Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in Poker Player newspaper in 2007.
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 email@example.com.
Lessons from MCU
— With bonus content by Mike Caro (pending) —
Lesson 116: Flops and your first two cards
Mike says that the first two cards you receive are going to be the most important. Will you scrap those cards or will you pursue the pot? Are they substantial enough to challenge your opponents? Get used to the fact that, in most cases, you’ll wisely choose to fold. In fact, much of your hold ’em success comes from folding starting hands.
Those two cards will need to be significantly strong to warrant a raise. And Mike warns that even if the cards are powerful enough to raise with, you still might merely call and see the flop cheaply. Limping in allows weaker opponents extra opportunity to risk their money unwisely, thereby making the pot more worthwhile to you to pursue on the next rounds of betting.
If the flop doesn’t help you, then you can escape cheaply; but if it does give you an advantage, then you can plow ahead profitably. In short, although you should often raise before the flop, sometimes when weak players wait to act after you, you’ll make more money if you just call and invite them into the pot.
Mike’s also says that when you do play your starting cards, the flop is usually going disappoint you — again and again. It’s inevitable.
Mike says that it is extremely important to make wise decisions on your first betting round and most of the time you will sensibly choose to fold. He reminds us “that by folding you actually earn money.” The reason is that every decision you make has value. Good decisions, even decisions to fold, have value. Folding correctly earns money.
How many times do you wish that you could request a different flop? Say you were holding 8-8, and the board flopped K-J-7. That’s disappointing. One of your opponents could be holding either a king or a jack. Had the board flopped 7-3-2, then you would hold a pair higher than any of those ranks, and could often pursue the pot. But, sadly, disappointing flops like the first one are more likely. And that second flop isn’t even a dream flop. You still face danger on the turn and river, even if you temporarily have the best hand. Just remember, good flops are rare; bad flops are routine.
Mike’s teaching about just calling before the flop is unusual among poker experts. But he doesn’t say not to raise; he just says we shouldn’t be so eager to raise. Raising without regard to whether a call is more profitable is expensive. Don’t be afraid to seem cowardly when choosing not to come charging in like a bull. Sometimes you should limp in like a lamb and just enjoy the profit.
Yes, there are times to charge ahead full force, but prior to the flop isn’t always the wisest time. Although, you may think that you have an advantage, you could easily be wrong. Are your cards significant enough to go to war? What if you’re reraised? What if the flop doesn’t help you, but instead helps your opponents? Of course, any flop that disappoints you could just as easily disappoint your opponent, but don’t count on it.
Yes, the flop will often make you cringe, but that’s a part of poker life.
Mike teaches that instead of watching the flop, it’s an advantage for you to watch your opponents watching the flop. They might react to the flop, which will in turn help you determine whether the flop helped them or not. Specifically, if opponents continue to stare at the flop a little longer than necessary, they’re usually weak. That pot disappointed them. But if they glance immediately from the flop to their chips and then away, as if uninterested, they’ve probably improved their hands.
So, what we learned today is that it’s often better to wait and see the flop before deciding to be aggressive. Your first two cards determine if you play and the flop often determines how you’ll play. — DM