Tuesday Sessions 41: Advice for your game plan

Index to Tuesday Sessions

The following lecture was the 41st Tuesday Session, held July 20, 1999, and later appeared in Card Player magazine.

Classroom Lectures: A Profitable Assortment Of Extras That You Can Add To Your Game Plan Right Now

Not only am I going to add more weapons to your poker arsenal today, I’m going to tell you why it’s important to think about which weapon to use in a specified order. OK, you don’t know what I mean, but you will.

The following is taken from the 41st in my series of Tuesday Session classroom lectures at Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy. The lecture was held on July 20, 1999. The title of the lecture was …

My Favorite Extra Advice to Add to Your Game Plan

1. Your game plan is never complete. Even if you’ve learned so much that you can’t find anything new to add, you can improve your expectation of profit by simply rearranging the order of the things you consider when making a decision. That’s because you have a very limited amount of time to make each poker decision. Focusing on preselected things first, to fit the current situation, can be a meaningful exercise.

In truth, there is always something new that you can add to your game plan — and the order in which you consider things is something new. Before we move on, let’s examine this point about the order that you consider things. It turns out that this is extremely important if you want to maximize profit.

Maybe you’ve read several books dealing with poker strategy. Maybe you’ve done your own research and are playing in accordance with your own game plan. Whatever you’re doing, if you take poker seriously and are trying to win, I’m betting that you don’t have enough time to consider all of the things you’d like to before you make a poker decision to call, raise, or fold. Am I right about this? Let’s put our heads together and think about it really hard. Yep. I’m right.

So, what does this mean? Well, it means that no matter how many things you learn about poker, you’ll always profit by trying to examine each poker situation in accordance with a structured list of considerations.

On the broadest of considerations, if your opponents have lots of tells, you always should look for those first — and focus first on the specific opponents who have the tells. If your opponents are more mechanical and don’t tend to exhibit tells, you should think more about what the cards suggest.

I could fill a whole book on specific things to consider, and we’ve talked about many of them in this series. But now you have to decide what’s most valuable for the game you’re in right now. You have only a short time to make a decision, and there are literally hundreds of main elements that you can consider — some statistical, some psychological, some tactical. If you make a mental list of the things that will help you win against this exact group of opponents in this exact game, right now, and think about the things swiftly in their order of importance, you’re going to make a lot more money in the long run. I promise.

But what about the other important things you could consider that aren’t on your mental list? Don’t worry. Quite often, things that aren’t on the list will make themselves obvious, even though you haven’t specifically targeted them for consideration. When they become important, you’ll know it, and you’ll act accordingly. Otherwise, you’ll stick with your list.

2. The dealer’s tip matters. It is customary to “toke” (tip) a dealer when you win a pot of any reasonable size. Dealers are paid only a small token wage, and most of their income is from tips. Fine. But there’s a concept at work here. Just as a rake comes directly from the winner of the pot and should be considered when deciding which hands to play, so should the dealer’s tip. If you’re planning to tip the dealer, there probably are some marginal starting hands that you should not play for that reason alone. An opponent of equal skill who is not planning to tip can enter slightly more pots for profit than you can.

This, of course, shouldn’t cause you to tip less often when you win a pot. It should just cause you to be slightly more selective about your starting hands, which is good practice anyway.

3. Noisy breathing. One of the most powerful tells in poker is noisy breathing. Listen for it. It means that the player usually holds a strong hand. Players who are bluffing generally try to control their breathing or don’t breathe at all. Players who are weak do not breathe especially audibly. Ragged or heavy breathing (unless faked) almost always is a sure sign of a strong hand. Add that to your playbook, and fold often when you hear heavy breathing.

4. When a flush looks possible. Whether it’s hold’em or seven-card stud, if a flush looks like a logical possibility for an opponent who checks, consider the way that he checked. Hesitation and an “unsure” check usually is an act. Very often, that player already has made a flush or another strong hand. A quick check is usually less dangerous. So, don’t be fooled by the lack of hesitation, and often value bet into this type of check.

5. Positioning a seven-stud card and more. Watch your seven-card stud opponents position new cards when they receive them. A card positioned neatly or lovingly is apt to convey weakness. The player is acting and trying to make you think that he likes the card. A card ignored and not touched, or positioned haphazardly, is apt to mean improvement. Add this to your game plan and act accordingly.

Also, watch how a seven-card stud opponent acts when someone else (you or another opponent) is dealt a pair on board. A show of disgust is either strength (an act), or genuine and he will fold. It’s OK to bluff if you have a very weak hand, but tend not to bet for value because the threat of a raise is too great.

6. Two questions to practice. Try asking these two questions before you act: (1) What do I think my opponent has? (2) What does my opponent think I have?

If you practice this exercise for very long, you will learn a great deal. I can’t tell you how monumentally important this exercise is. All professional poker players will acknowledge the importance of doing this, but often they don’t bother to do it. Hand after hand — so many hands — and everything blends and blurs, and you find yourself playing by approximating how a hand “feels” rather than actually asking the questions.

But those questions, especially, “What does my opponent think I have?” often make your choices so clear and so profitable, you’ll wonder why you never asked them before.

7. Weird statistics. This is a bonus with no practical application. Just to make yourself feel superior as a player, memorize this: There are exactly 10 times as many combinations of outcomes for a hold’em starting hand as there are for a seven-card stud starting hand: 2,118,760 vs. 211,876.

8. A powerful rule to follow in hold’em. On the river, you almost never should raise with any two pair if anyone else remains to act. The general category of this mistake is making aggressive value raises with medium-strong hands when others remain to act.

You’re almost always better off calling than raising. If typical players behind your medium-strong hand have you beat, you’ll almost never chase them out with a raise. If they don’t have you beat, you’re likely to lose a liberal overcall and the bettor might not call at all. And you might not have the original bettor beat. Your raise might even run into a reraise. For all of these reasons, and more, this type of raise is not as profitable as a call.

There are very few situations in which it’s correct to raise on the final hold’em betting round with any two pair, in any situations, when other opponents remain to act after you. If you stop making this very common error, you’ll be glad. Add that advice to your game plan and you’ll add to your bankroll. – MC

Next Tuesday Session

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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.


3 thoughts on “Tuesday Sessions 41: Advice for your game plan”

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  1. I think to make it more clear it probably should say, “A quick check LOOKS more dangerous; BUT don’t be fooled by the lack of hesitation, and often value bet into this type of check.”

    The faux-hesitant check is the stronger sign that he’s got the flush…he’s “hollywooding.”

    The quick check is a natural response from someone who doesn’t have to think about it; but it can, and may be intended to, look intimidating.

  2. Not sure I’m understanding point 4. If a quick check is a stronger sign of a made flush, shouldn’t I check as well?

  3. not sure I’m understanding point 4. If a quick check is a stronger sign that a flush has been made, shouldn’t I check as well? Is a value bet a smaller bet than a probe bet or would they both be around a quarter to a third of the pot?

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