Things poker pros must never do

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was originally published (2012) in Bluff magazine under the same title.

Playing poker professionally isn’t easy. I know. I did it for 14 years.

There were bang-up highs and beat-down lows. There was abundant success and occasional sulking. There was victory and vanishing bankrolls. There was bliss and hiss. There were tears.

I’m telling you this, because if that television in your head is showing poker pros living carefree lives of glory and glamor, you’re tuned to the wrong channel. It’s not like that. Even the few pros who get lucky from the get-go and never crash can suffer near-death bankroll experiences along the way.

And, yet, there’s an exhilaration that comes with the pro-poker lifestyle. Life is an adventure each day. You honor your own hours. Often, you have lots of loose money to flash around. You feel like the star of your own movie – your very own superhero. Sometimes. You strut about proudly. Sometimes. You are admired by others. Sometimes.

That experience made it worthwhile for me. And if you think it might be worthwhile for you, you’d better have plenty of poker skill. Because, when you factor in rakes, travel expenses, tips, and much more, being a little better than your opponents isn’t enough. You must be significantly better. And to make professional poker work for you, there’s some stuff you must never do. I could make a long, long list of “nevers,” and today we’ll visit a few.

Never assume your bankroll is big enough.

Here’s what happens. You start with $1,000 or $100 or whatever. You play small games and soon your bankroll doubles, triples, more. Five times. Ten. Twenty-five.

You’re feeling comfortable, but you’re also playing bigger. You’ve promoted yourself. You were finding the smaller games easy to beat. Bigger is better, but not quite as easy. Tougher opponents.

But, still, you keep winning. So, you decide you have more money set aside for poker than you need. You buy an upscale watch. Keep winning. Buy girlfriend an upscale watch. You had grown your bankroll from $100 to $5,000 and the most you’ve ever lost in a single sit-down is $700. Subtract $3,000 for the watches. Still have $2,000. Oops. Bad night. Lost $1,100. Only $900 left, but, hey, started with just $100, so don’t panic yet. Another bad night. That $900 went so damn fast, you feel dizzy. And dazed. Now panic.

You’ve started with $100 and won $2,900. It says so right here on paper. But you’re broke and begging. What the hell happened?

Never spend your bankroll until it’s enormous. Period. It’s never as big as you think. Poker advice: When in doubt, don’t buy watches.

Never be vacuumed into a game.

Strong players will try to suck you into their games before you’re ready. Anytime skillful players are inviting you to play, be cautious. It’s very likely you lack the edge you think you have.

And don’t let your ego dictate that you must play. Practice saying these words: “No thank you,” and “Not tonight, honey.” Don’t be a vacuum victim.

Never get discouraged.

Okay, here’s the deal. Poker is a series of bad cards, followed by good cards resulting in bad beats – one hand after the next. That’s normal.

Once in a while you win a pot. And that’s where your profit comes from – the pots you play correctly and don’t lose.

When you adopt the attitude that you’re in a poker game to gamble and that taking chances at the right odds is your profession, you won’t feel mistreated by misfortune. The odds are in your favor, so play as if that advantage will eventually ensure victory. That’s because it really will. Think, “eventually” and don’t be discouraged by “now.”

Never try to impress opponents.

So, you’ve worked hard to acquire your superior poker skills, right? And you’d like to impress your poker opponents tonight. You image dancing around, doing unusual things to show off your talent.

Stop! You can’t impress poker opponents in a few hours. The proof of playing better than your opponents is a growing bankroll. And the growth won’t be smooth. It will be punctuated with setbacks. So, settle down. Play your best game. Wait.

Great cards come rarely. And if you try to force your luck in an attempt to impress others, you’ll be straying from your most profitable tactics and start playing a losing game, just to be noticed. Don’t.

Never be embarrassed about playing smaller.

Find a game you can afford that offers the most profit per hour, on average. Don’t let your ego dictate the stakes you must play.

Whenever you feel pressured to play bigger, wait! Here’s the secret: Think in terms of money earned hourly, not the size of the wagers. If smaller limits afford a bigger long-term earnings expectation, then … well, that’s a bigger game. Money won is a better measurement than amount wagered.

So, don’t be embarrassed by playing smaller stakes that are more profitable. Wannabe pros losing nearby in larger-stakes, unfavorable games – they’re the ones that should be embarrassed.

I’m not done with the list of things poker pros should never do. But let’s pause for now. I need to go to the bathroom. — 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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  1. Every time I think of using part of my bankroll for something frivolous I think “don’t buy the bracelet”. That story has stuck with me for years. Thank you for the wisdom you provided there.

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