McHaffie: MCU lesson 157 / Gears

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in Poker Player newspaper in 2009.

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 157: Gears

Mike teaches that you primarily change gears so that you aren’t predictable and you keep the other players mystified.


Perhaps there’s a player at your table who’s been closely observing you and has managed to determine when you’re preparing to make a call, raise or even fold. That observation can be costly to you. So, therefore, it’s necessary to occasionally vary your play, so that you’re less predictable.

You may also wish to change gears if the circumstances at the table have altered. If new players have joined the game or you’ve changed seats, it’s a great time for you to change gears. Your adjustment will be less noticeable because of the distraction that has taken place. Here, you aren’t actually trying to bewilder your opponents. You’re merely trying to adapt to the new situation, influence new players, or define a different identity in a new seat.


You need to know when to change gears, since many players have a tendency to shift rather erratically, without proper reasoning. Changing in this manner upsets your strategy and can have damaging results. Mike says, “Your most obvious strategy is usually the most profitable and you should use it unless a need for deception or opponents’ styles dictates otherwise.”

When you’re winning against opponents who are just trolling along, comfortable with the way the game is progressing, there’s no need to upset the tenor of the game with a sudden gear change. If you’re playing against alert opponents whose techniques are varied, then occasionally changing gears is advisable.


You may ask, “When is the proper time to change gears? How will I know?” Well, suppose you’re involved in a game where some of the players are doing a large amount of calling, this enables you to participate in more hands. It won’t be necessary to have formidable hands to profit, because your opponents’ average hands aren’t impressive hands, either.

You merely need hands that are slightly better than your opponents to give you that little boost. This enables you to bet those hands more frequently once you are participating in a pot. The reason for this is because your opponents are probably calling with hands far more inferior than yours.

If you’re facing apprehensive opponents or opponents who are threatened by your demeanor, then you need to participate in more hands and bet more often. You’re now master of the table.

Ah, but when things aren’t going quite so well for you, it just isn’t possible to strut your stuff. You are no longer the peacock, just a mere starling. The players are now encouraged by your plight, awaiting opportunities to swipe those chips from beneath your nose. They’ll become more balanced in their actions, making appropriate calls and raises. That’s the time to just play conservatively and wait for a good run of cards to help reestablish your image of dominance. It’s no time to vary your game or change gears.

When a player becomes motivated by his increasing chip pile and your depleted one, it’s dangerous territory for you. Simply change to a lower gear, tighten up, proceed cautiously, and only bet hands that are very impressive. Stay in that gear until you start winning.


When do you determine how to change gears? Borderline decisions are the key. If you’re holding cards that make your choice debatable, then it’s a borderline decision. You could take the high road of aggression or the low road of comfort, non-aggression. Mike says to pause briefly and ask yourself, “Does this feel like a close decision where I could act aggressively or not without seeming ridiculous either way?” If yes, then you have a borderline decision!

Now, either action is permissible, but which is superior? Changing gears upward to a more aggressive stance on borderline decision is correct when opponents are intimidated by you. However, if you’ve punished a particular player too much, consider switching to a lower gear against that one opponent. That keeps him guessing. Borderline decisions are the key to changing gears up or down, aggressive or non-aggressive, depending on the situation at the table or against an opponent.


Emotion is your enemy. Do not allow your emotions to rule your decisions. Make your decision about aggressive play prior to the dealing of the cards. Are you targeting a particular opponent or the entire table? Keep in mind that borderline decisions are the ones determining the gear change. Mike says that most of the decisions you make are borderline!

To sum it up: Change gears only if there’s a valid rationale for the decision. Do not allow emotions to dictate when you’re going to gear up or down.  — DM

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