McHaffie: MCU lesson 127 / Hands that shouldn’t win

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 127: Hands that shouldn’t win, but might with the right players

You’ve probably witnessed a player win with a hand you would never in your wildest dreams have considered playing. Even though these hands occasionally win, they average big losses overall.

But world-class players can sometimes profitably play hands that seem like obvious long-term losers. You shouldn’t think about doing this until you’ve achieved enough experience, knowledge, and confidence.

I’ve witnessed Mike play below-average hands and win the pot with them, leaving me gasping in wonder. Well, Doyle did dub him “Crazy Mike.” I now understand why. Many times Mike wins with these inferior hands. But he doesn’t play them often — only at the right times.

Not strong enough

Even though he teaches that a hand like 10♠ 9♥ isn’t strong enough to raise with from the dealer position after all other players have folded except the blinds, I’ve seen him do exactly that. When I asked why, he explained, “Both players in the blinds were tight and folded too frequently. So, there was a good chance I’d win the blinds immediately.” Okay, but he didn’t win the blinds. He got two calls.

He expanded: “But most of the time you won’t win the pot without a fight. You don’t need to. You only need to win those blinds immediately a little more often than usual to make the play worthwhile. When you fail to win the blinds right now, you’re still only in moderately bad shape. And when you’re sophisticated enough to outplay your opponents, you can cut your losses on unfavorable flops and improve your profits on favorable ones. Essentially, against opponents who fold too many blinds, but tend to call later because they’re confused by your image, you can play mediocre hands that would lose money in most circumstances.”

Let me repeat, playing questionable hands isn’t something a mere novice should attempt. Beginners, of course, should be playing conservatively with only strong hands and never be tempted to veer from this course.

Being a beginner can be exhilarating when you win a pot with a superb hand. But it can be frustrating when you hold a marginal hand, and you’re unsure how to proceed playing it or whether you should even attempt to play it. Many of you err on the side of caution and choose not to proceed into dangerous territory. This is wise.

Now, I understand, that the more experience you gain, the headier and more confident you feel. You find yourself in pots more frequently and feel daring.  If you have gained the experience, the confidence level, and the bankroll to prove you’re ready, then you’re probably going to find yourself playing hands you wouldn’t have considered in your earlier poker days, and surprising yourself by winning with some of those hands and by escaping with minimal loss otherwise.

Right conditions

You’re going to discover that there are cards that you can play under the right conditions, which you wouldn’t have ordinarily played previously. In order for these lesser hands to turn a profit, it’s necessary that you know when to bet, call, and raise. If you’re still uncertain about this, then you haven’t progressed to the stage where you can abandon your conservative play and dance around with mediocre hands.

Professional players are often capable of making second-rate hands work for them. They know when and who to play these cards against. Mike says that skilled, professional players have the years of experience and the knowledge necessary to successfully pull off playing strange, weak hands. So, they are going to be able to participate in many more pots than they could when they were just learning to play poker seriously Still, professional players are usually more conservative than weaker players in choosing which hands to begin with. They play more hands than they did when they were developing their games, but not as many as their looser, losing opponents.

So, to sum it up, skilled, knowledgeable players can play more hands, many of them you will perceive as unprofitable. Yet with their expertise, they may turn them into money-makers. Novice players who are serious about learning poker should not attempt to play these less-than-average hands. They have to play conservatively. — DM

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