McHaffie: MCU lesson 060 / Poker and smoking

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 60: Poker and smoking

For the record, I don’t smoke. I’ve been around a lot of people who do. A few of my friends smoke. It bothers me, but I never grumble out loud, only internally. I prefer to spend my money on books, instead of cigarettes. Reading is my habit of choice.

Truthfully, I prefer smoke-free environments, but I can tolerate the smoke if need be. I have been known to specifically request the smoking area of a restaurant, as many times it can be the quietest section. You may find it strange that I would prefer that there were fewer smoke-free poker rooms. I never expected smoking to play a large part in poker until Mike convinced me that if you can get past the second-hand smoke, and we all know how unpleasant that can be, you can have a more profitable outcome by playing with smokers. This is because they are going to provide you with clues as to the strength of their hands.

Another side of the story

Mike says that there’s also another side to the story, which is that when habitual smokers are forced to play in a smoke-free atmosphere they have less patience than usual. You see, smoking appeases them, like a pacifier does to a small child. Without that pacifier the child will become cranky, as does the poker player who has been denied his. He can lose his cool, and when he does, he also loses his objectivity about which hands to play and which to discard. That can mean more money in your pocket if you take advantage of it.

Now that I’ve let you in on one of Mike’s tips about the rewards of playing in a smoke-free atmosphere, I’ll tell you about the disadvantages.


There are two main drawbacks. The first one isn’t quite as important, but is still an issue. When you have a smoke-free poker room some poker players that smoke will be discouraged from playing at all or, if they do play, it’s not going to be for any length of time, or as frequently. Mike says that smokers, as a group, tend to be more impulsive and more profitable opponents. So, even though your health will profit from these smoke-free rooms, your bankroll could be suffering.

The second and more important drawback of smoke-free poker rooms is that it abolishes what Mike says is “one of the most important tells in the universe.” What he’s referring to is the fact that smokers have a tendency to exhale more liberally when they are holding a strong hand and feel secure. Therefore, if they are surrounded by a cloud of smoke and just puffing away, beware.

No exhaling

However, if a smoker is holding a weak hand or if he’s bluffing, he may not exhale at all, or very little. He’s nervous and unsure and doesn’t want to chance doing anything that may lead you to call or raise. There’s the tell that you’re looking for to go after him and make a profit.

I couldn’t wait to pass this information along to you. I know many of you play in home games, or in casinos where smoking is allowed, and that you might be able to take advantage of this little tidbit of knowledge. Mike wanted you to be aware of the advantages and disadvantages of a smoking or smoke-free environment, so that in the future you’d know what to look for and be able to profit from it.

It’s amazing that there are so many aspects of poker to consider, more than I ever thought there could be. We’ll continue to explore many more in the future. — DM

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