McHaffie: MCU lesson 028 / Serious poker

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in Poker Player newspaper in 2004.

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 28: Serious poker shouldn’t seem that way

When many players sit down to the table to play poker, they think they have to take the game seriously. Well, they’re right. They do – assuming they’re playing to win. They should be serious, but they shouldn’t act serious. Today, I’m going to tell you why.

It’s about image. Players who look serious can often find themselves in an emotional tug-of-war with opponents who believe they must be equally serious to stand a chance. No one relaxes. It’s a war, instead of a game. Then the money is hard to win, because opponents are playing a tougher game than they normally would. Serious players often open themselves up to a roller coaster ride from hell, in which they unwittingly engage others to join. Up, down; up down. Serious play meets serious response. Money comes; money goes.

But, this serious ride takes all of the fun out of your opponents’ poker experience. No laughter. No joking. No opportunities to throw off money to you without feeling the pain.

The problem

Usually, these serious-seeming players studied the game, memorized the odds and details they thought pertinent, and became determined to focus entirely on winning money. Yes, they arrive at the table ready to play seriously. That’s good. And they let everyone know it. That’s bad.

Letting opponents have fun doesn’t fit anywhere into their equation. Do you think opponents enjoy playing at their table? No! It’s just one solemn, quiet, boring game, isn’t it? They’d rather be playing at a table where there was laughter and joking, where they could play a little recklessly and nobody would make them feel self-conscious about it.

Mike teaches that a too-serious poker image can spell disaster. He says, “Having fun is infectious, and it makes your opponents want to have fun, too. Your goal, when you sit at the table should be to generate good will and laughter.” You can be serious about the game, but — he points out in this lesson – taking poker seriously implies conveying the right image.

Disguising your main motive

If you’re a salesperson, you’re serious about making sales, but your personality shouldn’t be deadly serious. You need to make your clients comfortable. You want them to buy from you. Smiles win more friends than frowns. Clients are aware that you’re there to sell to them, so you don’t have to make that fact obvious. You shouldn’t convey to them that your main motive is making money. Naturally it is your primary motive, but why flaunt the fact. It would only make them uneasy and harder to sell.

How does this apply to poker? As I’ve discussed in previous columns, if you’re trying to win, you need to make the right decisions, and you need to sell your hands for the highest price possible. In that way, you have the best chance of walking away with the most money.

You can’t go to the table with a dead-serious, ruthless appearance, because the image will work against you. Your “customers” – the opponents at your table—won’t feel good about buying from you. You’ll force them to play better — and when they play better, you’ll fare worse. You should still play serious poker, but have fun with it. Make it enjoyable for everyone.

Today’s lesson

This brings us to what Mike says is a very powerful truth. “Making the most money by taking poker seriously means that you must seem not to take it seriously!”

Today’s lesson is simply this:

Your image at poker is important. It’s an aspect of the game you should take seriously, but that image must not be serious, or you’ll leave profit on the table. Make sure you’re fun to play with and your opponents will have fun giving you their money. — DM

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