Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was originally published (2008) in Bluff magazine.
If you’re a woman, here’s your chance to practice role-playing, because this hypothetical situation is described from a man’s perspective. You’re single and at a party. The conversation is pretty boring and you don’t know anyone surrounding you. What’s more, they don’t seem to know each other. You’re uncomfortable. But there’s a woman standing a few feet away that you crave. Let me define the word crave in the present context. Crave means you want to lure her to your apartment and have sex. That’s what crave usually means, right?
Not poker yet
Okay, now follow along, because this will be about poker quite soon. Sometimes I devise strategies and tactics that aren’t poker specific. Occasionally, I even teach something called “life strategy.” In fact, Mike Caro University of Poker (MCU) has a longer, formal name; it’s Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy. In that context, a few years back, Playboy magazine sought my advice on approaching women for their Playboy Advisor column. In answering a question about a specific social situation, I pointed out that the biggest key to success is to bond. It isn’t to use brute force to make yourself noticed; it isn’t to quip pick-up lines; it isn’t to do something silly or unusual that will garner attention; and it isn’t to hastily stuff two-weeks of charm into a 30-second here-I-am introduction. True, any of those things might work rarely. You seldom know what’s precisely the best choice for the chemistry of the moment.
But if you don’t want to just cross your fingers, close your eyes, and blindly choose a tactic, you should pick the one that’s most likely to succeed. And that best tactic is to try to bond in a subtle way. You might stroll over to the woman you crave and, while passing by, utter in a calming voice, “These people really don’t get it.” Those don’t need to be the exact words, but say something that is so general that the woman might secretly share those same sentiments. Then move a little further away, so you’re clearly not pushing yourself upon her. Now you wait. There’s a good chance that, in this unfamiliar setting, she’s hoping to bond and will initiate round two of the conversation. Do I use tactics like this myself? Not anymore. In today’s politically correct, feminist, and enlightened world, such tactics are sexist, repugnant, and beneath any semblance of dignity. I only advise using such maneuvers if the word “crave” has special importance to you.
Now let’s tie this into poker. Notice that you had lots of choices regarding how to approach the woman. Any of these, after the fact, might turn out to have been the best decision. But in advance you don’t know. In that case, trying to subtly bond — in this gathering of mutual strangers — has the best chance of success. In poker, two of these concepts come into play: (1) You should usually make the decision that has the best immediate chance of success, even if other decisions might turn out to be better in retrospect; and (2) When you hold a superior hand, you want your opponents to bond to the pot.
Here’s an example of common bad decision that violates these precepts. You’re playing hold ’em. The game is nine handed and you’re two seats to the right of the button before the flop. Everyone else has folded. You peek at your cards and, oh my god, you have A♥ A♠! In an instant flash of brilliance, you decide to cleverly just call. You reason that this will invite opponents into the pot and set a trap.
And that might work perfectly. On rare occasions, I will choose this tactic, just to confuse astute opponents and set the stage for making more money on future hands when I’ll be able to play lesser cards more safely because others will remember that I could hold a monster. But that tactic isn’t the most profitable way to play this specific hand right now.
If you have aces in an early position, you might just call, hoping others will raise and you’ll build a bigger pot with a significant advantage. But here, in your fairly late position, analysis shows that you’ll make more profit on your aces by raising. I suggest a minimum raise or a little more. If the big blind is $100, try wagering $200 to $250. As a standard tactic, just calling is poor, because many opponents become suspicious of a big hand. They’ve been there and done that themselves. They might surmise that your call means you have either a fairly weak hand or a speculative one, such as 8♣ 7♣. But they’ll also be alert to the possibility that you’re trapping. If you raise, though, that act seems natural to your opponents who expect you to leverage your late position. Oddly, the possibility that you hold a big pair will often seem less likely to them than if you just call. And you’ll be able to bet after seeing the flop with much more likelihood of being called — especially if non-threatening cards flop.
In their heads
Opponents put you on hands in their heads. If you raise on your first two cards, they’re thinking you’re trying to buy the pot on the flop and are likely to call if they connect in any manner whatsoever, including just holding high overcards. But there’s an even bigger reason why making a small raise is the best tactic. You’re getting players to bond. They now feel that they have an “investment” in the pot. That’s bonding.
So, clearly, in common poker situations, almost any decision might turn out to be ideal. And you should sometimes choose an unusual tactic to keep sophisticated foes off-guard. But the choices that have the best chance of winning the most money most of the time are the ones you should routinely choose. Also, when you have a quality hand, you should try to bond opponents to the pot, which you crave.
In poker and in life, always consider whether making someone else bond will benefit you. Then make the decision that has the biggest shot at long-range profit, keeping in mind that it might not work as well right now as a seemingly inferior choice. It might not work out as well, but it has the best chance. In poker and beyond, the trick is to steadfastly do what’s most likely to succeed. — MC