Some of my favorite poker tips (Part 2)

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. Originally published (2002) in Poker Digest. This is Part 2 of a two-part series. In can be read independently, but you might also want to read the first part.

See Part 1

Today, let’s continue going through my collection of favorite poker tips. We made it through 10 last time and we’re about to visit 11 additional ones. But, before we discover more tips, I’d like you to consider doing something for me.

Yahoo! Internet Life is a magazine I sometimes enjoy reading. You can find it at your favorite newsstand. Fine. But, in the July 2002 issue it published something that has me fighting mad. It probably won’t affect you the same way, but you never know. I hope it does. It was an articled called “Campus Losers,” discussing a perceived problem of college students gambling online and getting into debt.

OK. That’s a legitimate issue, although poker games in college dorms were common before there ever was an Internet. And many colleges are replete with bookies of all sorts, including those coming from the ranks of students themselves. It’s a problem, and Yahoo! Internet Life is wise to report it.

But, wait! Their page 19 article contained something additional that should not have been there – at least not in the way it was presented. It was a short sidebar story excerpted from a Santa Clara University report by students, then published in the Metro Silicon Valley weekly, republished by the online magazine, then finally being showcased in the Yahoo! magazine.

What’s wrong with Yahoo’s reporting?

So, now it’s time for me to tell you what was wrong with that sidebar. Well, its purpose clearly was to promote sympathy for the college victims of gambling. Specifically, it said that “Justin” – a name they put in quotes, meaning it was really somebody else, probably Julian, if you ask me – gets up in the middle of the night, being careful not to wake his roommate. He dials a friend to see if he’s playing poker online. When the reply is yes, he gets dressed, goes to his computer and gets into action.

Now let me quote directly: “A fan pushes the stale air around as Justin and his pal [on the telephone] plot their next move. They draw their cards… They’ve won this hand, but the $20,000 Justin has poured into his gambling habit taints the victory.”

Taints the victory?! What the hell has happened to our sense of honesty and ethics if this story can be related in such a way as to make “Justin” an object of our sympathy?

I told you I was going to ask you for a favor. Here it is. Yahoo! Internet Life magazine solicits all its letters to the editor by e-mail. I’d like you to send one to and say that “Justin” is not an object of your sympathy. (Follow-up note: Remember, this was written in 2002, and although the concept remains just as important today as ever, I no longer request that you communicate with the magazine.) Tell these yahoos that — if collusion actually occurred the way the article suggests — Justin has committed what should be considered a very serious crime and belongs in prison, in our minds. Tell them that Justin has conspired to steal money from innocent poker players and to, perhaps, even ruin their lives. Tell them that you’re glad Justin has lost $20,000, but it isn’t nearly enough of a punishment.

And whenever you read or see anything glamorizing cheating at poker or making it seem insignificant, you should take similar action. That’s the favor you can do me.

Now the tips.

Who to Attack in Tournaments

The most common types of poker tournaments are the “proportional payoff” variety. That’s where, as players are eliminated, tables are consolidated until the survivors meet at a final table and first place wins all the chips. But first place doesn’t get to keep all the money, so there is — in effect — a penalty for winning. This means survival is more important than using many sophisticated tactics that would earn extra profit in non-tournament games. So, you should avoid high-risk, seemingly profitable finesses and play more conservatively in order to survive and win more of the prize pool. Fine, we’ve talked about that before.

But, correct strategy for these tournaments also requires that you attack mostly players with fewer chips than you have. This provides two advantages: (1) You can’t be eliminated by those players, so you’ll survive even if you lose the pot; (2) If you win the pot, you’ll eliminate the short-stacked opponent and automatically move up in the money.

Hold ’em – Four Suited Cards on the Board

You should, of course, exercise caution when there are four cards of one suit on the board and you don’t have a flush. But sometimes you should bet right into that board without a flush.

The best time to bet is when you have two pair, three-of-a-kind, or a straight against a lone sophisticated player who has checked into you. If there were raises before the flop and parts of the four-flush on the board are high cards, especially an ace, figure it’s more likely that your opponent does not have a flush.

He is more apt than usual to hold high cards, and those high cards are likely to match the suited cards on the board. There are fewer likely ranks that will provide your opponent with a flush, and it’s more likely than usual that he has a pair. So, sometimes bet two pair. Not only can this be a profitable decision, the play will enhance your image.

Why Convey Optimism?

One of the big mistakes players make is to slump in their seats and seem defeated when they’re losing. This just encourages opponents who are ready to take advantage of your misery. They’ll play better against you, because you’ve made yourself a target — someone they have increased hopes of beating.

Of course, the fact that you’re losing, in itself, inspires your opponents. But don’t make it worse. Continue to act confidently, laugh, make your moves animated and assured. This will make your opponents less likely to leverage all their advantages against you. If you can keep them from betting or raising just one time when they have an advantage, you’ve earned something. And you’re more likely to do that if you convey optimism, rather than surrender emotionally.

Are Kings Almost as Profitable as Aces in Hold ’em?

Kings are nowhere near as profitable as aces in hold ’em. The difference is much slighter between smaller adjacent pairs, such as eights and sevens, but there’s a very large gap between aces and kings in terms of profit when played correctly. Averaging all situations together, figure aces to be worth up to 40 percent more than kings.

Hold ’em Open-End Straight Draws are Often Unprofitable

One of the tough decisions in hold ’em is whether to call a bet on the flop when you have an open-end straight draw. Often you should. But when it’s close, you need to consider other things. Here are three:

1. If there are two suited cards on the flop, you’re somewhat more likely to be beat by a flush, even if you make your straight. This can often turn a hand that would otherwise be slightly profitable (with three different suits flopping) into one that’s slightly unprofitable.

2. If there is a pair on the flop, you’re somewhat more likely to be beat by a full house or four of a kind, even if you make your straight. This, too, can often turn a hand that would otherwise be slightly profitable into one that is slightly unprofitable.

3. Is your extra card high in rank? When a single card provides the open-end straight possibility (such as a flop of 9-7-6 when you hold K-8), the rank of that extra card is important You want an additional chance of making a pair big enough to win if, for example, your opponent makes queens on the turn. Ace is best, of course. You won’t often start with hands that give you the opportunity to flop a small straight attempt with an unrelated extra card, but when you do, the rank of the extra card should often be the deciding factor.

When whether to call with an open-end straight attempt is a close decision, you can use the three factors above – among others — to break the tie.

Don’t “Over Concentrate”

I believe that some poker players try to concentrate too hard in the course of a game. They burn themselves out in the first hour and can’t play extended sessions in top form, even when the games are very profitable. Concentration is good in poker, but don’t force it to the extent that you’re uncomfortable. That adds pennies to your immediate profit, but can actually cost you money overall. Sometimes if you don’t pace yourself, you can’t get as many winning hours into profitable games.

Don’t Rebuy Yet

When you’re down to your last few chips and can play for just the cost of the ante or blind, you should often wait to rebuy until after the hand! That’s because there are no better pot odds than to be able to see the showdown for free with everyone else at the table matching your money with their antes.

If it’s a blind they’re matching, only some will voluntarily call. But, even then, the point is powerful: Other opponents may knock each other out of the competition, while you remain to see the showdown. You’ll often arrive at the showdown with hands you couldn’t have afforded to call with if you’d had more money. This means you have an extra opportunity to get lucky and “draw out” — and that’s worth enough to defer your rebuy until the next hand.

If There’s No Tell, Ponder

If you have a close decision about calling or folding, hesitate for a few seconds and watch. Pretend to be pondering the situation. Often you won’t get a tell from your opponent until you drive home the fact that it’s necessary for him to sway your decision. Your hesitation will often shift your opponent into “acting” mode, where the same “weak means strong” and “strong means weak” clues apply as usual.

When in doubt, conspicuously ponder for a few seconds — and observe how your hesitation affects your opponent.

Betting a Flush Draw on the Flop in Hold ’em

Here’s one of my favorite hold ’em plays that you can use quite often without opponents adapting. It’s a well-know play, and many of your sophisticated opponents will use it quite often, too.

You have a flush draw on the flop — two of your suit in your hand, two on the board. You’re last to act. Everyone checks to you. Bet. Sometimes you’ll win the pot immediately without a struggle, but even if you don’t, you’ll frequently have helped your cause.

Now, everyone is apt to check to you on the 4th board card (the turn). If you make your flush, you just keep betting, natural as natural can be. If you miss, you check along. And the great thing is that you got a partially free card which could have costs double in common limit games where the size of bets increase after the flop. Yes, you paid to see it by betting on the flop, but the price was only half. The final (river) card is also effectively free, because if you miss, you’ll usually fold.

There’s another twist to this tactic. You don’t want to overuse it, because astute players may catch on and adapt, but one of the built-in tools of deception comes from mostly betting these flush draws when you have at least one card higher than the board. That way, you have additional chances of making top pair and continuing to bet on the turn.

When this happens, many opponents won’t notice at the showdown that you were originally betting the flush draw. They sometimes just see the top pair and forget when you made it or how. This psychologically camouflages the fact that you’re often betting flush draws “on the come,” hoping to get a free card.

Omaha High-Low and Psychology

It’s important to understand that high-low split poker games, and Omaha high-low, in particular, do not demand the emphasis on psychology that other forms of poker do. When you’re playing Omaha high-low, don’t sacrifice sound mathematical strategy to try to influence opponents.

Advertising is often costly. Why? Because high-low players tend to play their cards like bingo. They make their decisions primarily on the strength of their hands and are often almost oblivious to the strategies of opponents. In high-low, reduce you emphasis on psychology and play your cards.

Don’t Bluff Too Often in Loose Games

Obviously, opponents call too much in loose games, otherwise these wouldn’t be loose games. The main mistake opponents make in these games is to call too often. You should expect this key mistake of calling too often to hurt you when you try to bluff. When you bluff, clearly you don’t want to be called, but in loose games you should expect to be. Sure, everyone knows that, but you’d be surprised how many serious players bump their head against poker’s wall by trying to bluff anyway.

The secret is to never bluff in loose games unless you have a specific reason on a particular hand against a particular player. In tighter games, you can bluff once in a while at random, but in loose games, you must resolve never to bluff without a major motive. — 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.


5 thoughts on “Some of my favorite poker tips (Part 2)”

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  1. Hi! Nice tips. Especially the one on betting with a flush draw in late position. I’m a big check-or-call fan and tend to be a conservative player. I now understand that a bet in some situations can help my style while I show a different image. Are there many situations where betting can prevent a bigger loss?


    P.S. Shame on the cheaters! Julian should be in prison for stealing, not at school. To be in a 20K deficit, he might have lost 30K and win 10K, or something like that. Stealing 10K, isn’t that a crime? How many bankrolls were destroyed because of him? And this kid is in the newspaper asking for our sympathy while others can’t afford to go to school, or to play poker… or to eat. I do understand why young students want to quit school… Bad image.

    1. Hi, Vincent —

      Thanks for making your first comment at Poker1 and joining our family. And thanks for the kind words, too.

      Yes, you should sometimes bet out, rather than check. But checking is usually the safer and more profitable choice when your hand has no great strength nor great weakness. Weakness gives you an occasional chance to bluff, but don’t do it too often.

      One profitable time to bet is when you think there’s a good chance that both you and an opponent have failed to improve your hands. In essence, you both have “nothing.” But if you allow a showdown, you’ll only win half the time, depending on which “nothing” is better. In that case a small bet can often secure the entire pot, rather than theoretically half of it.

      Also, if you’re first to act in that circumstance, betting denies your opponent that same chance to take the whole pot by betting his garbage hand (although he might occasionally get inspired and raise).

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

  2. Another handful of nice tips. These short sweet tip roundups can help refocus and prompt me to revisit tools that may have gotten rusty. Your video on poker clack from earlier this week saved me some chips in a game on Friday so thank you.

    Keep them coming and nice work on the reorganization of poker1!

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