MCU poker tip: When to hesitate

Why hesitate? Well, some players try to bet the same way every time, so that their mannerisms can’t be easily interpreted by opponents. For most winning players who have a strong psychological understanding of opponents, that’s a bad idea. Usually, the risk of being read is overwhelmed by the benefits of manipulation.

Hesitation has two purposes. It can influence an opponent’s decision to your benefit, when done right. It can also give you more time to think and make the correct choice.

In poker, a profitable time to hesitate is when you really need more time to resolve a close decision. Often things will occur to you given a little extra time. Or, under the extra pressure, while you ponder, your opponent may provide you with a tell.

Deception and timing

But there are other profitable reasons to hesitate. Even with an obvious decision, you might occasionally also hesitate for deception, so that alert opponents can’t determine that your pauses always means you have close decisions.

Also, sometimes when you make a final bet with a big hand, you’ll be more likely to be called if you don’t bet too quickly. So don’t bet instantly when bluffing. Remember that both a bet delayed for a few extra seconds and an unreasonably quick one are apt to make your opponents suspicious and more likely to call.

But, unless there’s a specific reason to hesitate, you should usually make all your bets, calls, and raises crisply and confidently — because this enhances your image and speeds up the game. — 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.


6 thoughts on “MCU poker tip: When to hesitate”

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  1. So wait 2.5 secs to bluff and 1 sec occasionally and around 5 secs often to value bet and as long as you need to ponder or look like you’re pondering searching for a tell or when you got the tell you need and have decided to call (or even fold) but are concealing that truth. Of course trying not to slow down play if you can help it which can’t always be an easy balance.

  2. Mike,

    I thought you said that if you act too slowly or think too long about a hand that opponents, who are loose and having a good time, will get wise to that and play better against you… I am confused

    1. Hi, jasperbob —

      Actually, what I’ve said is that if you act as if you’re taking poker seriously, weak players will be afraid to play as loosely. You need a fun and carefree image to maximize profit and illicit more calls from inferior hands. Hesitation isn’t a primary factor in that.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

  3. I remember also reading Mike saying you don’t want to confuse opponents, you want to deceive them…

    Anyway, I think this is an excellent idea – mixing up your pauses so that your opponents won’t know it means you have a close decision when you do pause.

    Thank you, Mike!

  4. Hi Mike!
    I remember reading somewhere that bluff-raises are more likely to work when done “unreasonably” quickly. Are you teaching to raise “unreasonably” quickly with a strong hand in light of similar writings, in light of your own research/experiences or both? Or should one just mix it up to confuse the heck out of one’s opponents? Or maybe just shlkelksdrilsfmp (see, I tried to confuse you there)?

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