opponents that I did the right thing. Yes, I was certain about what to do, but I want to disguise my skills and seem uncertain. There’s more money in that.

Question 4: Can you give me one more please?

Sure. Money should be important to you. But don’t let opponents know that – ever! One of your biggest poker disguises should be suggesting you don’t care about money.  This, in itself, is the reason people who play larger limits day after day have an advantage against players jumping up to those limits.

What happens is that the jumpers-up see the upward money shift as important. One very bad session at this higher limit can devastate their bankrolls and mean that it might take a long time to recover at their normal limits. The regulars in the bigger game sense this and attack. The newcomer folds too often out of fear and attacks too seldom – also out of fear.

One of the things I do to make opponents feel I don’t care about money is to burn $100 bills at the table. Maybe you’ve seen me do that or heard about it. Actually, in games where average pots are thousands of dollars, the advertising cost of burning $100 is small. But the message is powerful, and it tends to keep opponents from attacking at unexpected times. In effect, $100 often buys me psychological control of a game!

Don’t care

When I was younger, I’d sometimes enter games too large for my bankroll. Sometimes the regulars would try to use mocking words to intimidate me. I would respond with something like, “I’m sure you’re a better player, but unfortunately you have one problem against me.”

They’d typically ask, “What’s that?”

“I simply don’t care about money. It really, really doesn’t matter to me. Ask anyone.” And then I’d cackle convincingly. This simple psychological act turned the tables on opponents with larger bankrolls. I’d stolen their money leverage. Often they were timid about attacking me, because I had believably stated and then sometimes demonstrated on the first few hands that I had no respect for money.

Question 5: Is there anything else you could say about poker and the word “disguise”?

Not really. We could talk about slow playing hands to disguise their strength. But why bother?

Sometimes I use “either-or” chat to convince opponents that I either have an unbeatable hand or that I’m bluffing. The disguised truth is that I have something in-between and am making it safe for me to bet without fearing a raise. That kind of disguise works.

But the point is this: If you don’t feel comfortable deceiving people, if you can’t disguise who you are and what you’re feeling, if you’re not prepared for make-believe, then poker isn’t your game. — 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. Good article Mike!
    To comment on the last line, I have this tendency that I learned watching Erick Seidel to never show my hand. People always ask what did you have? I always answer… naturally since I don’t show my hand why would I tell the truth? What did I have ..umm.. KQ, no I’m kidding I have 7-9 etc.. so in a sense I fib on the fib and idk if this does anythng to anyone but it’s funny to me watching their reactions when I tell the first fib, then I tell the second fib. It has gotten to the point where people literally offer to pay me or buy me lunch to show my hands. I play small stakes so lunch is doable, but I don’t think it’s worth it in the long run.. unless I’m about to leave the table, in that case I’ll take a double double!!! :D

  2. I find that it all depends. The book on me is totally nitty, never puts money in bad, and you should find reasons to fold against me rather than call. This is reinforced on the hands that i show against poor/overly aggressive players. This means that I am called way less often than I should be by observant and thoughtful players, which allows me to steal a lot of pots early from them. Super observant players start finding reasons to call against me, which works for a bit, and then I rebuild my nitty attire, win me some pots, lowers variance, and then I go about the process of exploitation again. I find that this overall works best for me. Is it the most profitable? I am not sure, but it is indeed profitable. Interestingly enough, that at tables where I am an unknown, I am most profitable with this and tell manipulation. Am I the most fun at the table? Nope, but I do try and keep in the flow of the conversation, and develop rapport with those that I think are the most observant. Folding money to me, is nearly as rewarding as folding myself as correctly as possible. I find that this is also a good image for me as a regular, which I am at several places. Doing it the other way, I find that I do not get dealt good enough hands often enough to be overcalled profitably. Viva la difference I suppose.

  3. Hi Mike,
    Great Article!!!
    I've used similiar techniques in limit poker with great succes at the lower limits, but have had trouble establishing a similiar image at no-limit. The no-limit games are tighter and there are fewer multiway pots. The only succesful technique for creating this image has been drinking Corona at the table. Drinking is clearly not a good solution to my problem. 
    Your previous article talked about borderline plays. I found numerous close decisions in limit poker. These close decisions are eluding me in no-limit. The no-limit plays seem more clear cut. I can occassional make some very strange plays against an opponent with strong tells. My image at no-limit is definitely hurting.
    Do you have any suggestions? I've heard players say that there are more close decisions in no-limit than limit? My experience is that there are significantly more close plays in limit. What are your thoughts?

    1. Hi, Bill —

      I agree that there are more close or "borderline" decisions in limit poker than in no-limit poker. However, the decision-making process in no-limit tends to be more complex when pots are meaningfully large.

      Straight Flushes,

      Mike Caro

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