The following lecture was the 20th Tuesday Session, held February 16, 1999, and later appeared in Card Player magazine
Most people tend to feel smug about what they know. Poker players are no different.
“She didn’t even have enough common sense not to raise with her three sixes! What did she think the guy had, aces up? Obviously he was going for a flush and he either made it or he missed it. So, why raise?” How many times have you heard comments like that?
Me too. We hear them all the time. This is just the way people who have gained knowledge and are proud of it try to make their superiority known. They are seeking to elevate themselves above others. No big deal. Happens all the time. But, what I teach is that you need to think back. Way back. I frequently ask students, “When did you first realize that?”
Maybe they gloat, “Oh, gosh, I realized that over 20 years ago!”
“OK,” I say, “Then what were you thinking five minutes before you realized that?” And there’s the point. For everything we know, there was a time five minutes earlier when we didn’t know it. Some say I’m an egomaniac. I guess they’re right. Maybe I could sit at the final table in life’s egomania world championship. But, you know what? I wouldn’t win. And the reason I wouldn’t win is simply because I realize that for every concept that I have mastered and swear by, there was a long period of ignorance that preceded it.
So, let’s talk about today’s column. We’re going to discuss things that very few players know. But after I tell you about them, they’ll become part of your poker wisdom. And then you might feel smug because others don’t know these things. If that happens, think back to the time, right now, when you had read to this point and no further.
This was the 20th in my serious of Tuesday Session classroom lectures at Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy. It was delivered last February and is specially enhanced for Card Player…
Little-Known Poker Tips that Bring Big Profit
- Pause two-and-a-half seconds before you bluff.
This is serious advice. If you bet instantly or wait too long, you might make opponents suspicious. You are likely to trigger their calling reflexes.
You’ve heard me talk often about that “calling reflex.” Most opponents want to call. They didn’t come to the cardroom to be bored and throw hands away. So, they have a bias toward calling, and anything you do that seems even slightly suspicious can trigger a calling reflex.
I have carefully observed opponents in this regard for many years. While I have no conclusive scientific answer, counting mentally, “One thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand -” seems to work best before you bluff. Now, be aware that the length of time may be different for various situations and for specific opponents. No two people react precisely the same way to stimulus, but two-and-a-half seconds seems like the perfect pause against most foes.
However, if you determine that an opponent already has mentally surrendered on his hand, bluffing instantly may be better. Doing so doesn’t give the opponent time to reevaluate. He is prepared to fold, and you take advantage of this with an instant wager. Usually, though, an instant bet just makes opponents suspicious. Also, if you pause too long before you bluff, opponents become suspicious and are likely to call.
Wait the two-and-a-half seconds. Try it. And remember, your bluff isn’t likely to succeed most of the time whether you pause appropriately or not. But in limit poker games, you only need to win once in a while to justify a bluff. That’s because the pots are much bigger than the wagers, making the rewards much bigger than the risks.
- An opponent clearing his throat after betting has a medium-strong hand and almost never anything else.
Often you’ll hear a player (always a male) clear his throat after making a bet. This is a little-analyzed, unconscious male trait. It is a way of preparing psychologically for whatever may come. Players tend not to do this when they’re bluffing. Then, they’re typically quiet and unmoving, fearing that any action may trigger a call. And, if they have especially strong hands, they don’t have to prepare themselves for the possibility being beaten. Thus no throat clearing.
- Two-handed bets are more likely to be called.
Use this technique sometimes when you’re sure you’re betting the best hand. The two-handed action looks suspicious to most opponents and triggers their calling reflex. I have been using this technique successfully for years, but I guess I’ll have to stop after blurting that out. Damn!
- Opponents engaged in conversation who don’t pause when they first look at their freshly dealt hand are likely to fold.
Observe and use this information to mentally move yourself to a “later” position (with reduced opening requirements). When you know opponents waiting to act behind you won’t play, you can be much more aggressive in attacking. This wins extra profit and helps your image.
When players first look at their hands and see something they like and intend to play, it is natural for them to pause and consider exactly how they will proceed. Raise? Just call? Lure players into the pot? All these questions and many more go through their minds. So, if they’re carrying on a conversation, they will pause or stammer when they see a playable hand. In the absence of this pause, usually cross them off the list of possible threats and pretend you’re in a later position. You can then play slightly weaker hands because not as many opponents have a chance of beating you.
- One way to maximize your sandbagging profit is to threaten to call after checking.
Players may bluff, thinking you’re insincere about your verbal remark or gesture indicating a call. If they have medium hands, they feel safer about betting them, not thinking they’ll face an uncomfortable raise. But that’s exactly what they’ll face.
By threatening to call, you’ve actually forced your opponents into what I call “either/or” evaluation. Either you’ll call or you won’t. In addition to making it seem safe for your opponents to bet marginal hands, often they may try to bluff, seeing their chances for success as a virtual coin-flip. The third possibility (and the truth), that you’ll raise, seldom occurs to them.
- Try to identify opponents who are playing at a limit above their norm.
These players typically are uncomfortable. They are more likely to just call with borderline hands than to raise. They often can be bluffed. The unfamiliar, higher limit makes them among your easiest-to-beat, most predictable foes.
- Even if you know you’ll earn more (on average) if everyone passes, often you should still try to get called.
How come? If you could get everyone to pass, you would. Unless you hold an unusually strong hand, there’s usually more money in the pot right now – comprised of blinds, antes, and initial bets – than you can expect to earn on average (considering wins and losses) by playing to a showdown. But usually, players will call, even if you don’t want that to happen. So, your biggest profit, in those cases, is usually to encourage extra calls from weak hands.
- Caro’s Great Law of Betting:
You should only bet if the value of betting is greater than the value of checking. Never forget that checking can have value as a poker weapon. It has the value of deception, and more. Checking and then calling may earn more than betting and hoping to be called. There’s actually a lot more to this concept, and the reasoning gets fairly complex. But, today, just remember the big premise.
Repeating: In order to justify a bet, the value of betting must be greater than the value of checking. If you begin to think about wagering that way, you’ll earn a lot more money. – MC