More things I’ve never, sometimes, and always done

This article first appeared in Card Player magazine.

See the first entry in this two-part series

In my last column, I presented three lists. Today, we’re going to see the same lists all over again with additional items. Many of the things listed will be discussed in more detail right here in the future. Some already have been. Here goes …

More Things I’ve Never Done in Poker

1. I’ve never been barred. Well, actually, I was sort of barred once. It was at the old Rainbow Club in Gardena, which was mainly owned by many of the same people who owned the adjoining Monterey Club. Both clubs have long since vanished. There was a short, covered walkway linking the clubs and a mutually accessible tavern right in the middle. Foot traffic back and forth was encouraged, so it was practically a single cardroom – 70 tables, 35 in each club. Fine.

A lot of us helped start the biggest game allowed every day at the Rainbow and left our money in players banks there. One day an inexperienced floorman decided he shouldn’t start our game, because it might interfere with smaller-limit games in progress. We politely understood this, but none of us played the lower limits. So, being impatient, we went next door and started our game there. This apparently enraged and embarrassed the floorman and the backup management that was temporarily in charge.

Suddenly, we were barred from Rainbow Club premises. We managed to talk our way back in long enough to extract a collective $50,000 from the players banks. When regular management heard about this, hours later, we were immediately called in to receive an elaborate apology. But, I guess, I’ve technically been barred – but not in the normal sense, for disruptive or unethical reasons.

2. I’ve never berated weak opponents for the way they played their hands. It’s their money and I appreciate their action, whether they draw out on me or not. In fact, that’s the primary source of my profit. It seems silly to be mad at that. Yet, frequently I see irritated players with winning expectations get angry because opponents played incorrectly and won. Let me tell y’all a secret – you want opponents to play incorrectly. You should encourage it!

3. I’ve never stared down an opponent to try to get a tell. This makes them self-conscious and less likely to display tells in the future. Yes, staring can make them nervous and possibly enhance your likelihood of reading them correctly at that moment, but overall it isn’t worth it. Generally, you should be inconspicuous about watching for tells. I have used other methods to prompt hard-to-read opponents to display tells. But glaring at them isn’t one of them.

4. I’ve never given solid advice at the poker table to players who ask. When asked a serious question about strategy, I usually give a whimsical answer or say that you can play it all kinds of ways. Sometimes I giggle, “You don’t even want to know how I play it. You’ll just lose money.” In this way, I not only don’t have to answer the question, I have enhanced my image as a confusing player. When asked about odds, I say, “That’s why I calculated all those statistics and published them. Now I don’t have to memorize any odds. You’re supposed to memorize them so I can ask you.” Actually, there’s a bit of truth to that, anyway. The poker table is not a classroom.

5. I’ve never thrown cards at a dealer. Never even been tempted. This practice — once very common — is much rarer today.

6. I’ve never destroyed cards in anger at the poker table. Never even been tempted to do that, either. This action was common in Gardena, California — once the most prominent place to play legal, public poker. The practice was often tolerated by management, especially when cards were mangled in anger by regular players. The decks were simply replaced.

7. I’ve never offered a settlement deal in a tournament. But, I’ve accepted deals that were extremely in my favor when they dealt only with the distribution of money and didn’t determine who would win. All deals should be publicly announced, and I personally believe that it would be better if there weren’t any deals at all.

More Things I’ve Sometimes Done in Poker

1. I’ve sometimes backed other players. I hardly ever do it these days, and only with people I’ve had long-standing relations with. Backing players just hasn’t panned out for me.

2. I’ve sometimes been staked. But hardly ever. Over the years, I’ve almost always played on my own money without even selling pieces of myself. When I first played $400-$800 in the late ’70s, I had a fairly limited bankroll, about $45,000, and I played against top pros on my own money. I later found out that everyone in that game either had pieces of each other, had sold pieces to others outside the game, or had backers. I survived, but I was the only one risking the full $800 on each late-round bet. Go figure.

3. I’ve sometimes gone to sleep at the table. Rarely, though. I just turned 57 and I’m proud to announce that I’m still capable of playing multiday marathon sessions without drugs or even coffee. (Note: This was written about 2002.) I stay awake – usually, but not always. I sometimes try to take micronaps between hands.

4. I’ve sometimes bet when I thought it would be more immediately profitable to check-raise. In fact, I do this very often. This is because I believe check-raising often makes happy losers more aware of strategy. It makes them aware that there’s a strategic war happening and that they better be more careful. They become conscious that the game is serious and not just giggly. Check-raising frequently changes the flavor of a loose game and makes it more hostile. For these reasons, I usually reserve check-raising for special situations, against strong opponents or weak opponents who consider it playful and won’t be made uncomfortable by its use.

5. I’ve sometimes raised blind when it wasn’t required. It’s great for loose-image building, and if you do it one or two seats before the blinds, you aren’t costing yourself much. When heads up, I do this very frequently and it sometimes doesn’t cost anything at all, because many players don’t know how to handle a blind raise and I most likely would have raised anyway, even if I’d looked.

6. I’ve sometimes played very tight. I know, it’s hard to believe, based on my advocacy of a lively game and a wild image, but I started out my poker career as a rock – in my first serious games back in high school. I hadn’t done the research and didn’t have the sophistication needed to use other tools. But tight play wins against weak opponents, and it won for me, but it didn’t win nearly as much as an advanced strategy could have, and I quickly learned to maneuver beyond religiously rocky play. I’ve also played tight when I was in a new game where I wasn’t expecting to stay long, since there was no reason to waste money establishing an image. And I’ve even played tight as an experiment to see how opponents would react to me in that mode.

7. I’ve sometimes loaned money to other players. But not anymore. In the past, I believed that you should give $20 to anyone who was pesky and kept asking, hoping they would never repay it. I figured that if these compulsive borrowers owed me a little money, they might avoid me rather than be asked to pay it back. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. In modern years, I have refined my policy and hardly ever loan money, except to close associates.

8. I’ve sometimes played to win first place in a tournament. And I sometimes haven’t. You need to realize that there’s a dramatic difference in strategy between going after the first-place trophy and trying to get the most profit in tournaments. This is because of what conceptually happens in proportional-payout tournaments, where the first-place finisher must win all of the chips and then surrender most of their value to opponents who came close but were already conquered. This first-place penalty makes playing to win the trophy less profitable (and sometimes unprofitable!) than a more conservative approach designed to merely finish high and win the most money in the long run.

9. I’ve sometimes chosen to check-call when almost everyone else advocates either betting or check-raising. I often choose to string along consistent bluffers and weak-hand bettors until the final betting round, and then raise.

More Things I’ve Always Done in Poker

1. I’ve always tried to bluff four of a kind exposed in seven-card stud. It’s only happened twice, though. It’s good for the image. And, you’re right, the bet will never succeed in winning the pot

2. I’ve always remained in games against weak opponents when they changed from fullhanded to shorthanded. Shorthanded is where the money is for me. Most players don’t understand how to play, and you get to make many more significant decisions because you play many more hands. In poker, your profit is determined by how well you make decisions. If you’re the superior player, the more opportunities you have to excel, the more profit you’ll earn. In shorthanded poker, you have more opportunities to excel.

3. I’ve always played hard against each opponent without soft-playing anyone. If you feel sorry for a player, you can always give the money back after you’ve won it. At the poker table, play hard against everyone.

4. I’ve always written candidly about poker in a way that could diminish my profit. Sure, I recognize that people learn what to expect from me by reading my books. Maybe that hurts my profit a little, but I’m not really sure, because there are other compensating factors. But my writing doesn’t hurt your profit. Most players who read poker books don’t master the techniques. They simply feel empowered by having the books on their shelves. Poker is becoming more popular, there are more players, and only the most serious ones win – just as it always has been.

I’m sure I could add hundreds of more things to those lists, but I’ll leave it there and will see you soon. — 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.


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