McHaffie: MCU lesson 119 / Playing too cautiously

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in Poker Player newspaper in 2008.

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 index.

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

Diane McHaffie

Lessons from MCU

— With bonus content by Mike Caro (pending) —

Lesson 119: Can you play too cautiously?

Yes, you can play too cautiously, even though most players don’t play cautiously enough. Once you’ve discovered the key secret to winning, which is being selective about the hands you play, you want to make sure you don’t take it to an extreme. Do you ever talk yourself out of playing hands because you’re being extremely careful about avoiding unprofitable situations? By being this conservative you could be missing opportunities to profit from medium-strong hands.

Sometimes players come into the game determined to win. By doing so, they fold too many fairly strong hands, fearing the risk to their bankroll. Instead, in the right situations, they should be calling with these hands. Not only can their strict, disciplined play have a negative effect on their profits, they aren’t enjoying the game and neither are the other players around them.


Many poker players started out in other fields, like chiropractic, dentistry, law, and teaching. They began playing poker for fun, for the excitement, or as an excuse to escape the wife and kids and join the guys for an evening out. These people aren’t out to prove to themselves or others that they are great poker players. They are capable of profiting from a different profession.

Whether they play seriously or for fun, whether they’re truly good or play poorly, it isn’t for us to stand in judgment. You should keep your thoughts and comments to yourselves and be grateful for the weaker opponents choosing to play in your games, as they are the ones who make your bankrolls grow. If they are enjoying the game laughing and relaxed, they are obviously not playing tight and disciplined. Therefore, you should be able to enjoy the game, too, since you could be the one reaping the rewards.

Opponents will notice

But, if you are being too selective about the hands that you’re playing, your good-time opponents are probably going to notice, and they’ll be annoyed. And your serious opponents may be encouraged to take advantage of the fact that you aren’t a risk taker. They’ll exploit your weakness by calling and betting more often.

Using an imaginary example, Jenna is too disciplined and will study her hands thoughtfully, folding far too often, but then when she does come into the pot, Grant, an opponent, will be waiting for this golden opportunity to pounce, raising aggressively. Most of the time, she’ll immediately back down, folding. She is being too selective and too predictable. Grant is probably bluffing most of the time with trash hands, winning easily because she won’t defend the hands she considers playable. Players like Grant are going to take advantage of these circumstances. He may not pounce immediately; maybe he’ll just wait until the river, after Jenna’s added money to the pot, to intimidate her. If Jenna would be more decisive in challenging Grant with her medium-strong cards, she would fare much better. In addition, maybe she’d wipe that smirk off of his face.


With limit poker, the pots are going to be very large relative to the price of your calls. Calling in limit games becomes more natural than folding as the pot size increases. That’s because an incorrect fold is more costly than an incorrect call.

So, if you’re too disciplined and are folding too many medium-strong hands, you’re denying yourself the opportunity to prosper from them. Yes, Mike teaches that you should be particular about the cards you enter a pot with, but don’t take that advice too far. — DM

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