The following lecture was the 37th Tuesday Session, held June 22, 1999, and later appeared in Card Player magazine.
Classroom Lectures: Some Exercises You Can Do to Improve Your Poker
Yes, they call me “The Mad Genius of Poker,” and I’m not offended. I like it. The more you get to know me, the more you realize that I really am certifiably nuts. All this stuff you hear about it being a clever act is just public relations babble. It’s not an act. It’s never been an act. Just between you and me, I wake up every single morning wishing I could be normal — but it’s hopeless.
Nothing irritates me more than to hear someone try to compliment me by explaining, “Yeah, he’s crazy — crazy like a fox.” These are people who have assumed that I know how to control my insanity. I categorically deny this.
I hate explaining stuff I write, but the above paragraphs have been misunderstood by some students. So, this added note is probably necessary. I was being facetious. That Mad Genius persona really is an act, as I’ve explained elsewhere. You’d find my normal personality much less colorful and occasionally boring. The Mad Genius is invented. It’s not the real Mike Caro. There probably is no real Mike Caro, because, like all people, my core personality changes in accordance with situations. My words above are just musings, pretending that I’m really insane all the time. I’m only insane half the time. Got it? — MC
Anyway, you may have heard of the “Mad Genius Method.” It’s something I attach to courses and products: Learn How to Win Half the Wealth in America at Poker in 10 Minutes Using the Mad Genius Method. So, you’re wondering, what exactly is this MGM? I’ll tell you. My MGM is simple. You learn about any one thing by neglecting all other things.
You dedicate a period of time — from a few minutes to maybe a day or a whole poker session — to focusing on one important thing. Each of these exercises is called a mission. That’s the basis of my 12 Days to Hold’em Success and my 11 Days to 7-Stud Success reports — one thing per poker session.
Oddly, the things you think you’re neglecting don’t cause you to suffer as much as you’d suppose. The things you’re not concentrating on tend to take care of themselves. It’s the fear of neglecting some things that causes people to focus on everything at once and become bewildered. Little is ever learned by focusing on too much at once. The biggest proving ground for that is the poker table, where if you concentrate on just one big thing at a time, you master poker quickly. And if you concentrate on too many things at the same time, you never master it at all.
Even more specifically, this is true of tells. Players who look for tells everywhere are overwhelmed and seldom see any. Those who begin by focusing on just one player or just one action often succeed in mastering tells. So, that’s the Mad Genius Method — ignore almost everything. Today we’re going to look at some poker exercises that you can perform by using this powerful method.
The following is taken from the 37th in my series of Tuesday Session classroom lectures at Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy. The lecture was held on June 22, 1999. The title of the lecture was…
Things to Practice Beyond a Basic Winning Strategy
- Before you add anything … Many players believe their fundamental game plan is more profitable than it really is. I’m urging you to think about that, and if you see any possibility that the previous sentence applies to you, work on your basic strategy before mastering new skills. Before you add anything to a basic winning strategy, make sure you actually have one. Here are three of the main elements of a basic winning strategy: (1) In most full-handed limit poker games, play tighter than your typical (too loose) opponents; (2) raise aggressively with small edges; and (3) find loose and timid opponents. (And I’m just going to assume that you will try to play your best game all the time, because that’s the key to success for all levels of serious players.) Two not-quite-so-important things that should be incorporated into your basic winning strategy are: Sit to the left of loose players and tough-aggressive players so that you maximize profit with positional advantage, and quit if the game isn’t excellent. When you’re at the early stages of becoming a pro, you need excellent opportunities for profit, and you should tend to decline other games. Top pros can play more hands and more games, because they don’t need quite as big an initial edge to turn a profit. But while you’re still advancing, keep you basic strategy mostly targeted at playing stronger hands in weaker games.
- Just one thing. Usually — in accordance with the Mad Genius Method of learning — try to practice just one new technique or make one new observation at a time. Don’t worry about anything else; just do that one thing. And here are the six things (A through F) I’ve chosen for you to practice beyond your basic winning game.
- Thing A. Make all bets and raises crisp, certain, and slightly exaggerated. This tends to keep opponents in line and makes them reluctant to raise with marginal advantages, thereby surrendering back to you some of the profit that could have been theirs. This also helps promote an active image and helps you become a force to be reckoned with. However, there are many other ways to wager, and reasons for them. But when you’re just adding to your basic game, practice this crisp-and-certain method of acting first. Do it for one full poker session, then forget about it.
- Thing B. Routinely raise with any moderately strong hand in late position when a middle- or late-position player is the only one to have voluntarily entered the pot. This helps your aggressive image and maximizes your positional advantage. Of course, you won’t end up doing this all the time once you have the game mastered – just now while you’re practicing. Do it every chance you get for one full poker session, then forget about it.
- Thing C. Study just one player (preferably across the table from you) and see how this player acts differently when bluffing or not, and when weak or strong. The trick to mastering tells is to focus on just one player at a time. And while you’re learning, it’s much easier (although not as rewarding) to observe a player across the table than one to your left or your right. Don’t look studious. It’s a mistake to let opponents know that you’re scrutinizing them. If this happens, players often will act unnaturally (which can be good strategy sometimes, but isn’t good in studying overall tells). Watch the opponent discreetly, and try to appear as if you’re thinking about something else. Practice this for one full poker session, then forget about it.
- Thing D. Go through an entire session without ever raising – except when last to act with a strong hand on the last betting round. Sure, this isn’t the most profitable way to play poker, but it is one of the most profitable ways to learn poker. Practice this for one full poker session, make notes about your experience after you cash out, then forget about it.
- Thing E. Then, go through an entire poker session always raising with any borderline hand with which you otherwise might just call. Take notes on how the table reacted and how you fared. Repeating – do this for an entire poker session, then forget about it. Keep your notes for both D and E – and later compare.
- Thing F (Final). Whenever you’re not in a hand, watch the action. Then when you see who won the showdown, reconstruct the action from that player’s point of view and visualize how that player arrived at the showdown. Nothing will help you understand what hands opponents actually play more than this. What this lesson teaches you is that you shouldn’t always expect opponents to make logical decisions. Strategies based on the assumption that your opponents are quite rational can be very costly. So, practice reconstructing the action sequences for the winning hands. Do it for an entire poker session. When you’re done, think back over all of these missions and try to incorporate them in your future play. You’ll be glad you did. — MC