McHaffie: MCU lesson 009 / Play different when losing

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in Poker Player newspaper in 2003.

This is part of a series by Diane McHaffie. She wasn’t a poker player when she began writing this series. These entries chronicle the lessons given to her personally by Mike Caro. Included in her remarkable  poker-learning odyssey are additional comments, tips, and observations from Mike Caro.

Diane McHaffie index.

Diane McHaffie is Director of Operations at Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy. She has traveled the world coordinating events and seminars in the interest of honest poker. You can write her online at

Diane McHaffie

Lessons from MCU

— With bonus content by Mike Caro (pending) —

Lesson 9: Yes, you should play differently when you’re losing

While standing off to the side, I watched a poker game play out. I noticed a woman, who had been winning, take a nosedive and start losing. The cards didn’t seem to be falling right for her. I observed how previously she seemed to have command of the game. The table had been all hers. Then suddenly it no longer belonged to her. She sat slumped, instead of erect. There was no longer the air of confidence about her. She looked frazzled and beaten, puzzled at how she’d lost control. It was like she’d give up and was just going through the motions. I asked Mike to explain this.

He said that quite a number of people will tell you that, whether you’re winning or losing, you should play the same. That’s because these advisors realize that players will often allow superstition to guide how they play. Superstitious people play poker on the basis of how lucky or unlucky their game is right now. You shouldn’t allow superstition to dictate how you play. That should never enter into your game.

The right way to play is based largely on how your opponent perceives you. It’s psychological. Does he see you as a successful, winning, confident player? Or does he see a whining, grumbling loser? Or has he simply noticed that you’re quietly losing hand after hand. How would your typical opponent play against each of these types of players?


When an opponent sees you as a confident, winning player, he often is going to be more intimidated and will play more to your liking. He’ll be scared of you and of your command of the game, and he’ll be less likely to take advantage of his better-than-average hands. Quite often, he’ll probably just call instead of raise.

Mike also says that when you’re winning, your opponent will be less likely to be tricky. It becomes safer for you to fold medium hands to sudden raises and thereby save money. When opponents see you winning, they are more likely to become cautious callers, exactly the type of opponents you wish to play for maximum profit. These meek players will pay you off, but they won’t make you pay extra money when they have marginally good hands. This allows you to play many moderate hands more successfully — hands that you couldn’t otherwise play at all. This is the best of all worlds.

When you’re losing you look vulnerable to your opponents. They become suddenly inspired by your losing, and they’re thinking, “Here’s someone I can beat. This hand is mine. I can take control of this pot.” They will then get maximum value out of their hands, meaning many of your marginal hands, that you thought were decent, are now suddenly unprofitable. They haven’t meekly conformed to your wishes. They didn’t play as you had hoped they would.

No longer afraid

So, let’s look at it again. When you’re losing, you surrender command of the game. It doesn’t belong to you anymore. Your opponents are no longer afraid of you. They see your losing as a challenge to recoup their losses, and to get even. This is a chance for them to smirk in your face. In turn, they will play better, and your moderate hands will become less profitable, if profitable at all.

So, should you play differently when you’re losing? Yes, indeed!

You should play more aggressively when you’re “lucky” and more cautiously when you’re “unlucky.”

Remember this: Changing your strategy has nothing to do with superstition and everything to do with how your opponents perceive you. So when someone tries to tell you that you should play the same whether you’re winning or losing, just wink and nod. Now you know that isn’t true. — DM

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