Poker meets real life 1

  • By Mike Caro | Exit

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. Originally published (2001) in Poker Digest magazine. This was Mike Caro’s first column in that magazine. He had recently left Card Player magazine, after a 14-year run as lead columnist.


Well, hello. I’m glad we found each other here.

In a minute, I’ll begin my first column for Poker Digest, but first you should know what brought me here. That’s easy: June Field and Phil Field. Together they founded Card Player magazine 14 years ago and convinced me, through their vision and dedication to poker, to climb onboard. I did. And my next 14 years with that magazine chronicled the most monumental growth in poker history.

When I finally retired from that position a couple months ago in order to complete some publicly announced, but long-delayed projects and to pursue general gambling and poker research more aggressively, June and Phil urged me to talk with Glenn Fine. Glenn is publisher of the Casino Publishing Group, parent of this magazine. He convinced me that CPG’s vast resources as today’s leading gambling publisher would afford me, though their wealth of publications and events, an opportunity to reach vast new audiences.

The Poker Super-Names at Poker Digest

So, here I am. I look forward to working closely with Adam Fine, who’s in charge of CPG publishing, Melissa Raimondi who will extend her editorial oversight to become the new editor of PD, and of course, June, Phil, and Glenn.

And I’m eager to work hand-in-hand with PD’s resident writers and experts, including John Vorhaus, W. Lawrence Hill, Art Santella, Donna Blevins, Ace Slotboom, Brian Alspach, Alan Schoonmaker, Matt Lessinger, Alan Krigman, Gene Trimble, Susie Isaacs, Bruce Harris, Richard Geller, Nic Szeremeta, Mike Eikenberry. That’s an impressive lineup, to say the least, and I have worked personally with many of these poker super-names in the past. It will be like coming home. [NOTE TO EDITOR: Please add anyone I left out and remove anyone who is no longer affiliated or shouldn’t be included. And please check spelling.]

I want to make a special mention of Andy Glazer who wrote my cover story in the previous issue. Before that I’d only known Andy casually. In spending time with him, I became aware of his extraordinary talents and realized what an asset to poker he is. When you consider the powerful and capable people behind this publication in conjunction with its resident writers and experts, you can understand why I’m glad to be aboard.

Choosing today’s topic

June Field requested that I begin by reworking a piece I provided while her staff was researching last issue’s cover story. It deals with real-life strategy. That’s something that is fundamental to what I teach. Sure, in forthcoming issues, we’ll deal with poker strategy and psychology, often based on exacting research. But there are powerful overlaps between poker, gambling, and life. That’s why I call my school Mike Caro’s University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy. It’s the last part, “life strategy,” that I think is ultimately most important.

These first three or four columns will be based on a two-part article I wrote for Casino Journal about eight years ago. It also served as the basis for my keynote address at the Taj Mahal for a gaming conference sponsored by CJ. So, for that reason too, joining the CJ/PD family of publications feels like a homecoming to me.

In the next segments, I’ll add new material and new insights. But today, let’s begin with the original lead-in and the first two of more than a dozen main concepts that form the foundation of my teachings…

Here’s My First PD Column: Powerful Real-Life Strategy Based on Poker and Gambling

Suddenly you're awake. But where are you? Everywhere you look there's white. White walls hug and confine you, stretching deeper and deeper, marking the boundaries of a straight, narrow, featureless hallway. You're bewildered, but who wouldn't be? Finally you stand and look behind you. All white, everything, going back to where it all vanishes.

You push against the hard white floor, swaying and almost losing your balance because you've been asleep so long. Looking ahead, you realize the hallway is not exactly like it was behind you. Almost the same, but not quite. Way, way in the distance you can see some specks. And, reasoning that specks are better than nothing, you begin walking toward them.

It takes a long time, but then the specks grow and define themselves. They have become signs, gold in color and arrow-shaped. They hang at the end of the hallway, and you can see lettering on them. Closer and closer you walk, until you can see that there's a second hallway perpendicular to the this one. One arrow points left and reads: "Casino." The other points right and reads: "Life."

It's decisions like this that make you cry out for your mommy. Let me help. Turn right toward the real world, and I'll give you some advice as you're walking. There's something you have to understand today. Gambling games are merely formalized, simplified ways of experiencing exactly the same risks we experience in everyday life. If you're alive–as most of my readers are–you gamble. Formally or informally, you gamble.

Not surprisingly, many of the same strategies I've lectured about and analyzed with computers apply just as powerfully to everyday life as they do to formal gambling. Somewhere down the list of my next 20 books, which I've announced but failed to deliver so far, is one called Poker Without Cards. (Note to readers: I wrote that last line eight years ago and there’s still no such book. You can see why I have a reputation for announcing projects prematurely.)

By the way, I absolutely never use any manipulative tactics that I teach against people I respect. Why? Because, having heard me lecture about these strategies, people would otherwise feel uncomfortable with me. So, I deal with all friendly associates in a completely straightforward manner. I have to. You don't. Now here are some useful examples of gambling tips and philosophies I hope you'll successfully be able to adapt to the world around you. We’ll start with just two today, then add more next time.

1. The cards probably won't break even–not in gin rummy, not in poker, and not in real life. There's a common misconception that if you play poker long enough the cards will break even. Fat chance! Maybe, if you could play forever, never stopping, never sleeping, eventually you'd break even on luck. But not in just one lifetime! Early on you'd probably break even on, say, the number of full houses you were dealt, but it would take much longer to break even on circumstances surrounding those full houses.

You might lose more hands than you should lose on average. On the other hand, sometimes opponents might have nothing to oppose you with, and you'll win nothing. You might get many full houses when you're sitting in big-limit games, or you may receive most in smaller games. You might be against weak opponents, you might not. On and on. And the more factors you consider, the broader the range of luck, and the longer it will take for you to break even.

Does this mean some people are luckier than others for their lifetimes? You bet! But there's good news. You can still win, year after year, in gambling games requiring skill, even if you're not lucky. How? Simply by making the best decisions again and again without fail. Then, instead of being a break-even big-money player who may win $100,000 one year and lose $100,000 the next, you might win $250,000 in a lucky year and win $50,000 in an unlucky year. In this over-simplified example, the $200,000 swing from lucky year to unlucky year isn't enough to cause you to lose. At seminars, I teach that you should go to the poker table day after day on a simple mission. That mission is to make the best decisions always, and never worry about whether you're lucky or unlucky. You can't control your luck, but you can control your decisions.

Life’s a gamble, too

Same in life. Some people spend half their lives in hospitals. Others are healthy. All your belongings might be swept up in a tornado. You might discover a million dollar painting in you attic. Stop expecting life to be equal for everyone. It won't be. Your mission is simply to make the best decisions with the "hands" you're dealt.

I have a favorite lesson for my students. I ask them to each cut out nine photographs from a magazine. Each photo represents a poker player at a hold ‘em table. They then place the photos in a circle on the carpet. They shuffle a deck of cards and deal nine hold ‘em hands facedown – to the side, not to the “players.” Then I ask them to look at a single hand. Maybe it’s a pair of tens.

“Which player do you want to give that hand to?” I ask. They study the cut-out faces and decide. Look at the next two-card hold ‘em hand. Same process. Repeat until each player has a hand. Now gather the cards. Shuffle again. Look at the hands one at a time and decide who gets which one.

“Try to be fair,” I urge. Again and again the students repeat this tedious task until I’m certain they’ve grown bored and anxious to move on.

“Is this what you’d like to do for the rest of your life?” I ask. Of course, it isn’t. “Then,” I say, “you don’t have to. There’s no reason for you to worry about who’s getting their fair share of good cards and who isn’t. That’s not your job. Your job is to make good poker decisions and not worry about whether fate has been fair.” Same in life.

2. If you're a winner–in formal gambling or in life–you should never try to get even "for the night." By doing this, you're perverting your practice of making meaningful decisions, and you’re pursuing a meaningless goal. The mistake is in looking at each gambling session, or each financial venture, as a game to be won or lost. Don't! In poker, it's better to win $10,000, lose $2000, and lose $500 than to win $4,000, win $998 and win $2. In the first case, you won $7,500, but you only had one win and two losses. In the second case, you won only $5,000, but you won all three times.

Oddly, most gamblers and most people in real life unconsciously feel better about the second scenario than the first. Such feelings are natural, but they're also dangerous. If you agree with me that $7,500 is better than $5,000, then you should clearly see that it doesn't matter where the profits come from.

The next two points, leading off this column two weeks from now, are closely related, and they’ll demonstrate how most people diminish their overall success at poker and in life without even realizing it. — 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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