Mike interviews himself, getting questions he wanted

This article first appeared in Card Player magazine.

Once in a while, I like to interview myself. Doing this tends to bring forth the kind of questions I like to answer, instead of the more predictable ones I’m faced with in more conventional interviews. Today, I have decided to conscientiously try to conduct this interview in a professional and upstanding manner. Nothing will be held back. The questions may be tough, penetrating, and – perhaps – embarrassing, but I will try to ask and answer them with candor.

The Mike Caro interviewer will be identified as MCI. I will be MC.

MCI: Is it all right if I ask you some hard-hitting questions today?

MC: Yes..

MCI: First off, are you the greatest poker player who ever lived, or what? You really can beat anyone, can’t you?

MC: Yes.

MCI: But there’s much more to you than just that. Would you agree that people who get to know you on a personal basis are often amazed by your abilities and your compassion.

MC: Yes.

MCI: That must be true, because I heard it about you again and again while researching for this interview. OK, moving on… In 1990 you founded the “America’s Mad Genius Brain Trust” to calculate accurate odds on current events and politics. I want to know the odds that President Clinton will serve out his term in office. Would you rather stick to poker-related questions?

MC: Yes.

MCI: Fair enough. From a poker player’s perspective, you have stated that the line should be 9-to-8 against Clinton serving out his full term. This is not far from fifty-fifty, so I assume that events could tilt this line in either direction. Many experts believe that his chances of survival are far less than that, but you say he actually has excellent chances of making it through his second term. Is 9-to-8 against still the official Brain Trust line?

MC: Yes.

MCI: I agree with that entirely. Next question is, what makes you so damn good at poker? Scratch that, I want to change the topic. In your draw poker section of Doyle Brunson’s Super/System – A Course In Power Poker, you talk about what you call “either/or situations.” This is one of the hundreds of concepts that you have personally pioneered, concepts that will change poker for the better. I’ve never seen this astonishingly profitable concept talked about elsewhere. Do you think it has applications for all forms of poker, not just draw?

MC: Yes.

MCI: People reading this interview may not know what either/or situations are. Is it OK if I quote from your chapter in Doyle’s book?

MC: Yes.

MCI: OK, this is a little long, but like everything you’ve ever written, it’s worth its weight in gold. This is what you said in 1978:

Suppose you have made a full house and you’re convinced your opponent has made Three-of -a -kind. Since you drew two cards, he’s a little hesitant about betting. The last thing you want him to do is show his hand down without betting. You act fast by making it safe for him to bet. How? You grab enough chips to call and hold them threateningly in your hand. You might say, “I don’t think you have ANYTHING and I’m probably going to call!” That’s all the encouragement he’ll need. Expect his chips to come flying at you rather defiantly. He isn’t sure whether or not you really intend to call. He wants your call because you’ve practically told him you can’t beat Three-of-a-kind. Alas, it doesn’t occur to him that you might raise – until it’s too late.

What you’ve just read is an example of an either/or situation. You have implied that you’re either going to call a player or you’re going to throw your hand away. This is one of my most effective psychological concepts. The reason it works is that unsophisticated minds, given a choice of two things, will waste all their reasoning power pondering which is their better option. You have, in effect, eased their mental burden by summarizing the decision they must make, leaving out the third possibility, the truth (that you were about to raise).

Do you want me to keep reading?

MC: Yes.

MCI: OK, it goes on.

Here’s a situation: The Opener has drawn three, probably to a Pair of Aces. You’re the raiser with three Jacks and have drawn two without helping. The Opener checks to you blind. There’s no question you’re going to bet, but you want to make the bet as profitable as possible. Suppose this guy’s hard to read and you’re worried about him making three Aces and raising you. Is there a way you can get the call and not be raised if he’s made three Aces?

Yes, by using the either/or concept. I would do something frenzied like look at my card and suddenly sit up straight, exclaiming, “I don’t believe it! I apologize, I was really trying to bluff you before the draw, but not anymore! This is the ultimate miracle – Straight-Flush! I think it’s a Straight-Flush UNLESS that’s a Club. I’ll look again. Now I’m not sure — I GUESS it’s a Straight-Flush! Maybe not!”

Now the Opener doesn’t know what to think. He’s surprised to hear you drew two cards to a Straight-Flush, but not too surprised since you have such a crazy image. Now he has a decision to make — -either you made the miracle or you have nothing. He’ll call because making a two-card Straight-Flush seems so unlikely. He won’t raise with three Aces because he figures you’ll simply pass if you missed and you’ll re-raise if you connected. Instead of claiming to have made a Straight-Flush, you might announce that you either kept a kicker and filled-up or else you didn’t help at all — either/or. Give them a choice.

What I’m reading is absolutely brilliant. You’re talking about draw poker in these examples, but am I right to suppose that this would apply to any poker game?

MC: Yes.

MCI: Should I continue to read from your unparalleled insights?

MC: Yes.

MCI: It says:

Let’s apply the either/or concept to a three-card draw. The Opener has drawn one and your three-card catch gives you Aces-up. He checks. You’re going to bet, but you would just as soon not have to, call a raise in the unlikely event he’s filled. A good line would be, “This is really strange! I went in with a Pair of Shorts and, guess what! I made four of ’em! I might be lying — it’s possible I just have a Pair of Nines still, but I THINK I’m telling the truth. Your best bet is to call and see for yourself.” Which is exactly what’s going to happen. After all, you either have Four-of-a-kind or you can’t even beat a Pair of Openers!

A common opportunity to use an either/or approach is when the Opener has rapped pat and you’ve made a small Flush. Since the median Pat hand (including Four-of-a-kind) is a King-high Straight, you have an advantage. He bets and you’d be quick to raise, except that his re-raise (on an Ace-King Flush, for instance) would put you in a difficult situation. You could probably soup (throw away) your hand, but you’d just as soon he not re-raise, thank you. A good thing to do here is exclaim: “I’m going to call with Aces-up, unless, wait a minute, sports fans. It’s the biggy! I raise!” From his point of view you have either Aces-full, which beats even a smaller Full House … or you have Aces-up, in which case his Six-high Straight wins. He’ll just call unless he has Aces-full beat.

If the Opener seems to have opened weak in 6th position and you’ve called in 7th on an Ace-King four-Flush, there’s an opportunity which sometimes arises when the Opener draws three. If you pair Aces, you can spread your four suited cards face-up and bet after he checks. The implication here is that you either made your Flush or you didn’t. The Opener certainly doesn’t have to be afraid you’re betting Two-Pair. If your image is right, he’ll almost always call here with a Pair of jacks and you’ll win with your Aces.

Either/or is an effective way of screening the truth from an opponent — the result always surprises him. That’s the end of it. But you have said that you use this same method often in stud and hold ’em, right?

MC: Yes.

MCI: You have lectured that a good time to use this either/or tactic in stud is when you have two small pair on the river and your opponent has one big pair, but might have helped. By saying something like, “Just let me catch a full house… Bingo! I bet!” you can get value out of a betting a weak two pair without fearing a raise. Millions of players around the world have incorporated your ultra-genius analysis into their play. Do you intend to continue your groundbreaking research in poker?

MC: Yes.

MCI: Will this include your penetrating analysis of psychology as well as your unrivaled research into strategic play?

MC: Yes.

MCI: And can we expect you to back up your investigations with your own electrifying computer research which has led the field for almost 20 years running? Will you do that?

MC: Yes.

MCI: I just love this kind of in-depth interview where you get someone to answer all kinds of revealing questions. I have nothing more to ask. Thanks so much for your time and your insights. Would you like me to give you a draft of this interview so you can make corrections to your answers before we go to press?

MC: Yes.

MCI: I’d like to say one last thing. People warned me that, although you’re really a nice guy and exceptionally brilliant, you tend to be an egomaniac who will monopolize the conversation with your truth and your wisdom. I haven’t found you that way at all. You seemed to just sit back and let me make your points for you. I found you almost modest – you didn’t brag at all. Are you usually so short and to the point in your answers?

MC: Yes.

MCI: About that either/or advice. Would you estimate that would be worth $1,314 to any casual poker player?

MC: Yes.

MGI: Wow, that’s more than I would have guessed. Thanks for sharing that estimate. And thanks for the interview.

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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.

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