Tuesday Sessions 17: Selected poker myths

Index to Tuesday Sessions

The following lecture was the 17th Tuesday Session, held January 17, 1999, and later appeared in Card Player magazine

Some Favorite Poker Lies, Myths, and Misguided Advice

They are everywhere. They come from out of nowhere. They may astound you, humor you, even annoy you. And there is no place on earth to hide from them. They are opinions. Other people’s opinions.

You’ve heard that everyone is entitled to an opinion, but that – in itself – is just someone else’s opinion. And, in fact, it isn’t a very good one. If you ask me, not everyone is entitled to an opinion. Why should they be? Opinions are things you are free to express in most advanced civilizations. So, nobody can stop anyone from speaking his mind. But, to me, being “entitled” to an opinion happens after someone has done some thinking or research – or has stumbled upon some special knowledge – that makes that opinion worth learning. Otherwise, a person may have an opinion, but he isn’t entitled to it.

Sometimes common poker advice that sounds like wisdom is not very good and not very profitable. It is simply the fault of a society too permissive of opinions.

Today’s Tuesday Session topic, from a lecture I gave earlier this year is…

Selected Poker Myths – Part 1

There might eventually be a follow-up lecture, analyzing more myths, but this is the only one so far. As always, I am expanding the notes that were given on the one-page handout…

  1. You can’t overcome the rake.
    If you played poker at your kitchen table or in your basement, you probably wouldn’t take anything out of the pot to cover expenses. Every dollar lost by someone would be a dollar won by someone else. But casinos and cardrooms create an enhanced poker environment, complete with a selection of games, food and beverage service, advanced surveillance, professional dealers, and more. Obviously, they need to recoup their costs and earn a profit. So, typically, either money is taken from each pot or your poker seat is rented to you by the hour or half hour.

    Overcoming a rake or a time charge takes skill. If all players are equal, only the house makes money. It doesn’t matter if all the players were very poor or very excellent. When there is equality, nobody wins in the long run. It is simply inequality of players that allows the best ones to win. If you have a significant advantage over your opponents, you probably can overcome most house rakes. Usually, the larger the limit, the less the house fees are when measured proportionally to the sizes of the wagers. This makes the fees easier to overcome. For this reason, there are many more professional players at higher limits.

  2. Jack-10 suited is a powerful hold ’em hand.
    At one time, many thought jack-10 suited is the most profitable hold ’em starting hand. It isn’t. It usually should not even be played against a double raise before the flop. And you should often fold it in a full-handed game from early positions.

  3. Play loose in tight games and tight in loose games.
    Anytime opponents stray from correct strategy, you can take advantage by playing more hands for extra profit. If opponents are too tight, compensate by bluffing more often. You also can win more hands with moderate strength simply because they go unchallenged by tight players. If opponents are too loose, compensate by playing more semi-strong hands that usually would not be profitable.

    Because your opponents have relaxed their standards considerably, you can relax yours, too, and still play the better hands more often than they do. So, you don’t need to be as selective. Although you won’t lose profit if you fail to adjust (and can expect to win even more money), you will maximize your profit if you do adjust. If the pot is raked, though, you shouldn’t loosen up your standards as much to match loose opponents. That’s because, although more hands would be profitable without a rake, many of the marginally profitable hands become unprofitable with a rake. For reasons I’ve discussed in previous columns, this doesn’t apply to seat-rental games or games where the button pays the fee no matter who wins. In those games, you should loosen up in response to loose opponents, just as if there were no fee at all.

  4. World-class players can easily detect cheating.
    The most sophisticated forms of card marking, card manipulation, and poker partnerships are the least obvious. Surveillance at many major casinos is very effective, providing players with protection they don’t have in home games. But players need to stay alert, because even world-class players can be and have been cheated. I personally feel much safer playing poker in reputable casino environments than in home games. You should, too.

  5. A “stop loss” is a good concept.
    The term stop loss simply means that once you have lost a predetermined amount of money, you will quit no matter what. Unless you’re using it for purely psychological reasons, or to keep you out of games where you may have miscalculated your edge, stop loss is not an effective means of money management. Since stop loss means to quit if you lose a predetermined amount, you are often merely stopping your opportunity for profit. Stop loss then becomes stop win. If you can emotionally handle the loss, the game is good, and you’re playing well, you will eventually earn more money the more hours you play.

    Despite this, there are some good reasons to quit when you’re losing. For instance, the game may not be as good as you think or opponents may not be intimidated by you and thus tend to play better. So, yes, tend to extend your sessions when you’re winning and shorten them when you’re losing. But – unless you’ve worked out a complex personal formula that dictates that you drop down to a lower limit if your bankroll shrinks to a given level – there is no fixed magic amount of maximum loss that you should use to save money. Consider each situation separately.

  6. Don’t count your chips while you’re sitting at the table.
    Counting chips is useful in measuring how well you’re doing. But, you shouldn’t use this count for things like quitting when you’re ahead to manufacture a win streak. Still, you should know how you’re doing in a game. So go ahead and count. Almost all professional poker players do.

  7. A player acting nervous is likely to be bluffing.
    Bluffers bolster themselves, are sometimes rigid, sometimes don’t breathe, and seldom look nervous or shake.

  8. Skillful players seldom check and call.
    Checking and calling is a natural tactic in poker. It often means that your hand is not good enough to bet and not bad enough to fold. Against frequent bluffers and overaggressive foes, checking and calling is very profitable.

  9. Hold ’em requires more skill than seven-card stud.
    Nope. Stud is more complex, but there is more luck involved, so your tough decisions aren’t as consistently rewarded. But to figure out what the actual best decisions are in stud requires a lot more analysis, largely due to the interaction of your cards versus your opponents. In hold ’em, all face-up cards are communal, and the possible combinations of all the opposing hands are fewer and easier to consider. Additionally, it is helpful to remember folded face-up cards in stud, but this profit-making skill is not available in hold ’em, where no faceup cards are ever thrown away.

    Yes, there often are fewer skilled players in seven-card stud than in hold ’em. But this speaks to the type of players the games attract, not to the theoretical levels of skill needed to play perfectly.

  10. The cards will break about even in 100 hours.
    Cards may not break even in a year or in a lifetime when you consider factors such as holding big winning hands in the right games against the right players. However, the best players will almost always win for a year, but luck will determine how much. – MC

Next Tuesday Session

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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. “Stop Loss” is what I’ve been doing mainly because of my limited bankroll. I left so many good games because of this. Though, I feel like I’m doing the right thing because I still have a decent bankroll for my limit. My mentality is -there will always be good game and I’ll get it back the next session.
    This is great advised for me. Thanks Mike

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