Mike Caro poker word is Expect

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2005) in Poker Player newspaper.

Sometimes poker players are unrealistic. They don’t realize how long losing streaks can last. When they’re “on a roll,” they can’t imagine that it will ever end. When they win, they give themselves too much credit for playing well, and when they lose, they blame it on bad luck.

Having a reasonable grasp of what to expect at poker makes a great deal of difference in how you’ll fare long term. That’s why I’ve chosen the transcript of one of my favorite lectures for you to consider today. It’s revised especially for this column. The title is “Correct Expectations about Poker and Bankrolls.” Here it is…

Bankrolls destroyed

I believe many bankrolls have been destroyed and many players have vanished from the poker scene, simply because they didn’t know what to expect.

First of all, do you expect poker to be a game of luck or a game of skill? The answer is that it is neither and that it is both. In the very short term, luck will primarily decide your fate at poker. But if you play long enough, the influence of luck becomes less and less important in determining your fate, and your skill predominates.

People destroy their poker bankrolls by getting frustrated when they don’t win in the first 100 hours. Years ago, I remember reading a seemingly rational poker book that said that after 100 hours, if you’re not winning at poker, you’re not playing good enough to win. That 100 hours was enough of a test in this supposed expert’s mind. The first thing you’ve got to get out of your head is that 100 hours will tell you much at all about whether you can win.

The danger of getting lucky

In fact, I believe a real danger is that you’ll get lucky during the first 100 hours you play. This can lead to unrealistic expectations at a time when you really haven’t honed your poker skills.  When things turn bad, somewhat because you weren’t as good as you estimated and somewhat because your luck has mellowed, you may become very frustrated and play poorly.

Conversely, many players who originally play fairly well for that first 100 hours may encounter bad luck, but not knowing what to expect, they may decide they aren’t good enough. Every year thousands of potential poker super stars give up and vanish from the poker scene because their earliest result didn’t match their expectations. In some cases, they’re playing profitably from the get-go, but run out of money, never to be seen again. They don’t know they’re playing well enough to win. Their experiments have been too limited in scope and have failed.

But mostly, disasters happen to players whose expectations are too high. Typically, capable players don’t keep big enough bankrolls. How much do you need to be safe? Well, it takes an unreasonably large bankroll to be completely safe and small bankrolls are OK to take shots with, even though you’re not safe. That’s strange, but it’s the truth. There’s nothing wrong with taking shots with short bankrolls, hoping to catch fire and reach a more secure plateau. But once you arrive, you better take care to protect your bankroll and not take unnecessary risks.

It’s an illusion

Unfortunately, many would-be professional players think that keeping – oh, let’s say – 20 to 40 minimum buy-ins is sufficient. They can go very long periods without ever moving down that much, so these inadequate bankrolls begin to feel comfortable to them. It’s an illusion. You can’t really say how big a bankroll you need at poker. It depends on how well you play relative to your opponents and what the word “safe” means to you. No bankroll is completely safe. Just to take a wild guess, if you’re a winning player with a typical edge against mostly weaker opponents, you need 100 minimum buy-ins to be anywhere near safe, even in the short term.

Now a minimum buy-in is usually defined to mean 10 small bets in most limit games. That’s $100 in a $10 and $20 game, $500 in a $50 and $100 game, and $2,000 in a $200 and $400 game. I’m saying you need 100 of those minimum buy-ins to even have a chance of being safe, and if your expectations run contrary to that, beware!

That means, if $10 and $20 is your primary game, try to keep a bankroll of at least $10,000 – more is preferred. For $50 and $100 games, keep at least $50,000, for $200 and $400 games,  keep at least $200,000, but much more is preferred because you want to protect large bankrolls more than small ones.

Does everyone do that? Of course not. They have unrealistic expectations and those expectations will eventually destroy them. If you’re playing in a $10 and $20 game with $10,000, you can be pretty darn sure there will be someone in the $50 and $100 game next door with only an $8,000 bankroll. They will tend to feel superior – it’s only natural – but not only are you the one with more money, your prospects of acquiring much more money in the future are much, much greater than the other guy’s. When your expectations are realistic – and you realize that sooner or later, 20 buy-ins won’t be enough, you’re the survivor, you’re the success, you’re the professional.

Plan for the worst case

You will have a much better chance at long-time survival in poker, if you take time to think about what to expect and plan for the nearly worst case. Sure, that’s simple advice, but apparently it needs to be said, because very few players who could otherwise make a living playing poker stick to it. I want you to stick to it. I want you to realize that poker is a game of huge fluctuations and to plan for them. Once you take the time to sit down by yourself and think about what to expect, you’re on the right path to profit. — 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.


7 thoughts on “Mike Caro poker word is Expect”

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  1. luck or skill ? raising with AK and hitting flop AK7, and losing; full house and losing to a higher full house (harrington says not your day); straight flush and losing to higher st flush; AA losing to AQ on bubble; KK folding to Allins that would have won, KK not folding to all in and losing KKK to AAA; K8 with board of K88 yet losing , Trip Qs losing to 99 on river, and AJ with Flop of JJ5 losing; AT losing to KQ – all these losses at crucial inflection points in tournaments. which would have resulted in over hundred thousand cash. not one bad play yet losing whole stack many times ! so dont tell me its NOT luck!

  2. Mr. Caro I love how you still used limit for examples, some people think limit a dead game and that you can’t make a living off of limit poker.

  3. Sheryl in Alabama, this is Stan in alabama. I play on lots of sites but on one new site I went back to micro limits, and guess what? I’m having more fun at the micro limits. I’m trying to do a Chris Ferguson. Going from 0 to $10K. I’m up to $160 after three weeks. It’s the challenge to me. That’s the fun part of poker. Do what you like and the hell with what others think.

  4. Dear MC,

    I think this is probably one of the most important articles you have posted of late. Not to take anything away from the other articles, but this is key fundamental stuff that most of us needed to see. Other pros talk about bank roll management but they don’t necessarily point out that many potentially great players just quit out of frustration.

    Some of the people I play with online keep telling me I need to play higher stakes because I’m a solid player. I want to take their advice, but I don’t do it because I know that when I lose at the higher stakes, I will give into frustration and that really screws with my ability to play smart. With what most would consider a tiny bankroll (less than $200), I will continue to play micro-stakes until I am more comfortable with my own expectations.

    Thanks for this important article!

    Take care,

    1. It sounds like you’re already walking the right path, Sheryl. New players usually have great difficultly waiting to build a bankroll.

      If you can master restraint early, you’ll avoid a lot of the hardship almost all professionals go through early in their careers.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

  5. Mr. Caro, Your website has helped my game immensely and I would like to thank you. I appreciate what you have put together and will surely continue to follow your articles as they have already supplied me with tools to improve my game.

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