My least popular poker opinions

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was originally published (2010) in Bluff magazine.

I strive to demonstrate arrogance in an appealing way. Usually, this is accomplished through tone of voice and gesturing. I’ve developed methods that allow me to say outrageous things without often offending anyone.

In one of his poker books, John Fox claims that I practiced my techniques in the mirror. That was funny, but it wasn’t true when John wrote it. It later became true, because – after reading his book – I thought it was a good idea and started using it.

Let me share one truly arrogant technique I enjoy using during a bullshit meeting where some executive asks attendees to express their opinions one by one. I try to speak last. Speaking last is a real-life advantage borrowed from poker strategy.

Whenever you act last in poker, you have the advantage of seeing what opponents do before making your own decision. It’s such a powerful edge that you make most of your money from players seated to your right, who act first. And you lose money – even for your whole poker career – to players who sit to your left and act after you. That’s true whether you’re a superior player or not, unless the difference in skill is overwhelming.

Opinions versus answers

The same thing happens in everyday life. It’s usually best to act last, assuming it’s a poker-like situation in which everyone will get a turn to act.

In life, sometimes everyone won’t get a turn and, so, rarely you might want to go first. If you speak last in a meeting, you can always say you obviously agree with any brilliant point someone else has made first.

This gives the impression that you would have said it had you spoken earlier. Then add even more potent thoughts. My “arrogant” technique, when being asked for an opinion, is to wait until everyone else has expressed theirs and then say, “I don’t have an opinion. But I can give you the answer.”

Since I tend to do this playfully, this tactic works! Invariably, I’ll be met with something like, “Okay, what’s the answer?” Psychologically, the term “answer” trumps the term “opinion,” so already I receive special attention. I only do this when certain that I’m right, not wanting the decision to be made by committee. Usually, I get my way.

Again I’m being egocentric, babbling about myself. So, enough about me. Let’s shift gears and focus on my opinions.

Failed scientists

Look, I spend a lot of time talking about poker psychology. That’s because after you’ve mastered fundamental strategy, that’s where the extra profit comes from – tells, psychology, and manipulation. So, you’d think psychologists would be great poker players.

But as a group, they suck, and I’ll tell you why. They’re failed scientists.

“Beware, my friends, because scientists can only search and charlatans will always see.” — Mike Caro

Psychology should be treated as a science. But people with keen scientific minds tend to master fields like physics, statistics, and astronomy. Most people who study psychology are obsessed with human behavior because they’re bewildered by it. They’re often less capable of formulating successful life strategy than plain everyday folks. Remember that next time you visit your shrink.

Oddly, when I first wrote that unpopular opinion, my few psychologist friends agreed with me! Perhaps they were trying to humor me. Or maybe they wanted to make certain I held them in higher regard than their peers. Obviously, I did – otherwise I wouldn’t have chosen them as friends. Still, none could win at poker.

Four-color deck

Not only do I believe that a four-color deck – with each suit having a distinct color – should be the norm, but I think the two-color deck should be abolished. One rational argument against a four-color deck is that if a dealt card flashes, it might give an extra advantage to an observant opponent who would know the exact suit, instead of just seeing red or black, each representing two suits. My response is: That’s a powerful argument for a one-color deck.

Over a decade ago, I pushed this cause and even had four-color decks introduced simultaneously at 65 poker rooms worldwide. It was called “C-Day” – the “C” meaning color. Talk about a mistake! Almost every table had one to three players screaming for the traditional decks.

Tradition is hard to fight. But, look at it this way. If we’d always had four color decks, imagine what would happen if I’d advocated changing to two colors! Everyone would have been demanding that their four-color decks be returned to the table. Maybe my opinion about four-color decks is finally gaining momentum, especially online, but it clearly hasn’t yet prevailed.

Poker tournaments

I’ve expressed many opinions about poker tournaments that apparently aren’t popular. One is that there are simply too many. Originally there were almost none, and a few cardrooms held these special events to lure customers from competitors. It worked.

Then nearby casinos hosted their own tournaments, fighting over the same customer base. The war had begun. Even though these tournaments were clearly reducing live-game play overall, intelligent management had no choice but to play along.

Eventually, it became harder and harder for poker rooms to keep loyal customers. With the exception of televised events, poker has suffered because of this trend, but the damage is impossible to measure precisely. The illusion is that tournaments are useful promotional tools.

Some players like long drawn-out tournaments that last days. When I joined with Foxwoods Casino to present the first World Poker Finals (which I named), I guaranteed that all except the major events would be completed in four hours and fifteen minutes. We held three, sometimes four, events every day!

Those who say longer events are more profitable for skillful players are wrong. There’s more profit in faster paced events, if you can play more of them, because the increased luck factor in each short event is overwhelmed by skill when measured over many events combined. It’s an unpopular opinion, but true nonetheless.

Distorts the nature

The reason I don’t play many tournaments is because of the proportional-payout system, where first place gets a portion of the prize pool, second place a smaller portion, and so forth. This distorts the nature of poker and means that, in order to pursue profit, you must play to survive into the money and not specifically try to win first place.

In fact, first place is penalized, because the winner gathers all the chips and then must give most of them away to opponents already conquered. This means you must sacrifice the everyday risky finesse plays that constitute your biggest skills. I’ve stated that the way to make profit in these events is to avoid seeking first place and to hope you stumble into it by accident while surviving into the money. That’s not what a tournament should be about.

I dislike conventional rebuy events where you have the option of buying again if you go broke. These are just “buy-your-own-trophy” events, in my unpopular opinion.

Poker’s big flaw

Anything beyond heads-up poker has a fundamental flaw. When you sit at a table, you’re making a tacit pledge to play in your own interest. If cheaters partner up, they’re breaking this solemn pledge and taking unfair advantage of that sacred understanding.

That’s why I’ve written that poker partners and other cheaters should be boiled and eaten. Perhaps that opinion isn’t popular. So far, nobody’s boiling; and nobody’s eating. — 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.


9 thoughts on “My least popular poker opinions”

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  1. Dear Mike,

    I was wondering what you thought of double-or-nothing online tournaments. These are one-table sit-n-goes where the top half receive double their buy in-except for the entry fee, of course.
    Thank you kindly for your website and books.

    1. I suppose you could beat them simply by playing survival mode, assuming the entry fee isn’t too great, but why? To me, this structure seems alien to the spirit of poker.

  2. 1 – 4 color – yes
    2 -short tournament – only if more of them , having one short tourney is not good
    3 – rebuys – yes – for they say “I can rebuy so im going to call and risk all since I have plenty money “

  3. I too would love to see 4-Color cards become the standard in all poker rooms, but as you have noted people cannot part with what they have grown comfortable with. Some years ago I suffered a retinal detachment of my right eye that was surgically “repaired”, but of course I will never have good vision in that eye as it is not correctable with either LASIK nor lenses. So when I go to Studz Poker room at Calder Race Course as I now do every Saturday for the $10K tournament, I ask the floor manager for seat 5 or 6 across from the dealer so that I may see the board. So far he has accommodated me with this request. So for me I have to be extra careful when I have two hearts in my hand, two hearts on the flop, and a RED diamond appears on the turn which early on fooled me into thinking that I had made a flush, and so I bet! My life and the lives of many that are visually impaired to whatever degree would LOVE to have 4-Color Cards.
    Who wants visual confusion when playing poker? I sure don’t!

    1. Hi, Daniel —

      You’ve pointed out one of the problems with table design. Sitting in the middle seats helps players like you who can’t see clearly across a long table.

      The issue is particularly troubling for many when they play seven-card stud from one end of the oval table and try to see the cards of a player at the other end. Four color decks help, but the problem remains.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

  4. i have to agree with you in regards to psychologists…they are the most befuddled people i have ever met….and on the topic of tournaments…rebuys are bought and paid for trophy wins….short tournys are definately a good idea….a special thank you for suggesting boiling and eating cheaters…too bad we are so civilized…

  5. Mike I beleive in you even if many so called pros dont,especially regards only calling in positions 1to4 in a 10 handed game.The best players in the world are only as good as the cards they get.Regards OziMike Caro.

  6. Hi Mike,

    I totally agree with you on the re-buy events. Seems most charity tournaments are re-buys. It’s discouraging because the “regular” folks who attend are at quite a disadvantage. If you can’t afford the unlimited rebuys in the first hour, how can you hope to compete with the pros and celebrities who can afford multiple rebuys and add-ons?

    And don’t get me started on the whole collusion/partnering thing. PokerStars just paid out over $2 million in compensation to regulars who were cheated by a Chinese collusiion ring over many months. The little guy — the recreational player — got screwed. And everybody somehow managed to keep this whole thing quiet. Probably because it’s “not good for the game.”

    While I may not be in favor of “boiling and eating,” I think at the very least, those players should not be able to re-enter the site with a different identity. What’s more, it’s entirely possible that PokerStars would have just swept the cheating scandal under the rug had one of the cheaters not posted on the twoplustwo forums. Players beware.

    Take care,

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