Mike Caro poker word is That

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2011) in Poker Player newspaper.

Last time I strayed from my normal format. Instead of focusing on a single poker concept, defined by today’s word, I allowed the self-interview questions to be about “this and that.”

Well, not quite. I chose “this” as the word, because I quickly realized “this and that” covered too much ground. So, we narrowed the interview to questions only about “this.” Even so, it turned out there were thousands of ideas, tips, and concepts capable of fitting the definition. I could only address a few.

The same is true today, except this time I won’t answer any questions that fall into the “this” category. Everything will be about “that.” Here’s the interview…

Question 1: If you’re playing aggressively and seem to be running over a timid opponent, should you ever ease up?

Maybe. Here’s the deal.

You should never adjust a winning method just for the thrill of variety. Sounds too simple to say, doesn’t it? But most experienced poker players, even some professionals, do exactly that – adjust without a reason. And they do it regularly.

It’s important to be deceptive and shift gears sometimes against astute opponents who might zone in on your play if you seem too predictable. But against other less-observant foes, you can simply choose your most obviously profitable play time after time.

Now let’s address the original question. If you’re betting and raising aggressively and beating up on a timid opponent who folds too often, should you change your tactics? Well, an intelligent opponent might eventually catch on and start calling and raising more often. That would mean the mistake being made – the one that’s bringing you profit –would end. You don’t want that.

So, what I do is, occasionally instead of raising, fold a slightly better-than-average hand. It could be one that, in a small blind vs. big blind situation, cries out to be raised with. I show this folded hand, suggesting I’m not playing as aggressively as it seems, that I’m probably just getting strong cards dealt to me. That small sacrifice makes it possible for me to continue to pummel such opponents with less fear that they’ll catch on and adjust.

But, some oblivious opponents may never notice that I’m being too aggressive and may never adjust. Against them, it would be silly to change my play.

In general, I believe in continuing the attack unless it’s obvious that deception is needed or an adjustment would be profitable.

Question 2: If you’re getting too many calls and can’t bluff profitably, what should you do?

Rejoice. And don’t bluff except for show.

This means your opponents are already making the big mistake of calling too often. Most opponents fall into that category, and it’s the biggest reason you can win. So, let’s suppose you’re against opponents you can’t bluff.

You’re already making money from them, because they call too readily. In order to win by bluffing, instead, you’ll have to do some serious poker engineering.

You’ll need to coax them away from calling too liberally, through a period of calling just about right and perhaps playing perfectly, then onward to the task of getting them to fold too much. That’s a questionable undertaking, considering that you probably can make more money right now from their excessive calls.

A related secret is that you should capitalize on mistakes your opponents make. Don’t help them correct those mistakes in the hopes that they’ll start making different ones.

Question 3: If a bigger game seems more profitable, should you play in it?

Maybe not.

If you do, see if you can get someone to put up half the money take half your action, win or lose. Fine, but if you do that, then the bigger game is often less profitable. If your standard game has an expectation of $100 an hour and a bigger game has an expectation of $180 an hour, then playing it and selling half your action will leave you making $90 an hour. You would have been better off staying in the smaller game.

Some players think it’s worth it to be seen playing bigger. Beyond the learning, it enhances their image. But if they later need to play smaller again, that diminishes their image again. And if, out of pride, they keep playing in the larger game when it becomes less attractive again, as many aspiring pros do, then they’re apt to go broke. And that doesn’t help their image at all.

Obviously, you’ll want to consider playing larger sometimes. And slowly, as you build a bankroll and improve, you might want to attack bigger limits. But be very cautious in promoting yourself. In my experience, players who impulsively jump into larger games regret it most of the time.

Question 4: At what point in a poker tournament should you stop playing to survive?

If we’re talking about a traditional proportional-payoff tournament, where first place gets only a fraction of the prize pool, with smaller fractions going to second place, third place, fourth place, and so forth, then listen closely. You should play to survive almost all the way until the finish, avoiding high risk hands that would show a long-range profit outside of a tournament.

That isn’t guesswork or an opinion. There’s a solid mathematical reason for that, which I’ve discussed often. I won’t provide that reason today, but you can Google “Mike Caro,” “tournament,” and “penalty,” if you’re curious.

Not until there are only two players left and you’re one of them should you stop playing to survive. The reason you shouldn’t play to survive any longer heads-up is that there is no second-place money. There’s only first place money being contested!

How come? Let’s say first place is $1 million and second place is $600,000. In that case, you’ve both already secured $600,000. You’re playing winner-take-all poker for the remaining $400,000.

That’s when you should play your best everyday two-handed poker and take all the related risks. Until then, survive.

Question 5: Have we finished with the word “that” for today?

For today, yes.— MC

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Mike Caro

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Known as the “Mad Genius of Poker,” Mike Caro is generally regarded as today's foremost authority on poker strategy, psychology, and statistics. He is the founder of Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy (MCU). See full bio → HERE.


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  1. It’s rare that I disagree with Mike but I do here. Playing to survive will only see you short stacked at the final table of a tournament….if you make it that far. I play tournament differently from cash certainly, but I play to amass chips whenever and however I can do that. If I catch a run of cards I try to build my stack as much as possible. If I’m card dead, then I play to survive. Steal a blind now and again, risk as little as possible etc. I do agree that heads up it’s no holds barred. Go for the jugular. Either way, have a Happy New Year, Mike. Best to you.

    1. Hi, Gary —

      You’re right. Playing to survive WILL often leave you short stacked late in a tournament. But that’s a good thing. It’s better to have a shot at the money than to be out of contention.

      Sometimes, you’ll get lucky along the way and have a big stack late or even win the tournament. But the proportional-payout system dictates mathematically that you shouldn’t put emphasis on gathering chips or pursuing first place. If those things happen, that’s a bonus.

      This advice isn’t based on guesswork. It’s a provable fact.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

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