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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lessons from MCU
— With bonus content by Mike Caro (pending) —
Lesson 34: Superstitious forces
Mike teaches that superstition can influence your outcome at poker. I know he does from firsthand experience. When he was giving me this lesson about not acting superstitiously, I remarked, “There are many people who are very superstitious. What you’re saying is that superstition doesn’t affect your outcome at poker?”
He said, “Wrong! Superstition does affect outcomes at poker in dramatic ways.”
I was shocked by that. It was not what I expected him to say at all. I immediately recalled various superstitions that I had as a child. I had always been taught how unlucky black cats were, but yet, I’ve had several black cats as an adult. They didn’t bring bad luck. As a matter of fact, they had a tendency to live longer, maybe because mean-spirited people don’t go out of their way to drive over black cat, whereas, they may not take the same care with a yellow cat. So, I had grown out of being superstitious. But now Mike was making me rethink my beliefs.
A tough job
Then Mike went on to explain, “Being superstitious about an event you have no control over will have no bearing on its outcome one way or the other.” He continued, “At least that’s my best judgment. I suppose that theoretically I could be wrong. Maybe we live in a universe where the outcomes of events that seem to be random are actually manipulated. Maybe there’s an administrator living on a planet in a far away galaxy who has been appointed to make sure that some people who cross their fingers hopefully will meet with better luck. But that administrator has a tough job, because he must disappoint other people who cross their fingers — in order to make his power less obvious. If that superstition could be proven to work, then everyone would be aware of the power and the universe would fall from being a rational place with random occurrences, into one of chaos. People would compete to see who could gain the most by crossing their fingers. Although I don’t think this is such a universe, I’ll leave that open as a slight possibility for those who wish it to be so.”
I understood what Mike was saying and agreed with him. Crossing my fingers had never really worked well for me as a child. I encouraged him to continue. He said, “Well if it doesn’t work, then how can it affect your game of poker? That’s what you’re wondering, right?”
He stared me down, then continued. “It affects it,” he explained, “Because if you’re superstitious, you do things differently. And when your opponents are superstitious, they do things differently. They may sometimes play hands in a different manner for purely superstitious reasons. This means that they’re not sticking to their best game plan all of the time.”
He went on to point out that any time opponents vary from their best game plan, they’re sacrificing by not always making the proper plays. By doing this, a superstitious opponent will usually enable you to make more money against them than you would against non-superstitious opponents.
The meanest trick
Mike told me, “That’s why I don’t allow my students to be superstitious.” He then gave me an example of what he terms “the meanest trick in poker.”
He sometimes notices that an opponent next to him has positioned his chips in a very precise manner. Mike suspects that perhaps this opponent has a bit of a superstitious streak in him. So Mike will casually reach over and “accidentally” nudge the chips out of position, ever so slightly. He believes this sometimes has a powerful psychological effect on how the opponent will now feel about the play. If he is superstitious, he’ll feel uneasy and unlucky — and he’ll reconsider what his play is going to be in ways that weaken his profit potential.
It made perfect sense to me. And I hope that now it makes sense to you, too. — DM