McHaffie: MCU lesson 023 / Bellagio, Part 1

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 23: WPT at the Bellagio, Part 1

I’m at the World Poker Tour in Las Vegas at the illustrious Bellagio. There are 343 participants starting out with a staggering $25,000 buy-in into the world’s largest, high stakes tournament ever held, with the total jackpot being over $8 million. The winner will walk away with $2.5 million.

The usual, well-known poker players that you witness every week playing in tournaments on TV were all participating, as well as many celebrities from all over the world. These included Ben Affleck, James Woods, Ming-Na of the ER series, Gabe Kaplan, and many more.

Spectators were massed around the ropes separating them from the tables, straining to see their favorite players. I was just as excited as they were. How often do I get to see these celebrity players in action, along with my teacher, Mike Caro and his close friend, Doyle Brunson? I had a front row seat.

Different skills

Mike has mentioned several times to me that he doesn’t enjoy playing tournaments. He says that poker tournaments are structured so that the skills you normally use everyday don’t apply in tournament play.

Whereas in regular poker games you take advantage of the high-risk opportunities that can add considerable profit, it just isn’t wise to play this way in tournaments. You have to exercise control and patience, waiting for just the right cards that have a chance of winning the pots. The cards don’t consistently come your way. You take fewer risks, so that you can outlast the more daring players. Good but-risky play doesn’t get rewarded in tournaments, where first place must gather all the chips but doesn’t win all the prize pool.

In tournaments structured like that, Mike says there’s a penalty for taking first place – you have to give back most of the money you’ve already won. Conversely, there’s a reward for finishing close to first place. And this means you should strive to survive and finish high in the rankings, rather than take risks to win the “championship trophy,” as he calls it. If you stumble into first place, that’s great, but that shouldn’t be your main target if profit – rather than glory – is your motive.

Deal after deal, Mike continued to get unplayable cards. They weren’t falling right. He wasn’t getting anything he could even wager on. He managed to bluff on a few, but generally he just had to pass. For me, this would be terribly frustrating, but I guess it takes a different temperament to be a world-class gambler.

You’d never guess

Just by watching Mike hang in there without big hands, finishing 103rd out of 343 the first day, you would never guess that tournament games aren’t among his favorites. He chats cordially with those around him, smiling and joking. I believe he is the only player capable of napping between hands with $8 million at stake. At least he seemed to – needing to be nudged back into awareness by players and dealers. How can you be bored with so much money at stake? I guess it’s part of what makes him the “Mad Genius of Poker.” He teaches me that you can’t let the stakes affect you – large or small, just play your best and accept what comes along.

At times, we were breathless watching to see how the cards would fall. What did the flop hold in store for the battlers? We watched the faces of the players, hoping to see a reaction, watching for tells.

Then suddenly, at the next table, most of the players were on their feet, the spectators were leaning against the ropes, desperate to see what was causing the excitement. The pot was large and two of the players were heads-up. Then one of them went all-in! Players from the nearest tables turned to watch. Then there was a triumphant yell and the winner of the pot surged to his feet in excitement. The crowd released its breath, a contestant left the game, eliminated, while the other players sank back into their seats, knowing full-well that it so easily could’ve been them.

But, it isn’t all starry-eyed excitement. And I’ll tell you the other side of the story in my next column. — DM

Next entry in Lessons from MCU series


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