Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2006) in Poker Player newspaper.
It would be nice if you could weigh all the factors when you’re sitting in a poker game. Then you could consider everything before deciding to raise, call, or fold. But you can’t. You don’t have all day to reach the right decision. You have only seconds.
And because you don’t have enough time to consider everything, you must decide what’s most important to think about during those scant seconds. The best poker players get their priorities right; they spend the amount of time they have on the most important ingredients that go into a decision.
Let’s discuss one of the most profitable tactics you can use in setting your poker decision-making priorities. This is a lecture I gave years ago on that very topic…
Shifting priorities as the pot grows
Today I’m going to talk about something that can monumentally improve your poker profit. What I’m going to tell you makes no sense from a purely theoretical point of view. But it makes all kinds of sense when you equate it to how real human poker players are actually motivated – based on over 20 years of giving seminars and dealing person-to-person with students.
I’ve programmed computers to play poker. It’s sometimes called artificial intelligence, and it allows me to let a computer weigh and consider strategies much faster than a human could. Because a computer is so fast, it can almost always evaluate every possible poker response that I’ve taught it in less than a second.
This means there’s no reason for my artificially programmed computer to think about priorities. It doesn’t need to consider the best use of its thinking time. It can easily think about everything I’ve asked it to in poker, with plenty of time to spare.
Here’s where I feel myself getting sidetracked, but I’ve got to tell you about a real-world experience I had when I programmed Orac in the early eighties. Orac (which is my name Caro spelled backward) was a computer I programmed in 1983.
It soon appeared at the World Series of Poker and on ABC TV’s Ripley’s Believe It or Not? I was quite proud of it, but the one aspect of its game that was missing was psychology.
Well, sort of missing. Actually, in testing against real opponents, I programmed a mean trick into Orac.
You see, Orac knew what it was going to do almost instantly. Since computers do certain types of thinking much faster than humans – even with early personal computers 18 years ago – Orac knew what it was going to do instantly. Because instant reactions were unnerving to opponents and lacked in showmanship, I decided to program in a delay.
Then I discovered that the longer I made the delay, the more apt an opponent was to think the computer had a tough decision and the more likely that opponent was to call. But when the computer bet or raised instantly (especially when it moved all-in during a no-limit game), the opponent was apt to think the computer’s decision was obvious – and the player would fold.
So, I began to program the computer to average more time when it had a good hand and less time when it was bluffing. This worked great – although I randomized the actual amount of time so no one would pick up a definite tell. Usually, betting instantly when bluffing and hesitating when it had a good hand and wanted a call gave Orac an extra psychological advantage.
That true story I’ve just told you leads us to today’s point. If – like Orac — you’re able to consider everything when making a poker decision, it doesn’t matter if you favor one choice over another or analyze one thing first. But if you’re human like I am sometimes, you need to set priorities for the use of the limited time you have to make a decision. Here’s where I have some profitable advice for you.
Early and late
I believe that most serious players will benefit greatly if, on the early rounds of betting and when the pot is small, they have a bias toward folding and spend their time looking for exceptions that let them call. In the absence of important reasons to call, they should fold. This is because most players have a natural inclination to call too often on early betting rounds and most mistakes made early are a result of calling, not folding.
On the later rounds and when the pot is large, players should have a bias toward calling bets in limit games and smaller bets (less than the pot size) in no-limit games. They should spend their time looking for exceptions that would lead them to fold. In the absence of strong reasons to fold, they should call. Most major mistakes by serious, disciplined players on the later rounds of betting — especially in limit games — are a result of folding, not calling.
So, there you have it. On the early rounds and when the pot is small, get set to fold unless there are compelling reasons to play a hand or to call a bet. On the later rounds and when the pot is large, get set to call unless there are compelling reasons to fold. Just to make it clear, a very large wager in a no-limit game often counts as a compelling reason to fold.
Spend the limited time you have to make a decision looking for exceptions to folding early and calling late. It’s my method.
This is “The Mad Genius of Poker” Mike Caro and that’s my secret today. — MC