The following lecture was the 22nd Tuesday Session, held February 16, 1999, and appeared in Card Player magazine
The Business of Poker Can Be Very Profitable If You Know What to Do
Maximizing Profit Against Weak Opponents
When I was much younger, I’d drive miles to play against the toughest players in the world. I’d leave easy games to seek challenging ones. I enjoyed the combat, and I told myself that I was improving my skills by challenging the best opponents.
Yes, I survived this long erratic period in my career. In fact, before I began to write, lecture, and research about poker, I had no other job. Poker was all there was for 14 years. And during those years, I spent a great deal of time bumping heads with some of the most skillful players the world has ever known.
I teased my mind into thinking I was honing my skills by making it hard on myself. But, in reality, I was doing too much honing and too little capitalizing on the skills I had mastered already. Well, I’m proud to report, I was able to survive these world-class tough opponents and make money. Make that: sort of make money. I say, “sort of make money,” because you need to compare the money you actually won with the money you should have won. If it’s less, then the difference is a loss in my mind.
And, clearly, I would have won even more money if I’d spent a greater share of my time facing weaker foes. So, lesson learned. We move on. Life gets better. This was the 22nd in my serious of Tuesday Session classroom lectures at Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy. It was delivered earlier this year and is specially enhanced for Card Player. The title was…
Maximizing Profit Against Weak Opponents
Weak opponents supply all of your profit.
Just keeping this concept in your mind at all times will do wonders toward putting you on the path to poker profit. It’s easy to forget this, because so much of your poker activity consists of making tough decisions against tough opponents. But that’s not where the profit is. In the long run, the profit always comes from players who are weaker than you. Nothing else is possible. And the weaker your opponents are, the more money you can expect to earn.
Please don’t confuse this concept with the reality that you also earn profit by making quality decisions against your strongest foes. This is irrefutable. Also, you may be able to outplay a few opponents who are winners overall. When this happens, these players are weak from your personal perspective, though not in general. For purposes of your personal profit, you should seek them out. Their special weakness relative to you supplies money.
To make the most money, you need to play as correctly as possible against both weak and strong opponents. But, overall, weak opponents are the ones who bring the profit to the poker table. If you’re not playing against foes weaker than you are, you cannot expect to win money. Period.
What’s so great about beating strong opponents?
Beating strong foes wins a lot of respect and a little money. Beating weak foes wins a little respect and a lot of money.
So, unless you’re honing your skills on select occasions, you should seek out the weakest possible opponents. There is no excuse to do otherwise. The most successful poker players in the world are not the ones who show a profit against the strongest opponents.
The most successful players are those capable of extracting the most money from their weakest opponents. These most-successful players tend to play fewer hours against strong opposition than they do against weak opposition. Conversely, the strongest opponents often don’t know how to extract maximum profit from weak foes. They are doomed to live pitiful lives of poker mediocrity simply because they know how to play well against rational opponents, but they never learned how to extract the most money from the providers of profit.
Never compliment weak opponents on good plays or discuss serious strategy with them.
When you compliment weak opponents on correct play, you make them proud. Thereafter, they may struggle to play better in an effort to please you.
Also, it’s a very bad idea to discuss serious strategy with weak opponents – at the table or away from it. Doing so makes them self-conscious, and they recognize that there are levels of poker they don’t understand. They are apt to play more cautiously – and, worse, they may even learn to play well!
Make weak opponents into “legends.”
When you boast about the pots won by weak players with horrible hands, you feed their ego. They may try to live up to their legends – especially since you have praised them, rather than criticized them, for their weak play.
Learn to say, in Harvey’s presence, “I wish I could play like Harvey! That guy can take 10-9 and win the biggest pots! He knows exactly when to do it. It’s not what you play, it’s how you play.” Then look Harvey directly in the eyes, and say sincerely, “I really mean it. I’ve seen you do it so many times. It’s a joy to watch.” Say stuff like that and learn to mean it and your rewards will be much greater than if you make Harvey feel uncomfortable about occasionally winning with weak hands. You want to encourage his poor play, not discourage it
Say and do things to make opponents feel comfortable playing poorly.
Tell them you sometimes get lucky with those same hands. Show them an occasional played hand that is as weak as, or weaker than, those they play.
Weak opponents don’t play equally weak against everyone.
Try to get more “gifts” than your opponents. You will if (1) weak players like you, (2) you’re fun to play with, and (3) you don’t seem to “hustle” opponents.
It’s important to be liked. If you seem to be cheering for your weak opponents more than for yourself, you will be liked by them. You need to make your weakest opponents enjoy having you at the table, and you must never say anything that makes opponents think they’re either being taken advantage of or scrutinized.
Some players think their weakest opponents give money away equally to everyone. That’s incorrect. Everyone has borderline decisions to make, even weak poker players. Each player, no matter how loose or unskilled, must make decisions to play or not play, to call or not call, with hands that are right on the borderline from his perspective. These will be decided almost at whim. You will profit from more than your fair share of these weak hands and bad calls if your opponent enjoys playing against you and doesn’t fear being criticized for poor choices.
Those who believe that encouraging these extra calls ruins your chances of being able to bluff miss the point. You aren’t going to be able to bluff these weak players very often anyway. They call too much, so bluffing is almost always a poor choice against them. It’s calling too often that is their greatest mistake, and that’s what you should encourage.
Don’t try to trap weak opponents.
Check-raising and tricky plays make them feel targeted and less willing to give you their chips later. Usually just play your best hands aggressively and use a straightforward strategy. You can be playful without seeming mean.
When you make a sophisticated trapping maneuver, you may very well make more money on that specific hand, but you’ve make your weak opponent uncomfortable and less likely to bestow “gifts” on you in the future.
Use diplomacy to stop others from belittling weak opponents.
You should do this away from the table. Take the offenders aside. Unfortunately, this belittling behavior is standard for even some pros. It makes the weak players reluctant to continue their extra-bad play for fear of criticism. And that costs you money. – MC