Mike Caro poker word is Gone

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2004) in Poker Player newspaper.

Today’s word is “Gone

I’ve told you about my misgivings regarding tournament poker. I seldom enter these events, because (1) it’s too frustrating when you need to outlast a field of 500 to 2,000 opponents or more; (2) it’s not my most-profitable use of time, except perhaps at the biggest buy-ins; and (3) there’s a fundamental flaw in most tournaments that penalizes first place and means that your most-profitable strategy is to sacrifice chances at the championship to ease into the money. Fine. I’ve said that all before. But, I just wanted to remind you, in case you forgot where I stood.

About five years ago, I relented and entered the WSOP main event for the first time. Early on, there was a poker hand that severely damaged my chances. But, I thought the hand was so interesting from a standpoint of offering strategy choices that I posted it to an Internet newsgroup to stimulate discussion.

Stimulate it did. I learned then that players like to second-guess. Knowing that I’d lost, they chronicled many perceived and imagined mistakes they thought I’d made. But, my intended message was that at every important point of decision, the choice was close. In fact, all those choices were so close that, if you didn’t know the result, you could argue endlessly beforehand about what was best. And there was never one for-certain answer. It all depended on your image, the nature of your opponents, your desire to mix up your plays, and the overall chemistry of the moment.

That’s the nature of poker.

So, now – edited only slightly for clarity – here is the post I made back then.

How Mike Caro got eliminated — an interesting hand

How would y’all have played this hand? I got eliminated with it, and possibly should have played it differently. Here’s the situation…

We are three hours into the final $10,000 buy-in event at the World Series of Poker. I’m at table two, which is outside the main room in the satellite area. My table consists of no players that I am very familiar with, but five of my eight opponents have talked about my books and introduced themselves. Surrealistically, there are two separate discussions about my philosophy of tells while the action is going on — neither of which I participate in. Everyone is friendly. Opponents all seem experienced and capable, but no super stars that I can spot. All male. Action is marginally loose compared to what I expected in this main event at the early stages (I’ve never entered before).

After about three hours, I’ve built to $13,500 in chips. I have A♦-Q♦ Two seats to the right of the button (dealer position), nine handed. Blinds are $50 and $100. Everyone passes to the player on my right (6th position). He makes a routine attack raise of $300 ($400 total). He has far fewer chips than I do, probably about $7,000. Here’s my first decision.

I can pass, call, raise marginally, or raise big. You could make an argument for any of those four tactics, since nobody behind me has more chips than I do, although the button has almost as many.

The flop

I call. Button also calls. Time for the flop.

It’s K♦-K♣-6♦ giving me an ace-high flush draw with my A♦-Q♦. Sixth seat bets $1,400. I debate. A good argument can be made for throwing the hand away here. Actually, I would if the off card were a nine or higher, because this would greatly increase the chances of a full house. Pot is now $4,100 and it costs me $1,400 to call. In a ring game, I would occasionally raise here (not usually, though) — perhaps $3,000 or $4,000 more.

Again, there are valid arguments for folding (mostly because it’s a proportional-payoff tournament where survival is paramount), calling, and raising. I decide to call, but I think I would have folded a good percent of the time in similar situations. Button also calls.

Turn card is 7♦. I make my nut flush. Check to me. There is danger here, but I need to weigh the chances of an opponent holding K-K, 6-6, K-6, or K-7 (not likely to be 7-7) to beat me against the chances of an opponent holding K-anything else — or even, less likely, two diamonds or another pair to lose to me. If I bet big, K-J, K-10, K-9 or K-smaller (except K-7 or K-6) may fold. If those hands call, I’m not as happy (because of the danger of them making a full house on the river), but I have the best of it.


There are valid arguments for checking along, making a small bet, or making a large bet. I move all-in.

Player on the button calls instantly with 6-6 (a full house), leaving me with only $300 in chips that last another 10 minutes.

I thought that since this was a hand with so many options, it would be fitting for discussion. Of course, some readers will look at it and conclude that it is obvious that the hand should be played a particular way.

That post led to a lot of debate. Debate can be a good thing for those who seek a deeper comprehension of poker. Think about the hand. Would you have played it differently? I usually would have, but each choice I made can be defended. That’s the point. In poker, you have choices. Most aren’t crystal clear. It’s the quality of those choices over years of poker that determines what happens to you. This time, I was gone. — 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.


8 thoughts on “Mike Caro poker word is Gone”

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  1. It’s been 3 years since this one was last discussed and I’d be interested to know if you’ve had any revelations about this hand or similar situations.

    Being on the calling end of a draw against a very aggressive opponent is tricky. If they’re likely to keep testing you (even if the board isn’t paired) would the correct move be to fold since you’re likely to brick on the turn often? If you miss the turn, they probably won’t let you see the river so playing your draw is usually unprofitable.

    Aside from your unprofitable hand, you could try to outplay your opponent, but the best way to engage someone who bets too often is to call with a better hand. Raising the aggressive guy probably won’t work and even if it does, it might discourage him from making the mistake of betting too often, do you really want to do that?

  2. Definitely an interesting hand. The only decision that you made that I disagree with is preflop. Since his raise was stealish, you are almost certainly ahead. But by just calling, you leave odds for hands like small pairs to come in behind you. (I really did think this before reading on.)

    Since you started with 130 BBs, when you call the 4 BBs, you are giving the big blind 3-to-1 immediate pot odds and 45-to-1 implied odds — easily enough to call with a small pair, especially since it closes the action.

    Since you probably were way ahead of the original raiser, a reraise claims control of the pot and keeps any hands that rely on implied odds the heck out of it.

  3. Tough hand, tough board. I’m no expert, but bells would’ve been ringing in my head since there were 3 hands still in the game to see the turn. I might have checked the turn, or bet anything from minimum bet to pot size, probably one third of the pot most of the time, but probably never all-in. I’ve lost too many nut-flushes to full-houses already =)

    Given that you had bet e.g. the pot, and the button would’ve raised you all-in, you would have possibly survived by folding. BUT. These are the hands that are most difficult to lay down, but in ring games one doesn’t usually need to, since more profit is made by not folding a nut-flush (wouldn’t you agree?). Like you said, in tournament poker survival is paramount and in my mind going all-in is usually either a sign of desperation or a nut hand.

    So I have 3 questions for you.
    1. How would you normally have played that hand in a tournament?
    2. How would you normally have played that hand in a ring-game?
    3. Would you have folded to the all-in in my speculation?

    Oh, and thanks for wishing straight flushes for your readers! I recently won against an ace-high flush when the board was something like Kh, Qh, Th, 9h, x, and I was holding As Jh. The competitions remark after the chips were pushed to me was “WTF?” I almost felt sorry for him.

    1. Hi, Spidy —

      I think the mathematics regarding the relative sizes of the chip stacks versus pot size in this case make every decision reasonable — and debatable. I’m not talking about the decisions I made, but ANY decision on ANY street. That’s why I think the hand is especially interesting.

      Every option — calling, raising, folding — could be justified and should be chosen in some games at some times, in accordance with the traits of your opponents and the current chemistry.

      I agree that you would be more inclined to go all-in if it were a ring game, rather than a tournament (which I acknowledged in the entry).

      How would I normally play, you asked? In a tournament, I would have folded to the four-times-the-big-blind raise on the flop more often than I would have called. So, more than half the time, I would have lost nothing at all. In a ring game, I probably would have called most of the time, but not always — depending on the opponents. After the flop, the danger is the pair on board and the possibility that another high card would present the likelihood of facing a full house.

      I don’t know if I would have folded had I made a one-third-of-pot bet (as you suggest) and were met with an all-in raise. It would have been a difficult choice, and I would have considered that the raiser might (1) be bluffing; (2) have A-K or even an king with a lesser kicker; (3) a low-ranking flush; (4) a proud pair of aces or another high pair; (5) something else entirely that gave opportunity to leverage an opposing hand with a possible escape if called.

      Most likely, I would have folded. By moving all-in, as I did, I might chase away a hand that would have drawn out on the river or I might get called by an inferior hand. Considering that an opponent arguably would have had to misplay a tournament hand to have me beat at this point, except for K-K (small pairs should usually fold pre-flop), I reasoned that I would win if called a large percentage of the time and would pick up the pot immediately without being called most of the time.

      Whether this was too risky for the tournament is the question.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

    1. Hi, Sandals —

      Didn’t you make that same comment in response to a different entry? If you did, it went over my head then, too. Not enough sleep here in the Ozarks.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

  4. An interesting situation. I was in a similar one at a local game I play the first time I played at this particular establishment. With only a few people eliminated, I flopped a nut flush draw but didn’t hit anything. Got check raised all in on the turn. Folded and let this sweet old lady take the pot. I ended up beating her heads up to take the tourney.

    1. Hi, Doug —

      That’s probably what I should have done, although I didn’t have the opportunity to let a “sweet old lady take the pot” in this case. LOL.

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

      And congratulations on your tournament victory!

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

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