Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2009) in Poker Player newspaper.
What should you think about in a poker game? Can thinking be dangerous? Are some decisions instinctive? In this edition of my series of self-interviews, we visit the word “Think” and learn how it relates to profit. First question, please.
Question 1: Does everyone spend the same amount of time thinking?
When you understand this answer, you’ll not only grasp poker, but life itself, in a whole new way. I spend a lot of time pondering. I sit quietly, shutting out the world, and treating life like a puzzle. Often I’m rewarded with insights and theories about how things work and why people do things.
If you’re like me, sometimes when others voice opinions contrary to yours, you wonder what caused them to stray from what’s obvious. Faulty evaluation caused that conflict. Advice: Remember that one of you reasoned wrongly, and it might be you. It’s never me, though.
Here’s the big secret. Whether you’re playing poker or interacting in the real world, most people think lightly, not profoundly. I urge you to think harder and deeper, because that’s where your life success and poker profit comes from.
Some people think so lightly that they don’t really understand what you mean when you ask them to think. You probably assume that everyone is capable of analytical thought. They don’t know how. From hostile gang-bangers to unsophisticated folks who struggle to live honestly day to day, there is an absence of thinking. They don’t really understand what it means to think. Thinking is a vague concept that their teachers asked them to engage in, but they never really mastered. So, they live day to day with only utilitarian thoughts about how to follow procedures and take the next minor steps.
The majority of people either think shallowly or almost not at all. Once you understand that, you realize why you have such a great advantage at a game like poker. You can make better decisions than your opponents. And you can manipulate them.
Question 2: What should you think about at the poker table?
I want you to win. It’s my life’s obsession to help you profit at poker. And in order to do that, you need to outthink your foes. The best technique is to prioritize. If you try to think about everything, you’ll see nothing.
You have a very short time to make quality poker decisions. I could spend days or write books examining a single tactic. But you only have seconds when you’re actually engaged in poker combat. So, you have to think about what’s most important.
I believe it helps to make a list of questions to ask before you make a decision. As you think about choosing the right action, follow that list in that exact order.
Question 3: If you make a list, what should be on it?
I’m going to give you an example of a three-question list to guide your thinking. This isn’t the only list you could make. What’s important is that you have a disciplined procedure that keeps you from straying and wasting valuable decision-making time exploring the wrong paths. Obviously, after quickly thinking about the questions on this list, you’ll consider other factors. Whether you decide on these three questions or others, follow that path, every hand, every decision.
- Can I save money by folding? Every time you face a decision, ask yourself that. If the answer is “yes,” then you need to exit the pot rather than pay money to pursue it. All other decisions are invalid. So you’ll either fold if it costs you money to play, or check, hoping to continue for free.
- What are the best hands an opponent can hold? Most players assume that the answer is obvious and that this step is too basic for a sophisticated player to bother with. That’s wrong. How many times have you thought, “I didn’t consider that,” when seeing the showdown. Ask yourself: What are the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth best hands possible. Then think about how likely an opponent is to hold each of those hands in conjunction with how the action unfolded so far. Yes, the betting usually centers around weaker hands, but thinking about the top five possibilities answers many questions.
- How do my opponents perceive me? If your opponents think you’re conservative, they’re more likely to bluff and you should call more often. If you’re opponents see you as loose or wild, you can bet more hands profitably. You need to make decisions consistent with your image at the moment, and you can only do that by thinking about how opponents perceive you.
Question 4: Is thinking in poker always profitable?
No. If you think in faulty ways, you’re often costing yourself money and would be better off not thinking at all. This is why instinctive players who react quickly in accordance with past experience sometimes outperform players who ponder in a misguided way.
Biased thinking is epidemic. That’s where you decide you want to call or bet or raise, and you look for reasons to justify that decision, ignoring indicators that would demand caution. Most players are subject to this kind of biased judgment, at least sometimes.
Remember that contrived thought can justify any decision. You can give too much weight to almost meaningless factors and devalue more important ones. If you do that, you’ve thought about the situation, but in a way that leads to an unprofitable decision.
Don’t ever let your hopes or your emotional thoughts influence your decision.
Question 5: How much of your lifetime poker profit will be a result of superior thinking relative to your opponents?
All of it. — MC
Next self-interview: Mike Caro poker word is Trick
5 thoughts on “Mike Caro poker word is Think”
I’ve worked extensively on lists to think about when playing poker. Writing and rewriting it for years. Sometimes I think having a list of suggestions prevents me from thinking the right way.
Do you have a certain mindset that guides your decisions? Something that’s easy to remember and keeps you playing optimally?
I hear you, Brandon. There are probably multiple entries at Poker1 that describe my decision methods. This one might help: https://www.poker1.com/archives/9297.
Do you play poker with a clear head or are you actively thinking about poker concepts when you play?
Hi, Nicky — I do both. I often just relax and play on automatic pilot. Usually, when I concentrate, it’s primarily on one avenue of investigation I’ve chosen before the game, letting my experience handle the rest until I need to zoom in on something urgent. — Mike Caro
I’m constantly thinking of poker concepts at the table. Lists of do’s and don’ts. It’s probably distracting me from concentrating on my opponents as much as I should.