McHaffie: MCU lesson 024 / Bellagio, Part 2

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 2

As I mentioned in Part I, I was at the World Poker Tour in Las Vegas at the famous Bellagio. There were 343 participants in a tournament that required an amazing $25,000 buy-in. There was a staggering $8 million prize pool, with the winner walking away with $2.7 million.

Last time, I told you how Mike has repeatedly pointed out that many of the skills you use in everyday play don’t apply to tournament play. In regular games, you’ll take advantage of high-risk opportunities that can add considerable profit. However, you’ll find yourself playing differently in tournaments, taking fewer risks, enabling you to hang in there longer. Many of the hands you might have taken a chance on, or bluffed on, you check or throw away. You find that’s necessary to wait for just the right cards.

It takes control and patience if you wish to outlast the players who choose to take too many risks. It’s long, grueling hours, sitting in one chair, enduring disappointing hands, one after another, and waiting for that good combination of cards that would enable you to check, call, bet, and raise.  Yes! The pot is yours! You rake the chips in, eyes sparkling, heart racing, feeling the rush of the moment.

The penalty

Mike says that tournaments are usually structured so that there’s a penalty for taking first place. First place finishers win all the chips, and then share the money with 10 to 50 others. In terms of profit, it’s often wiser to try to finish high, rather than take greater risks in pursuit of first place. If you finish first, that’s great, but don’t let it be your main objective, if profit is your motive. Finishing in the money is always a great accomplishment.

I watched Mike rake in the pot time and again. I know he doesn’t like playing tournaments. He’d rather be in the Ozarks writing, preparing for new videos, or taking time out to fish. But he wasn’t. No, he was here at the Bellagio, playing in the biggest tournaments ever – and, oddly, not relishing it, warning me that he “could be trapped in a seat for four days.” I know that if he were going to be trapped in a seat he would prefer that it be in front of his computer at home!

But to me, not having witnessed world-class competition, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to observe the highest stakes tournament ever played, with some of the biggest legends ever heard of. The legends of yesterday were gathered with those of today. Who would come out on top?


How many players could actually boast about the chance to play against Doyle Brunson, Chip Reese, Lyle Berman, Mike Caro, and other famous legends? Even now these legends can still outplay, outwit, and outlast the famous poker players of today. This is indeed a tournament that will go down in history as having the most legendary, and famous players and celebrities ever assembled under one roof, playing for such an enormous prize pool.

One of the most exciting moments of the night happened the last 30 minutes of the game on the first evening. It brought me to my feet with a smile of amazement and wonder on my face. By the luck of the draw, Doyle Brunson had just joined Mike’s table, and sat down at the empty seat next to Mike. Here were my two favorite poker legends, at the same table, competing against one another. Wow, what a moment!

On the way out of the casino, after Mike had gone all in with the best hand and gotten drawn out on (“just part of poker,” he mused), we stopped at a blackjack table to play. Blackjack is pretty much a break-even game with Mike, because he makes it known that he won’t take advantage of the casino industry that he consults with on a regular basis, by counting cards. Yet, on this night, when he couldn’t win at poker, he won all nine hands he played at blackjack. Go figure!  — DM

Next entry in Lessons from MCU series (pending)


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