Three poker tips to maximize profit

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was originally published (2009) in Bluff magazine.

For you, I’m betting poker is mostly about playing the game. For me, it’s about pretending to play the game.

Oh, sure, I still sit at the tables, and usually I still win. But mostly I analyze poker hands and just think about poker. When I’m done thinking, I report directly to you. That pretty much defines my life today. And I like it that way.

Anyway, here are three tips intended to maximize your profit…

TIP #1: Choosing a seat

In poker, there’s no such thing as a lucky seat. Although you can’t choose a lucky seat, you can choose a winning seat. It matters who is sitting to your right or to your left. In poker, anyone sitting to the left of anyone else has a decisive positional advantage.

This happens because the action goes clockwise and players to the left usually get to see what opponents on the right do before making their own decisions. The only time this isn’t true is in a heads-up game, where the positional advantage balances by reversing on each deal.

This positional advantage is so powerful that almost all the money you’ll ever earn at poker will be transferred to you from opponents sitting to your right. And no matter how good you are, you’ll show a lifetime loss against players sitting to your left! So, the trick is this: Whenever you can choose a seat, pick one where players on your right will supply extra profit and players on your left will do the least damage.

Right and left

Loose, losing players belong on your right. You want them to act first, so that they’re in the pot before you make aggressive raises when you have the advantage. If they’re sitting to your left, your raise will often chase them out of the pot and you’ll lose the extra profit that these weak-loose opponents supply.

And tight, unaggressive players belong on your left, because they don’t participate in many pots and, therefore, don’t maximize their positional advantage over you. Sometimes you want strong, aggressive players to your right, so that they act first and don’t interfere with your strategy.

You’ll often have to make tough decisions about which seat is best when you first sit in a game or have a chance to switch. But you should treat seat selection as you would any other important poker decision. You wouldn’t routinely flip a coin when deciding whether to call or fold. And you shouldn’t leave your seat to chance, either.

TIP #2: Value betting

To me, “value bet” means simply the act of betting with small advantages when less aggressive players would check, forfeiting that extra edge. Oddly, most serious poker players lose money under my definition of value betting. They often try to press their edges at the wrong times.

So, here’s the deal. Value betting works when your opponents are intimidated by you. Otherwise, it usually doesn’t.

You should value bet only when you have psychological control of the table. If you’ve been losing, opponents are often inspired and they’re apt to get maximum value from their own hands when they have you beat. They’re less likely to just meekly call. And that means your value bet doesn’t compute. It loses its edge and becomes unprofitable.

The pure truth is that you’d be better off never value betting at all than value betting indiscriminately. Value bet when opponents are timid or intimidated and never when opponents are deceptive or inspired. Follow that simple rule and your profits will soar.

TIP #3: Overcalling

I have a weird theory, and I’m going to share it with you now. Winning players must be doing something right. Their profit comes from somewhere. It’s clear to me that winning players make money by betting and raising correctly most of the time.

It’s also clear that they make money by calling appropriately, but not so often as to supply extra profit to the bettors. So, betting, raising, and calling — no problems, so far. But I believe that, despite being winning players, there’s a common leak in most of their games.

They overcall too often. The term “overcall” simply means that there’s been a bet and at least one call already, and then you become another caller. On the river (the final betting round), I believe most overcalls lose money. And, actually, I’m not just guessing. I’m not only basing this on years of observation, but on examining databases of poker hands played online. My theory is that even most winning players lose money on all but their strongest overcalls — especially on the river.


Let’s look at some math. The pot is $200 at the river. The first player bets $300. Now if the next player calls, the pot is affording 5-to-3 ($500 profit for a $300 call). If the player’s hand will win anything better than three out of eight times, a call is profitable. That’s because the player would average a $500 profit three times, or $1,500, and lose $300 five times, or $1,500 — a break-even proposition.

To simplify, suppose a player acting between you and the bettor has exactly one chance in two of winning, and calls. That call would be clearly profitable in a two-handed pot. It would result in a $500 gain half the time and a $300 loss half the time, meaning a $200 profit in two tries, on average — worth $100 per attempt.

That player calls, probably correctly. Now it’s up to you. You figure your chance of beating the original bettor is also fifty-fifty. Your hand figures to be just about as good as the caller’s, but you won’t be sure which is actually better unless you see the showdown.

Half the time

Well, the pot has now grown bigger — from $500 after the first player bet and you were prepared to call — to $800 after the first call. It costs you $300 to win $800. Now what? You figure to beat the original bettor half the time. But when you do, you’ll still have to beat the first caller, which you’ll also do half the time.

Well half of half is a quarter. So, you should only expect to win this pot one in four times. This means that if you call, you’ll lose $300 three out of four tries, for a total of $900. And you’ll gain $800 once. That’s a negative $100 in four tries, netting you a $25 loss per attempt.

Even though you were prepared to make a profitable call against the bettor, even though the pot is now bigger, and even though you have just as good an opportunity of winning as the first correct caller, you must fold! Most players instinctively call anyway. If you have that leak, now you know how to seal it. — MC

Continue to Three more poker tips to maximize profit.

Published by

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 “Three poker tips to maximize profit”

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  1. This concept shouldn’t be confused with the theory of simply “calling” to induce overcalls.

  2. How long should I stay at a seat before moving or go home when I am not getting playable hands?

  3. We often hear the term- Top pair top kicker. Or top card good kicker. But what is the actual value of the kicker? How often do we hear the term- out kicked?!

    1. Hi, Nelson —

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

      Good point. I think we don’t hear “out kicked” often when someone is talking about a hand they lost with, because saying that is ego damaging. You tend to hear it more often when they talk about pots they won.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

  4. It’s like the Let’s Make a Deal math mystery: you are more likely to win if, after the first door they show is a dud prize, you switch your choice of the last two remaining doors.

    RTing you @realListening – luv poker1


    1. Hi, Lis —

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

      I like your “Let’s Make a Deal” analogy.

      And thanks, also, for the ReTweet!

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

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