Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in Poker Player newspaper in 2006.
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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lessons from MCU
— With bonus content by Mike Caro (pending) —
Lesson 87: An interview with Mike Caro about poker psychology
As part of my MCU training, I asked Mike if I could interview him from time to time. Today’s interview focuses on the psychology of poker.
DM: You mentioned that until recently psychology hasn’t played a major role in many of the top player’s arsenal of weapons against their opponents. Evidently with the continued popularity of your Caro’s Book of Tells, and your many seminars, you’ve tried to convince them how important psychology is to poker. First, do you agree that there has been a change in how players regard psychology as part of their weaponry? Second, if you do agree, what do you think has caused this change?
MC: I agree that, after 30 years of denial, many top pros are grudgingly acknowledging that poker psychology is more important than previously believed. There are two main reasons. One, oddly, is Internet poker. That sounds strange, because on the Internet you can’t act in physical ways that will influence opponents to call or fold.
Players can’t see each other. As a consequence, they don’t have many opportunities to gain extra income by social exchanges and reading tells. So, how has that made poker players more accepting of the value of psychology in poker? Simple. In the Internet poker arena, skillful players become more cognizant of what they would like to do, but can’t. Maybe if they could produce that perfect, whimsical smile at this moment, the opponent might feel conned and decide to make a weak call. But online, the best you can do is type fast and say, “Call me.”
DM: Since you’re unable to see your opponent’s faces online, you can’t choose the right words to bring about the reactions that you might hope for. That’s an important factor, correct?
MC: Yes. Maybe typing, “Don’t call me,” would be better, but you don’t really know, because you can’t watch your opponent and make an educated guess about what psychological warfare to use. Besides, maybe your opponent isn’t paying attention to what you type. Psychology isn’t a powerful tool, like it is in the real world. They wish they could manipulate their opponents in real-world ways.
And it’s the fact that they can’t that underscores what’s missing. You’ve heard the saying, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. Well, playing online poker and not being able to save a pot or win an important call, using psychology, is a good example of realizing what you had because now it’s gone.
DM: Are strong players the only one’s who are aware that psychology is absent from online poker?
MC: No. Some weak players probably realize that they’re safer online, because they can’t be psychologically manipulated and strong opponents can’t read their tells. Players who are weak at reading opponents and guiding them toward wrong decisions benefit most online. It takes away the advantage of those who have these skills. Some of those weak opponents must recognize this and feel more comfortable and confident. In doing so, they also realize that psychology is much more important than they previously thought.
DM: You said there were two things that contributed to the renewed realization that poker psychology is important. What’s the other one?
MC: Television. We see players – even world-class ones – ponder when an astute opponent says something. Those who previously thought that big-league poker players were impervious to manipulation can now point to contrary instances. So, televised poker also stresses the importance of psychology.
DM: Psychology matters least among top players and most when a strong player is manipulating a weak one. Isn’t that right?
MC: Yes and no. Yes, because in the real world of poker, most profit is made from weak opponents. And when you read their tells or maneuver them into making especially weak calls, you win a lot more money. No, because in the toughest games, tactical poker skills tend to be fairly even. About the only thing that will make a dramatic difference in long-range overall profit is a superior understanding of poker psychology and tells.
DM: Thanks for the interview. You’ve given me and my readers a lot to ponder. — DM