Why sanity never helped your bankroll

This article first appeared in Card Player magazine.

Here comes a long-lost column from another publication that we should share. It appeared in Poker Player newspaper in December 1989. My column then was called A Word From the Mad Genius…

Today’s word is “CRAZY.” Whatever happened to Crazy Mike? Even though it’s been years since I began a serious personal campaign to bury the crazy image, people still expect to see me attempting strange magic at the poker table. This bothers me.

In the first place, I never went around calling myself “Crazy Mike.” It was all a publicity gimmick that the promoters of Doyle Brunson’s Super/System – A Course in Power Poker used to gain attention. Since Doyle was called “Texas Dolly” and Bobby Baldwin was known as “the Owl,” it seemed natural that I, as one of the book’s collaborators, should have some catchy title.

In those days (pre-1978) I was doing substantial research on how a person’s image affected others at the poker table. For instance, how could you get more calls when you held a winning hand? Act impassive? Angry? Friendly? Insane?

How insanity wins. It didn’t take long to figure out that insanity won hands down. Anger is ineffective because it just makes most opponents want to gear down and beat you. Friendly is fine if you want to do a lot of bluffing, but in limit games (and most no-limit games), where the main mistake your opponents make is calling too much, your correct strategy should be emphasize this fault. You should make them call even more.

There’s a certain not-too-sinister logic that goes with this. Let’s say that, instead of wanting to take advantage of your opponents’ too-liberal calling habits; you decided to earn money by bluffing.

OK, but first you’d have to condition them to feel that they should call less often. As you navigate these unsuspecting players toward the sea of hard rocks, they will necessarily sail through an eddy of perfect percentage calling. You can point them in that direction by showing strong hands after they’ve passed, thus providing psychological reward for tight play. You might also present a solemn, businesslike appearance. A subtle scowl will help.

But what do you hope to accomplish? The object, of course, is to guide them beyond this new-found eddy of perfection and make them lay down too many hands. Only now you can win by bluffing.

Big deal! In limit games against novices or even semi-sophisticated players, the looser the game, the bigger your long-range profit. This is an absolute truth, and if it doesn’t seem right to you, please reexamine your thinking. My conclusion is not based on subjective observation. I’ve logged thousands of hours, using various images and strategies, to discover what you can expect to earn in too-tight games and too-loose games. The verdict is clear: Find yourself the loosest limit game in America and leave a bluff-based strategy for no-limit encounters. (Note: Bluffs don’t tend to work there, either, against loose opponents.)

And here’s a bonus truth. There’s another related truth: It’s usually more profitable to emphasize faults your opponents already have than to create new behavior patterns.

So, since looser games are the best, it’s obvious that you want your opponents to play as liberally as their hearts will allow. That’s where the crazy image worked for me. There is nobody who will call as readily as a confused opponent. And there’s no way to confuse an opponent as fast as making him think you’re crazy. My favorite play in the jacks-or-better draw poker games in Gardena, California went like this: Someone would open. Another player would call. If I was holding some pathetic hand like queen-nine-seven-six-five of various suits, I’d call. The opener would announce his draw.

“I’ll take three. Give me some Aces, please.”

“Just one for me,” the first caller would request.

At this point, I’d make the obviously correct play. “No cards here!”

A surprise ending. Naturally, the opener would check, followed instantly by the one-card draw. Even if they make powerhouses, they’d check because it now seemed certain that I’d do their betting for them. Then they could raise.

But when the action got to me, I’d just flip my cards face up, checking right along.

Someone would always say, “How come you didn’t bet? And how come you didn’t draw?”

And I’d point out that, “Drawing to inside straights is poor poker.”

Thus, my opponents would begin to giggle inwardly and become giddy. The pots would grow and grow. Why? Because not only had these players become confused, they’d become playful. When you employ a correct crazy image, you remove inhibitions. They figure if you can play a hand with absolutely no chance of winning, then why should they discipline themselves to throw away a pair of sixes. But, alas, I don’t use the crazy image much these days. I’m too busy feigning sanity. — 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.


5 thoughts on “Why sanity never helped your bankroll”

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  1. Hi Mike,

    Thank you for sharing! I seem to relate and agree on a lot. I’m not just typing words to build you up, I’m being totally honest.

    Kind regards,

    Todd Johnson

  2. brilliantly written…lol…too busy feigning sanity…:)….
    tyty mike…another great read..:)
    i like stans comment too….saying ' all in ' in a limit game….could well work…:)

  3. hahhaha@ inside straight another good psychological ploy in nl games is saying “I’m call-in”

    1. Actually that “sir” is an angle shoot. And I use the word “sir” here very loosely. I have no problem with you beating the bejesus out of someone at the table, but don’t give poker players a bad name by being such a low and small person as to pull the crap of “I’m call in” so as to confuse your opponent into acting as if they are facing the potentially large all in bet you have made.
      There is nothing psychological about such a move, it is just dirty, and don’t be surprised when a good floor person kicks you out for the day for pulling such a move.

    2. If you say allin in a nl game, you are allin. The ploy may work better, saying allin, in a limit game.

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