Some of my favorite poker tips (Part 1)

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. Originally published (2002) in Poker Digest.

While browsing through my collection of quick poker tips at my online poker university (MCU), it occurred to me that most readers have never seen any of them. Why not simply present a list all in one place?

But, then, a frightening thought came to me. Will my readers understand that quick tips sometimes are necessarily too short to provide useful explanations and to investigate the exceptions to the rule? I thought and I thought, and I was done thinking, I concluded that, hey, I’ll just explain that the tips are sometimes too simplistic and can benefit from fuller explanations. In the future, I’ll select some of these tips, explain them in depth, give play-by-play examples, and more.

But today, I’m just providing 10 of the tips, beginning with the most recent ones and working back in time to the beginning. I’ll continue the process in the future. I have enhanced many of the tips for this presentation. Here goes…

When to hesitate

In poker, the time to hesitate is when you really need more time to resolve a close decision. Often things will occur to you given a little extra time. Or, under the extra pressure, your opponent may provide you with a tell. You might occasionally also hesitate for deception, so that alert opponents can’t determine that your pause always means you have a close decision.

Also, sometimes when you make a final bet with a big hand, you’ll be more likely to be called if you don’t bet instantly. Well, if you don’t bet almost instantly, I mean. Because both a bet delayed for a few extra seconds and an unreasonably quick one are apt to make your opponents suspicious, those bets are more likely to be called.

But, unless there’s a specific reason to hesitate, you should usually make all your bets, calls, and raises crisply and confidently — because this enhances your image and speeds up the game.

Don’t fold instantly unless you’re sure

(This one is closely related to the previous tip, but has a more specific application.)

Sometimes you can get a tell on an opponent simply by not folding too quickly. I’m not telling you to slow up the game, but occasionally — when you’re in doubt about whether to call — you should conspicuously study your opponent. This extra scrutiny will sometimes make a player who’s bluffing uncomfortable enough to give you the clue you’re seeking.

In general, if the player remains relaxed, you should fold, as you originally intended. But if there seems to be growing tension in the opponent and he becomes totally “poker faced” and motionless, even not breathing, you should consider calling. Remember, a player who is bluffing will usually do nothing unusual for fear of triggering your call. It’s the absence of animation and the suspenseful tension that let you know that an opponent is more likely than usual to be bluffing. When you’re in doubt and fold too quickly, you often lose the opportunity to capitalize on this powerful tell.

Raising with small pairs from late position in hold ’em

Although you can often call profitably with a small pair against a long line of players in hold ’em, when you’re in late position and no one has entered the pot, it’s different. Then, you should usually raise, not just call.

The reason is that against many players, you’re trying to take advantage of pot odds by calling and seeing the flop. You realize that you’ll almost certainly need to improve your hand to win against that many opponents. But when you’re in late position, you can raise hoping to end up one-on-one or to win the blinds outright. If you do end up against just one opponent, there’s a good chance your small pair might be enough win the pot, affording you an extra chance to win that you would seldom enjoy against many opponents. The raise is designed to chase players out and give yourself that extra chance to win.

Maximizing positional advantage

Remember, players to your left always act after you and get to see what you do before they decide. This “positional advantage” in poker is so powerful, that you should neutralize it by making opponents on your left less likely to pick on you.

I do this by striking up friendly conversation, sharing information about my hand (after the pot is determined, of course), buying them coffee, and more. I never intentionally irritate players on my left. There’s no reason to motivate them to maximize their positional advantage. I usually go to war with players on my right, where I have position working in my favor, not against me. That’s what you should do, too.

The simplest truth about beating poker

The main secret to winning at poker is simply to play your best game all the time. I know, that’s too silly to mention. But, apparently, most players don’t do it. Do you realize that you can give away a whole month’s worth of disciplined poker profit in one night? So, it isn’t good enough to play your best game most of the time. All of the time is what you should strive for.

(This single “obvious” concept is so important that I devoted an entire cassette tape to it. The title was Positive Poker, and many players have reported back to me that it has been the most profitable tool in their poker arsenal. So, just do it – play your best game.)

Tournament chances

If all players are equal, the odds against you winning first place in a poker tournament corresponds to the amount of money you must still gather vs. the amount you already control. For instance, if ten opponents each have $500 in chips and you have $1,000 in chips, it’s 5-to-1 against you winning the tournament. That’s because there’s $5,000 you still must win weighed against the $1,000 you already have. (Note that in real life tournaments, this estimate will be imperfect for several reasons. The most important is that players who can go all-in have a better chance of winning pots.)

This measurement holds true if there are just two players left, you and an opponent. If he has $5,000 and you have $1,000, it’s still 5-to-1 against you winning.

Truth about aces in hold ’em

Despite common advice, you do not want to raise with aces in order to chase players out of the pot before the flop in hold ’em. That pair of aces usually makes as much money or more with extra opponents chasing you. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t raise. But it means when you do raise, you’re usually doing so hoping opponents will call, not fold.

Thinning the field has its moments, but — contrary to what you’ve heard — raising with aces before the flop for that purpose isn’t one of them.

How tipping is like the rake

You should think of tipping the same way as the rake. The winners of the pots pay. Therefore, there’s a penalty for winning, and you need to play somewhat more conservatively. When the method of paying the house is seat rental (called “collection” in some places), everyone pays the same amount and there’s no penalty for winning pots. In that case, you can play marginal hands that average only pennies in profit.

With tipping, a few professional players pay a fixed amount  when each dealer sits down or after they’re done with their half-hour shift. If you do this, and don’t vary the amount — win or lose — there’s no tip penalty for winning pots, and you can actually play somewhat looser.  (However, I seldom do it this way, myself. I usually just tip by the pot.)

Hold ’em danger on the flop

When you’re check-raised on the flop, be prepared to surrender often unless your hand has promise. It’s tempting to bet aggressively when checked into and you hold a fairly weak hand. Betting is okay, because you might win the pot now, or you might win the pot against other opponents with similarly weak hands, even if they call. But a check-raise can mean trouble. It’s tempting to call, because the price is cheap considering the amount of money already in the pot. But figure it’s going to cost a lot more money to chase your opponent to the showdown. Unless you’re against a tricky and sophisticated opponent, who often check-raises as a bluff, you should frequently pass. You’ll save money.

How much are your chips worth in a tournament?

Don’t be discouraged if you only have as many chips as you started with late in a common “proportional payoff” poker tournament (where the prize money is pre-determined at fixed percentages for first, second, third, and so on). Most players think it’s necessary to gather chips, but it isn’t. If you have the same $500 you started with after three-quarters of the players are eliminated, the same amount of money is out there against you as when the tournament began. It hasn’t gotten any better or any worse. But what has gotten better is that there are fewer players contending for the cash prizes. Mathematically, your prospects of profit have increased.

So, you’re always better off with the same amount of chips later in this type of tournament than when the first hand was dealt. Remember, the trick is to survive. Don’t panic if your stacks don’t grow. You’d rather they would, but you’re still better off, even if they stay the same. — MC

→ Continue to part 2 (conclusion of series)

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.

20 thoughts on “Some of my favorite poker tips (Part 1)”

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    1. Hi, Adam —

      It’s been several weeks since I sent out an e-mailing. I’ve been out of the United States part of that time.

      I apologize for the delays and will try to get an e-mail out to my preferred list in the next few days. Anyone interested in joining that free list can do so from the right sidebar, beneath the Twitter logo.

      Thanks for making your first comment and joining our Poker1 family.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

  1. If you hold a pocket pair what are the chances of hitting a set after you miss the flop?

    If you have two clubs and two clubs appears on the flop then what are the chances of you making the flush?

    The turn comes and no club then what are the chances of hitting the flush on the river?

    You hold non suited connectors and the flop comes and leaves you with an open ended straight possiblity. What are the chances of hitting the straight? The turn comes and you do not hit the straight. What are the chances of hitting the straight on the river?

    Thanks for your help.


    1. If you hold a pocket pair what are the chances of hitting a set after you miss the flop?

      8.8% that you’ll hit it on either the turn or river.

      If you have two clubs and two clubs appears on the flop then what are the chances of you making the flush?
      36.4% that you’ll hit it on either the turn or river.

      The turn comes and no club then what are the chances of hitting the flush on the river? 20.5%

      You hold non suited connectors and the flop comes and leaves you with an open ended straight possiblity. What are the chances of hitting the straight? The turn comes and you do not hit the straight. What are the chances of hitting the straight on the river? 32.7% that you’ll hit it on either the turn or river. If it doesn’t hit by the turn, 18.2% that you’ll hit it on the river.

  2. Love all your thing i never see though is When to leave the table… Lets say im playing at a local casino no limit holdem 3-5 and buy in with 2-300 at what point should i leave? I have a feeling your gonna say if your up and playing your best game NEVER haha.. thanks for your help

    Two Pair,

    1. Hi, Frankie —

      You pretty much guessed my answer.

      There’s no magic number for quitting. When you employ a so-called “stop loss” rule to protect your winnings after you’ve retreated from a high point, you’re apt to be leaving when conditions are profitable.

      Of course, you’ve got to quit sometime, but that time shouldn’t be dictated by some mystical formula that makes no sense.

      What I call gambling’s stupidest question is: “Why didn’t you quit when you were $5,000 ahead?” You never hear that question asked when you win $20,000.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

  3. I liked very much.. I am relatively new.. just learned all the hands in Dec.. i did realize i’m my own worst enemy early and i thinked that helped.. YOur tips are good… very realisic…
    thank you
    Mr. Caro

  4. By the way I am going to book a trip on a Poker Cruise leaving LA on 26th sept.for 7 days going to mexico.The main reason I am booking is to attend your Seminars during the trip.Cannot wait to meet you as my poker strategy is based on your teachings.You are the GURU of poker.Stay safe,keep well Regards Ray Pickard

  5. Limping with aces in early position is a great play but if raised I do go all in.I win usually 4 out of 5.Do you think this is okay.Regards Ray Pickard
    PS.My alias on many sites is Mike Caro Clone.Hope you dont mind.

    1. Hi, Ray —

      I don’t mind your use of the “clone” nickname at all. I’m flattered. I prefer that no one try to use “Mike Caro” alone, though, mostly because once my name wasn’t available when I tried to use it promotionally. (Problem was fixed, of course.)

      Winning four out of five is just about what you’d expect if called by one opponent when you’re holding aces. Against kings you’ll do a bit better than that and against 10-9 suited (an unlikely call), a bit worse — as just two examples.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

  6. Mike, I love to play a 1,2 cash game at a local casino. However, my biggest problem is winning at first and then either getting over confident or tired and losing it all. I’m sure if I tighten up my range, to see a flop, will help a lot. I’ll be in Vegas in a few weeks. I have heard from 2 different people that the poker at MGM is full of fish and good place to make money. Is that urban legend, or what.

    Thanks for your tips.

    1. Welcome to the new Poker1, Bill.

      I’m hiding out in the Ozarks and don’t have recent information on the MGM, but maybe someone else will advise you.

      You need to play a steady game at any limits, so when you feel yourself becoming tired, that’s time to either take a break (like a walk through the casino or a visit to the coffee shop) or quit for the day. That’s important.

      If you’re reasonably skillful and could measure all the time you played while alert against the rest of the time, you’d see that it divides into big winnings and big losses overall.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

  7. Mike, great tips and the advice is appreciated. I will be in Vegas vacationing in July and plan to play some of the small $35-$100 “no limit” tourneys. My experience thus far has been on-line and $20 or $50 buy ins mostly with friends. I usually do well and try to change my play from tight to aggressive and sometimes trapping.

    What can I expect to see at these small games in Las Vegas? I want experience moving some chips around and would like my 1K poker budget to last as long as possible. A profit would be nice.

    1. Hi, Ed —

      Welcome to Poker1. The key to success in those tournaments — assuming you mean large-field events and not winner-take-all single-table events — is to survive.

      As such, you need to forgo many of the marginally profitable, but risky, plays that make for superior play outside a tournament. Instead, you need to play very tight. This allows you to survive into the money while not targeting first place specifically.

      I show elsewhere at Poker1 that there’s a peculiar mathematical truth about these tournaments that means first place is punished and that you actually should not play your best everyday poker.

      Your best shot is extreme tightness, but you can be a bit more reckless when you have superior chip counts versus your opponents. Try not to commit large sums with marginal hands against opponents with superior stacks.

      Sometimes you can actually reduce your risk by raising to limit the field, especially in late positions. While I’m not a fan of limit-the-field tactics in general, it is occasionally correct in proportional-payoff tournaments, where 1st place gets a portion of the prize pool, 2nd place a smaller portion, and so on.

      Good luck on your Las Vegas poker tournament adventure!

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

  8. Very good advice. I agree with all of these tips for the most part. I do believe thinning the field a bit with pocket aces or kings is beneficial. I know the player with the aces still has the best chance of winning mathematically. I think it is easier to make post flop decisions with large pairs if you are only up against one or two other poker players though.

    1. Actually, I agree with you, James, as far as making your decision easier by thinning the field. Often, that’s not enough to justify a raise, though.

      The big secret, which I discuss elsewhere on this site, is that when the decision is close, you should try to thin the field if weak opponents are already involved in the pot and strong opponents remain. This tends to often leave you with just those weak opponents that you can outplay on future betting rounds.

      If strong players are already involved and weak players remain to act, it’s frequently better to just call and invite those looser players into your pot with their inferior hands.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

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