Three favorite poker tips

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was originally published (2011) in Bluff magazine under the title “My 3 favorite poker tips”

These are probably not my top three poker tips. There’s no such thing. It’s like asking friends to name their three best memories in life. There are so many candidates that whatever comes to mind at the moment will suffice. The sharing is what matters.

It’s the same with today’s tips. I’m giving you three of my most cherished bits of advice, but if you ask me to do it again next month, the list might be completely different. Still, these tips are among my favorites. And I’m quite fond of them. I’m glad we got that cleared up, and now let’s get started with the countdown.

Favorite poker tip #3

You didn’t play it wrong, just because you lost. Are you tired of being second guessed? You make a pot-size bluff and get called. Then you hear others proclaim, “I never would have tried that bluff,” or “You should have bet bigger and she would have folded.” Or you bet back into the flop when last to act with a big flush draw plus and inside straight possibility and some guy barks, “You could have taken the free card” after you miss.

Let me gently explain something to those who make such comments. There is usually no right way or wrong way to play a poker hand. Huh? Do I need to repeat it? There’s no right or wrong about a poker decision. That’s not how the game is played. You can make mistakes in poker by betting and raising too often, by playing too many low-quality hands, by calling too many bets, or even by folding too easily. You can cost yourself money by not spotting tells, by bringing the wrong image to the table, by letting your emotions interfere with your best strategy, and in many more ways.

But often there’s no precise answer to what decision to make right now. What you need to understand is that you must mix up your play against alert opponents – or even against semi-alert ones. If you have a clearly winning hand and are first to act, you might bet in four out of five similar situations. One time, you might check. And, if you do check, hearing someone say, “You should have bet,” can be aggravating.

Keep in mind that it’s your overall balance that keeps you walking a straight line toward pure profit. If you do one thing too often – except for the most compelling decisions – you’re going to lean too much to one side and lose your balance. So, don’t be bothered when others declare that they would have played differently. Usually, you’ll hear the chirping when your decision didn’t work out. If that same decision works, you’re brilliant. No chirping.

And not only should you never be frustrated by others second guessing you, you shouldn’t second guess yourself. Just make a decision, mix it up, and live with the results. If your balance is good, you’ll eventually win. As long as you’re playing sensibly, there’s no right or wrong at the moment you decide. After the fact, you might wish you’d played differently, but you had no way of knowing. You didn’t play it wrong; you simply lost. Losing hands is part of poker.

Favorite poker tip #2

Don’t raise a bluffer when you have a huge hand and others are waiting to act. Here’s a mistake I see made repeatedly, even by top pros. What should you do when holding the probable winning hand and are next to act after a frequent bluffer bets? Suppose there are two other opponents remaining to act after you. Raising is usually a mistake. You might do it once in a while to mix up your play, but usually you should just call.

Calling invites the other opponents into the pot, which is what you want with a quality hand. Raising chases them away. Usually, it’s a close decision whether to raise the bettor and try to win his call or to let others compete more cheaply. But when the better is a frequent bluffer, the decision is easier. Then the value of gaining extra money by raising is diminished, because if the bluffer (and everyone else) folds, you’ll gain nothing by raising.

So, as a general rule, seldom raise a bluffer when you hold a premium hand and others are waiting to act behind you.

Favorite poker tip #1

Surrender the stage. My favorite table image is wild and unpredictable. I try to confuse my opponents. Sometimes I do things that are just plain silly, for the sake of advertising. My hope is that opponents will call me more liberally in the future, when I actually hold strong hands. Remember, the biggest mistake typical opponents make in poker is that they call too often. In no limit, they also call bets that are too large.

Your average opponents came to the table wanting to get in action. They didn’t drive to the casino, hoping they won’t have to play any hands. This means that typical poker foes have a bias toward calling. Because of that, I’ve developed an image that encourages them to make their calling mistake even more often. When my image is confusing, I’m disrupting the normal flow of the game and causing players to be disoriented and to play worse than usual.

Fine. But one thing I try never to do is to make my opponents uncomfortable. I want to confuse them, but in a playful way. Then they won’t experience ego damage when they lose pots to me. And they’ll feel less emotional pain losing to me than they would losing to more serious players.
That makes them motivated to give me their discretionary money, meaning they’ll play their very weakest hands against me personally.

It works magically. Really. But here’s the tip. When someone else is disrupting the table by bizarre play, either by betting and raising too much or by talking endlessly, while playing loosely, they’re taking the stage from me. This means my wild image won’t have as much value, because I’ll have to struggle for the stage.

One of the surest ways to lose at poker is to compete for the stage. Your game is already being disrupted by someone else’s advertising campaign. You’ll benefit from that, because others will be confused and make mistakes. Just sit back and take advantage. Now you don’t need to be creative or to invest money making substandard plays. The benefit is already there.

If someone else wants the stage, let them have it. — MC

Published by

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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