Mike Caro poker word is Talk

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2006) in Poker Player newspaper.

Whenever I’m seated at a poker table, one of my main missions is to make my opponents feel comfortable with me. I believe the more they enjoy my presence, the more money I’ll make.

I’m sure that sounds alien to some players who try to win by antagonizing opponents. Let me tell you what I think is wrong with doing that. It’s true that in the short term an irritated opponent might go on tilt and give you a few bad calls out of frustration. But the long-range result of antagonizing opponents is that they might stop selecting you as preferred person to enter pots against. If you try to humiliate or ridicule them for playing weak hands, they often find it unpleasant to play against you.

So, what happens then? Well, then they decide that they’re going to target their fun and frivolous play toward those who will giggle and enjoy the adventure along with them. This means that if you ridicule weak opponents, you’re likely to be left out often when they’re willing choose to redistribute their chips about the table. Most weak opponents are playing for the enjoyment of poker. They play poorly, but if you’re not friendly they’ll decide you’re no fun – and they’ll be much more likely to play weakly against someone else. You see, these players have money to spend, but they also get to choose where to spend it.


By being friendly, sometimes whimsically weird, and giggling, I invite weak opponents into my pots. So, I have the luxury of effectively playing in a weaker game than a serious but obnoxious player at the same table! You heard it right – we’re in the same game, but my “table” is easier to beat. Go figure.

I like to playfully talk opponents in and out of pots, depending on what works best for me at the moment. I’m good at it. But I try not to make the game unpleasant – ever. If I’m not involved in a pot, usually I won’t say anything about it. Let the opponents competing for that pot talk to each other. That’s my philosophy. And never be rude to weak opponents.

There are other types of players who like to talk at the table, but frequently what they say isn’t focused. It’s almost random luck whether what they say helps or harms their bankroll. But even worse than random chatter is something I’m going to talk about today. This is a short, old lecture I gave about how some players talk themselves out of the money. Here it is…

Bad poker talk

Sure, I talk a lot about strategy and statistics. In fact, I’ve spent a good share of my life programming computers to play poker and to analyze data. This means the answers we share that are based on that research are better than anything else you’ll get anywhere else. Period. End of story.

Fine. But there’s more to poker than mathematics and impersonal strategy. I teach that once you’ve mastered the basics of winning poker, most of your profit will come from psychological aspects.

That’s why I wrote the Book of Tells – the Body Language of Poker. And that’s why I spend so much time teaching tells, manipulation, and image. Let me give you a clue about image right now.

Once you know something about poker that others don’t know, you’re proud and it’s only natural to want to let them know how great you are. That’s why so many otherwise skillful poker players sit at the table looking alert and superior and making sure everyone knows that they’re concentrating. Hey, wait! You don’t want to look like you’re concentrating. Did you know, that one of the worst possible images you can convey to weak opponents is concentration?

Carefree behavior

Listen. You want weak opponents to feel comfortable giggling and playing badly. One thing that will make them self conscious and bring their party to a halt is if you make them think you’re taking poker too seriously. The best image for extracting the most profit is to seem in sync with their carefree behavior. Giggle and have fun.

But most of all, don’t do the one thing that kills games and eliminates profit. That one thing is analyzing hands at the table. Sadly, I’ve seen plenty of times where a smug, smart, alert would-be professional sits down in a game that is like a candy store with mostly weak, happy players and destroys the mood within minutes. All it takes is for him to start talking shop with another professional. “You shouldn’t have raised, because there’s a thirty percent chance, yak, yak, yak…”

Serious strategy

Meanwhile, the very fact that they’re discussing this costs them and every other serious player at the table hundreds of dollars or more. Why? Because by discussing strategy seriously, they’re alerting carefree opponents that there really is serious strategy. This often makes those opponents self-conscious and changes their mood and their behavior. They become more cautious and less playful. You get many fewer weak calls and you make much less money. In fact, serious players discussing technical strategy that might only be worth a few pennies of difference can be costing themselves hundreds of dollars. Not a good trade-off, is it?

So, my advice is, when you’re against weak players, blend in and don’t let them know that you’re carefully scrutinizing their play. You should be analytical, of course, but you should keep it to yourself.

This is “The Mad Genius of Poker” Mike Caro and that’s my secret today. — MC

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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.


3 thoughts on “Mike Caro poker word is Talk”

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  1. Howdy, Mike. I just read an article by Jennifear on pocketfives about how to induce tilt with your chatter. Her advice? Illogic. If someone attacks your play, proudly explain something really stupid. I bring this up because I think the either “be a jerk” / or “don’t tilt OpFor” is a false dichotomy.

    Like all well learned lessons, I had the pleasure of seeing this work pretty much right away. Now in general terms, I’d never try to tilt someone. I enjoy the game, and pleasure shared is, in my mind, pleasure multiplied. OTOH, if I think you’re being a tool, well, my motto is “ephiew right back.”

    Stage 1 of a SnG. I’ve got $20 in the big blind, and a guy who’s raised 4/5 hands comes in for 60. My Q7s isn’t really good enough to call here, but like I said. 80% opening, I want to see the flop. How do I know it’s 80%? Well, my HUD is doing two things for me. 1) it’s giving me that 4/5 stat, and 2) it’s blocking the 1st 6 in his $660 bet. Ouch!

    Flop comes Q75 rainbow. OpFor checks, I bet, he pushes me all in with AKs, I call, he looses probably 5/8 of his stack.

    He starts lecturing the table on how stupid women are. (My icon is rather obviosly the face portion of a nudie pic.) So I ask, “you mean stupid like pushing with overcards?” “How could you call that bet with Q high?!” “Suited.”

    He was already loose and pushy, but I’m pretty sure he was trying to bet back even for the next 5 hands he lasted. Point is (well, besides bragging) that I’m pretty sure I tilted that guy, and I’m very sure nobody else at the table was thinking more clearly in an effort to emulate me.

    1. er, that’s a little out of order. I bet, he didn’t check out, as I was in the blind. Sorry for the error.

    2. Hi, Thomas —

      I haven’t read that article, but I agree (and have often stated) that appearing illogical can confuse opponents. If you do it in a crazy, but friendly way, there is profit to be made.

      Two examples:

      In jacks-or-better-required-to-open draw poker I used to just call an opener, let him draw three, then stand pat with absolute garbage. He’d check. Then I’d just show my hand down.

      Players would be stunned and invariably say something like, “Why didn’t you bet?” And I’d just respond, “I thought he had me beat.”

      That’s very cheap advertising, costing only a single bet.

      Second example. When there’s a “family pot” developing before the flop in hold ’em, I’ll sometimes utter that familiar rationalization, “The pot’s too big not to call.” Then I’ll throw in the $100 (assuming that’s the blind size) and immediately throw my cards away.

      I’ll mutter something about my hand not having a chance, but I’m trying to play mathematically correctly.

      Again, this invites titters and a lot of attention — and tends to gain suspicious calls later when I actually hold quality hands. Most opponents know they’re being conned, but my bizarre behavior tends to make them feel free to play poorly, while not looking as bad as I did. The cost of this advertisement is, again, minimal.

      I’ve never used “Heads Up Display” (HUD) poker tracking. I’m not against it, just haven’t taken advantage of the technology. I’ve had opportunities to write (or consult with creating) my own tracking software. Haven’t done that yet, either.

      I think your play has merit, but I personally wouldn’t have added the antagonism. I try always to appear friendly to everyone, but that tactic might very well be profitable in your case.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

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