Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2013) in Poker Player newspaper.
Are you ready for a poker test? Fine. This one won’t always be what you expect. It probes your knowledge of my Mike Caro methodology for winning at poker. That means, the correct answer to some questions may seem like opinions to you.
They aren’t opinions, though. When my correct answers differ from what you’ve heard elsewhere, then what you’ve heard is wrong. If that makes me an egomaniac in your mind, good.
I’ve done the research for decades, so you can decline to take this test and dispute the answers at your own risk. If you do, I’ll still love you, but I’ll be sad. Let’s get started with today’s two questions.
Question 1: Which statement below about the role of psychology in poker is most true?
(A) Psychology is overrated, because correct poker strategy is based on proven mathematical formulae.
(B) Once you have a solid foundation in normal poker strategy, most of your profit comes from psychology.
(C) Most serious poker players ignore opponents’ efforts to use psychology against them.
(D) It’s easier to determine how opponents play by watching for patterns than by trying to determine current moods.
Answer 1: (B)
You need a fundamental understanding of what a normal poker strategy should be. This includes knowing which hands are profitable in recurring situations and much more. But once you’ve developed that “feel for the game,” most profit comes from psychology, including tells.
How come? It’s because the difference between expert strategic play and truly world-class strategic play doesn’t amount for much extra profit. There are only so many additional finesses that can improve decisions, and while it’s always good to excel in those areas, the actual benefits are small compared to gains afforded by psychology.
The cruel fact is that in most games you’ll need to overcome rakes and other expenses. So, you need to be very good to win. A player who would win an average of $20 an hour in a non-raked medium-stakes “kitchen table” game, may only win $6 an hour in a casino.
Adding a 20 percent edge through perfecting strategy may bring the raw expectation to $24 an hour. That improves the casino result to $10 an hour. But wait! You can do much better than that by creating an image that prompts most opponents to call more with weak hands. Add a great understanding of tells and friendly manipulation, and you might easily add $20 an hour to your edge. Then you’re making $26 an hour in the casino.
Of course, those figures aren’t scientific, they’re just illustrative of a powerful truth. Once you’re playing fairly well, most of your potential gains in profit come from psychology. Period.
Why is A wrong? It’s because mathematics, which I use in my research to create the raw strategies I share with you, ignores the increased money-making opportunities provided by emotional opponents. Why is C wrong? It’s because, even though many skillful players say they ignore opponents’ images and ploys, the really don’t. It’s impossible for them to truly ignore you, no matter how hard they try. Why is D wrong? Watching for patterns in opponents play can often be misleading. The sample size of examples from which you’re trying to detect trends is too small. You’ll be adjusting your best strategy to fit what may be flukes or illusions. It’s much better to try to determine your opponents’ moods at the moment and manipulate their decisions. Hardly any opponent plays a consistent strategy.
Opponents often lose control emotionally and react at whim.
Question 2: Can you increase your chances of winning at poker by portraying a tight image that allows you to bluff?
(A) Yes, successful bluffing accounts for the majority of the profit most world-class players make, especially in no-limit games.
(B) No, a tight image actually decreases your chances of bluffing successfully.
(C) Yes, if you take away the extra money made through bluffing, most players lose money on average on all other hands.
(D) No, “tight” is the least-profitable image in poker.
Answer 1: (D)
Tight is poker’s least-profitable image. That’s because your opponents’ greatest weakness is that they call too often. They play hands they shouldn’t. And once they’re involved in a pot, they’re reluctant to surrender.
Your objective should be to exploit this great weakness. But if you portray conservatism by appearing to be tight, you’re fighting an uphill battle. Most of your opponents come pre-conditioned to call. So, you’ll naturally make extra money when you hold strong hands.
Bluffing is unprofitable for most players. What? Isn’t bluffing an integral part of poker strategy? Yes, in theory. But, here’s the truth. On the final chance to wager, if an opponent folds too often, you should always bluff with a hopeless hand. And if an opponent calls too often, you should always bet with strong hands.
That assumes yours is the last betting opportunity and ignores first-to-act decisions when you might check to let an opponent make a mistake. Nonetheless, the theory is solid. Randomizing decisions should be left for times when an opponent is going to call or fold about the right percentage of the time for a given situation. If that opponent calls too often or folds too often, then your decision is clear — exploit that mistake.
Unfortunately for bluffers, most opponents call too often. That makes bluffing usually unprofitable in typical games. This doesn’t mean you should never bluff. I often find key opportunities to bluff, but in the absence of evidence pointing in that direction, I’m simply not going to try it.
In fact, almost all players lose for their poker careers by bluffing! I know, that’s a bold statement, but it’s a fact. The reason many players think that their bluffs average a profit is because they engage in illogical accounting. They give themselves full credit for winning pots by bluffing whenever opponents fold. But often opponents fold hands that were actually worse than the one used to bluff. That distorts the truth.
So, bluff very selectively, and make sure your reasons are solid. The best poker image is a carefree and lively one — an image that encourages opponents to amplify their biggest mistake of calling too often. That’s where the profit lies.
Why is A wrong? Simply because psychology isn’t overrated. Why is B wrong? It’s because a tight image really does increase your chances of bluffing successfully — even though exploiting that doesn’t translate to the most profit.
Why is C wrong? It’s because most players don’t make extra money by bluffing.
Yes, that was only two questions. But I’ll me adding more in the future. And I hope these simple quizzes, with detailed explanations of the answers, will help you succeed in your poker adventures.— MC