How I taught a poker lesson to a dog

This article first appeared in Poker Digest.

People have tended to ask me three questions about my recent roast at the Hollywood Park Casino. (1) Didn’t you feel uncomfortable? Yep. (2) Were any of the stories they told true? Unfortunately almost all of them. (3) What the hell was Tom Bowling doing when he impersonated you with his lip seeming to be in stitches?

Well, that last question takes a little explanation. The best way to handle this is to revert to a column I wrote at the time. This comes from Poker Player newspaper, September 5, 1983. The heading was, “Today’s word is ‘DOG.'”

The first two paragraphs are not related to the dog incident, but rather they address the possible legalization of seven-card stud in California. At the time, only forms of five-card draw were legal. This short, vintage speculation – at a time when many players and club owners thought stud and hold ’em would never be legally played in California – will give you insight into my prognostication skills. I have left it in for the sake of historical perspective. Well, OK, I really left it in just to gloat.

Was stud coming?
Phil Hevener, Poker Player’s managing editor, thinks it would be a good idea if I said a few words about California Assembly Bill 402. That’s the bill that would amend the state constitution to make stud poker legal. (Note: The process started with me being called as an expert witness before the Huntington Park, California city council, which then voted to challenge state law and allow stud and potentially hold ’em to be spread at Huntington Park Casino.) Just what is the likelihood that stud will be made lawful in California where only five-card draw has been legal for roughly fifty years?

I have just two words on the subject. The first word is TABLE and the second word is INEVI. You figure it out.

What the dog doeth?
Now back to my planned topic: DOG. When you say that word around a poker table, everyone thinks of two things: (1) A poker hand that is not the favorite: (2) A poker player who is not the favorite. Yep, DOG is short for UNDERDOG. But there’s another kind of dog, and I’ll get around to it presently.

At a recent seminar, I devoted most of my time to the subtleties of tells. However, I often apply poker psychology beyond the card room — and that’s where the word DOG comes in. As I’ve explained again and again, there is one overriding secret to successfully reading your opponents. Assume they’ll always act opposite of the true strength of their hands. They’ll try to make you think they’re strong when they’re weak and weak when they’re strong.

Introduction to Coco?
My dog’s name is Coco. However, he’s an orphan dog that Phyllis adopted, and I guess in his youth someone mistreated him, because he has a lot of phobias. A terrier and poodle mix, he gets very upset when you rattle a newspaper or when a firecracker goes off or when you yell at him.

Two days before the seminar, he was barking needlessly, so I yelled at him in a civil sort of way. He tucked his tail between his legs and scampered under the table. I reached after him and he growled! Huh? Is that any way for a dog to treat his master? Mike Caro was not going to take this from a 14 pound animal!

I got down on my hands and knees and crawled under the table. Coco snarled! Here’s where a lesser psychologist might have scolded him or smacked his snout. I had something better in mind. After all, I have a reputation as a good psychologist at the poker table. At the table? Well, why not under the table, I reasoned. Coco snarled again and this time I snarled back. He grimaced. My dog has no sense of humor.

More courage than common sense.
Bravely I crawled toward him. He bared his teeth. I bared my teeth. If he wanted to act silly, then I’d act silly and surely he’d see how weirdly he was behaving. He barked and snapped toward my face, missing by six inches. Clearly a bluff. I barked and snapped at his face, colliding squarely with his teeth. Yip, yip! said Coco. Suddenly he had my whole lower lip in his mouth and he was squeezing.

Yip, Yip! I cried miserably. Seeing that he’d hurt me, he backed away whimpering, afflicted by severe canine trauma.

“You’re an animal!” I shrieked as I rushed upstairs to treat my wound.

And that’s the true sad story of how I ended up hosting the seminar with a damaged lip. I think what got me in trouble is all the research I’ve done on poker tells. Like I said, poker players try to act opposite of their true intentions. When Coco snarled and snapped, I naturally figured he was bluffing. Had he wagged his tail, it would have scared the hell out of me.

Follow-up: The end of Coco.
This unfortunate episode is what prompted Tom Bowling’s appearance at my roast in June, where he impersonated me with a damaged lip. Actually, Coco savaged my lip twice! The first time was when I had to appear with Bowling to teach a course for Clark County Community College in Las Vegas. The second time was the one you read about.

What happened to Coco? We learned to love each other. And he gradually grew old. In 1991, after he suffered a stroke earlier in the day, we helped him up to the foot of the bed. When I woke up about noon, Phyllis was not home. Coco had expended the last of his energy, crawling up toward the pillow next to me where he had placed his head, and died. I called animal control to pick him up. Maybe he deserved a proper burial, but I’m not into rituals.

Anyway, the animal control officer, a 25-year old kid trying to be kind, looked at Coco lying stiff in bed and said, “Nice dog.”

“Dead dog,” I corrected.

“Oh, right,” he acknowledged sadly.

So, let this be a tribute to Coco, a dog who once knew more about poker than I did. —MC

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Mike Caro

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Known as the “Mad Genius of Poker,” Mike Caro is generally regarded as today's foremost authority on poker strategy, psychology, and statistics. He is the founder of Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy (MCU). See full bio → HERE.


4 thoughts on “How I taught a poker lesson to a dog”

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    1. I can’t remember what led to my decision. I’ve had several other pets cremated and kept in urns. In this case, I followed the legal procedure. Is that okay?

  1. Underdog In The House
    Posted 21 hours 37 minutes ago by JohnnySack • Level 2

    Tim LaRoache: A True Underdog StoryAmong the thousands and thousands of players who may consider themselves underdogs while playing in this years Seniors Tournament, we spotted one player who really was Underdog.

    Tim LaRoache began today’s tournament dressed up in what we must admit is a perfectly rendered costume of any cartoon connoisseur’s favorite canine character, Underdog. Complete with a bright red, pajama-style suit, a flowing blue cape and even a hat with dangling dog ears, LaRoache’s get-up couldn’t help but draw our attention.

    When we caught up with LaRoache to ask what inspired him to dress up as Underdog, he told us that it all started back at his home casino of Foxwoods in Connecticut. According to LaRoache, he played in one of the casino’s signature $10,000 WPT events and went into competition as the decided underdog. Since then, people know him by that name and he decided that once he turned 50, he would play in the Seniors Tournament dressed as his namesake.

    LaRoache told us “If I’m going to do this, I’m going to go all out,” and that living up to that Underdog spirit is what this event is really all about.

    Tags: Tim LaRoache.

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  2. I’m not sure what you mean Mr.Caro, but I know in the online micros anyway, when a player is representing something they usually have it.I haven’t played very much in the big leagues of online poker, but in the micros when a player bets it’s safe to assume right off he’s got something, and to assume second that maybe he’s stealing or trying something tricky.

    I don’t know if you were serious when you said you chased your dog under the table, but I do the same things.I try to emulate my pets so I can understand them better and maybe understand myself better and maybe the rest of humanity, since humans were probably animals to begin with.It has kind of worked, I learned that animals have a basic primal associative way of thinking, I discovered I too, and other people, I mean humans do the same things too.I noticed people do or don’t do things because of something that happened when they did it.When people or me, think about doing something or are confronted with a decision they think about the bad thing that happened when they did it and automatically associate that with the presumed result.I guess it has worked out for dogs for generations so why not. God this doesn’t make any sense huh?What the hell is wrong with me.

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