Quiz No. 6: Test Yourself On What We’ve Discussed In This Column
(What Makes a Winner Win?)
This article first appeared in Card Player magazine. By the way, it was my first column published with a cover date in the new millennium, which began — despite popular thinking to the contrary — on Jan. 1, 2001.
Here’s the sixth in our series of short quizzes, covering concepts from topics we’ve discussed long ago in this column. Whether you get the answers right or wrong, it’s the explanation that follows that’s important.
Most of these quizzes are only one to four questions long. And, by golly, today there’s only one question. But it’s a good one, followed by an important discussion that I believe you’ll find profitable.
Caro Column Quiz No. 6: Question
Question (based on a concept from my column in the April 21, 1989, issue of Card Player). Here are two statements about winning at poker:
Statement No. 1: How much you win at poker is mostly determined by how good you are.
Statement No. 2: How much you win at poker is mostly determined by how bad your opponents are.
Which one of the following assessments about the two statements above is true?
- (A) Both statements are false.
- (B) Both statements are true.
- (C) Statement No. 1 is true, but Statement No. 2 is false.
- (D) Statement No. 2 is true, but Statement No. 1 is false.
Caro Column Quiz No. 6: Answer
The answer is (A) — clearly and overwhelmingly. Both of these statements are false: “How much you win at poker is mostly determined by how good you are” and “How much you win at poker is mostly determined by how bad your opponents are.”
Confused? Want to know why they’re false? OK, I’ll tell you. Both statements are false because your own skill won’t make you the favorite against opponents who are better than you are. And your opponents’ weaknesses won’t make you the favorite if your weaknesses are more significant than theirs.
So, there you have it. You can practice and practice your poker. You can study all the math, concentrate on all the psychology, and condition yourself to exert the greatest discipline — and you’ll probably still lose against world-class opponents. You’ll need more practice, better math, stronger psychology, and greater discipline to stand a chance.
And if you don’t have sufficient skills at poker, playing against weak opponents won’t save you. They could be terrible, but you could be worse.
When You Win and When You Lose
So, come closer and listen to me. This is what I wrote in 1989: “You see, in poker, the only measurement of your eventual success is the difference between your skill and your opponents’ skill. If you’re a good player dancing around with world-class opponents, get ready to lose. If you’re a bad player battling against terrible opponents, expect to win.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. And here’s another paragraph from the same column. “What does that tell us? It tells us that mastering the science of poker, both tactical and psychological, is only half the job. The other half is finding the world’s weakest wimps and pouncing.”
Sure, I’ve told you before that I enjoy playing against tough opponents. When I was younger, I would drive hundreds of miles to challenge the most skillful players I could find, abandoning soft, soothing games that were minutes away. Yes, I was trying to hone my skills, but ego was also involved.
Capitalize on the Skills You Already Have
Today, I teach that if you want to make the most profit, you should only occasionally test your skills against the best opponents. Usually, you should take the skills you have and use them against opponents who are far weaker than you are.
Now, I’m going to tell you something shocking. Ready? There are players who are in the top one percent in skill who lose for their lifetimes at poker, simply because they don’t look for soft opponents. They end up challenging players who are equal to or better than they are, and there’s no profit in that.
Wait, there’s more! There are players who are worse than average in skill who win for their lifetimes at poker, simply because they choose opponents who are much worse than themselves.
Now, here’s the point: A player from that elite one-percent group might not qualify as a professional player, but one who is worse than average might. Think about what I’ve just told you long and hard. When you’re done thinking, you’ll know what to do and in which games to play. — MC