McHaffie: MCU lesson 143 / Psychology and poker

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 143: Psychology and Poker

As you are probably aware, psychology is widely used in poker, especially with Mike Caro, who doesn’t only use it for poker, but in day to day situations. Today I’m going to cover a few psychological maneuvers.

Does he or doesn’t he?

Sometimes a player, whom we’ll call Dan, will use chatter to evoke a reaction out of an opponent, whom we’ll call Teddy. For instance, Dan may use one of Mike’s favorite methods to muse, “You know, it’s possible that I’m holding a straight flush, but of course I could just be bluffing,” and then he has the audacity to follow his words with a bet. Dan is attempting to make Teddy wonder if he does have a powerful hand. Teddy is caught between trying to decide if Dan is actually bluffing or does he truly have him beat?

What is Dan trying to achieve here? Dan realizes that there is a possibility that Teddy could have him beat, so he wants Teddy to speculate about the strength of his hand. And he needs Teddy to question the power of his own hand, thereby making it less likely that Teddy will raise Dan. Teddy is now concerned that Dan could be telling the truth about having a dominant hand. But, if Dan is bluffing, there isn’t the need to risk a raise. That’s what Mike calls an “either-or situation.” Teddy has been encouraged to think that Dan is either holding an invincible hand or is bluffing. Dan used psychology in an attempt to bet a medium-strong hand and misdirect Teddy’s thought process so as not to be raised.


Players who have just taken a seat are more likely to play conservatively. They’ve made a deal with themselves to play prudently today. Ah, but never fear, that won’t last long. Be patient, it’s usually only a matter of time before they begin playing more liberally.


Have you noticed the rising amount of males choosing to adorn their bodies with tattoos? Well, take heed, if one of these ornamental men choose to sit at your table, and it appears that they have recently acquired their tattoo, you may find that they have a tendency to play more carelessly, bluff more often, and dare to play more puny hands than the average guy. You can profit from this general tendency, as long as you’re quick to adjust your initial impression if it doesn’t apply to that particular player.


Everyone is aware of Mike’s wild, playful image. Sitting at a table with him is guaranteed not to be boring. As well as amusing, time spent around Mike can be educational. Why choose a carefree, wild image? Well, an image like that is more likely to win calls from weak hands, including those times when you are holding impressive cards, resulting in a larger bankroll. And opponents find it less painful to lose to someone they’re enjoying playing alongside. So, they’ll contribute even more to your profit in the future.


You need to be selective about the times you attempt to be fancy in your play. Weak opponents or arguing players are not going to notice your fancy attempt, since they are caught up in their own soap opera at the moment.


Mike teaches that it isn’t cost productive to demean your opponents. You don’t want to critique their play. Why? Because once they’ve been ridiculed, they are more likely to decide to avoid future embarrassment and only play stronger hands. Expressing disapproval of your opponents’ decisions is probably going to damage your profits.


You should be cautious of falling into the trap of Caro’s Threshold of Misery. When you don’t expect your losses to exceed $3,000 and you go significantly past that amount, the pain isn’t going to be any worse when you’ve lost $8,000 than when you lost $7,500. At the moment, the pain is the same. When that happens, you’re tempted to quit caring and play worse. Mike teaches that your decisions will eventually matter, even if they don’t seem to matter now.


You need to seriously consider endearing yourself, as I’ve said before, to the opponent on your left. He has “positional advantage” over you. He has the ability to lord it over you. The last thing that you want is to appear antagonistic toward this person. You need to smile a lot, buy him/her a soda, and chat about the horses, football, and basketball, anything that establishes a friendly camaraderie. That makes the player less likely to take full advantage of his position.

May everyone have a prosperous poker New Year! — DM

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