McHaffie: MCU lesson 048 / Shifting gears

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in Poker Player newspaper in 2005.

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 48: Shifting gears for the right reasons

Doyle Brunson talks quite a bit about shifting gears and I see Mike practice it on many occasions. Because of Mike’s image of the “Mad Genius of Poker,” he is able to shift gears without his opponents being aware of it. They expect him always to be in “Mad mode,” but he isn’t.

Mike recited his MCU audio lecture on this topic for me personally, and even explained it in more depth.

Aggressive to defensive

In poker, you’ll shift from being very aggressive to a defensive style, from tight to loose, from bluffing to non-bluffing. The reason that you shift gears is to keep your opponents off guard. Mike does this quite successfully.

Although, you’ll know when you’ve shifted gears, your opponents may continue to donate to your profit, unaware of what you’ve done. If your opponents aren’t paying any attention to you, then shifting gears is going to be useless. It isn’t going to fool them.

Opponents do react to what you do, in one way or another. Don’t change gears for no apparent reason. Mike says you need to use the right gear at the right time and below are a few of those times, taken from his 29th lecture, with his permission:

Keys to shifting success

Shifting gears is the act of changing strategy suddenly from tight and loose, aggressive and passive and back. No experienced player stays in the same mode all the time. You can increase your profits by shifting gears, but shifting for the wrong reasons could be costly.

You should only shift gears to confuse your opponents or to help your image. There isn’t any other reason to do it. If you’re playing against a tough opponent who’s alert, you should vary your actions by bluffing occasionally and betting with different hands.

Four good reasons to shift gears.

  1. To be less predictable and more confusing;
  2. To attack their money;
  3. To defend your money;
  4. To let opponents self-destruct.

Against certain players shifting to appear less predictable is debatable. It only matters against certain ones — one’s who understand what you’re doing and could take advantage if you didn’t shift.

If there’s no need, don’t do it. Remain in your most profitable gear as much as possible.

Middle or High

Which gears are going to work best? Against tight sensible players, try using a low gear by being conservative and un-aggressive. Also, try shifting if you’re losing or haven’t been able to establish a desirable image.

  • Middle gears – sometimes aggressive, sometimes defensive. This works better against aggressive and sensible opponents. Use this against opponents who bluff often. This could mean you’ll call more than raise.
  • High gears— Use this against opponents who are intimidated by your image. This is also useful when you’re building an image, and when you’re winning against weak opponents.

The truth about shifting gears. Your main objective should be to get into medium-high gear and stay there as much as possible. Except in rare games, where opponents call too much, raise too little, and don’t adjust, you’ll possibly lose money if you stay in high gear.


You have the advantage when you shift suddenly. The most observant player probably isn’t going to notice immediately that you have shifted.

Gear shifting can confuse unobservant opponents. Unknowingly they’ll sense unpredictability and they’ll become hesitant and play worse against you.

Beware of a big mistake! When you’re controlling the game, in high gear, resist the urge to suddenly shift down and play a big hand deceivingly. You should almost never do this. Continue betting and raising. As long as your image is working, take advantage of it.

Mike has an image that he cultivates quite successfully and its fun to watch. His opponents never know when to take him seriously. When he shifts from loose and crazy to aggressive and serious, it’s all done with a sleek finesse that stays in character with his image, and they don’t realize what he’s done. He still continues to joke and talk, even when he’s switched gears. All the while, the profit is rolling in! — DM

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