The Poker Lab Rat

September 25, 2008

Pro Poker Tips: Ego Damage

Filed under: Doyle Brunson,Mike Caro,pro tips — Mike @ 6:23 am

Here’s an item by By “America’s Mad Genius of Poker” Mike Caro

ego is a major bankroll hog!Years ago I stopped bragging about my poker skills. Well, maybe I didn’t stop, but I slowed down a bit. I’m 51 now, but when I was lots younger it just drove me nuts if anyone thought they were a better player than I was. I knew, deep down, I mean really deep down, that it couldn’t possibly be true. I understood in my heart that given enough time, nobody could beat me, provided our bankrolls were theoretically unlimited.

Having this conviction, and being so young, it hurt my ego if anyone even suggested that they might be able to outplay me. I was ever ready to risk my entire bankroll on a heads-up match, anytime, anywhere. It wasn’t a matter of winning the money. The opponent needed to be punished for merely suggesting that he might have a shot against Mike Caro. While I won most of these ego matches, I didn’t win all of them, and I ended up dead broke more than a few times, having to recover bit by bit in smaller games, building back my bankroll.

A contest. Hell, it got so silly I started a 25-words-or-less contest circulating around Gardena, California (then known as the Poker Capital of the World). The entry form said, “Mike Caro is the greatest poker player in the world, because…” and contestants could fill in the rest. Yes, I gave away real money!

One day while I was nearly broke and rebuilding my bankroll in smaller games, a guy challenged me to a $10,000 freeze out heads-up match I couldn’t afford. I wasn’t going to back down and relinquish my pride, though.

“You couldn’t even afford the stakes I want to play for,” I told him.

“What you wanna play for?”

“Let’s just sit down with 500 chips each and play till someone has ’em all,” I suggested.

“For how much?”

“The chips are free,” I told him.

“That don’t make sense,” he responded, shaking his head. “You can’t play poker with nothin’ at stake.”

“I didn’t say nothing’s at stake. I said the chips are free. What if the loser kills himself?”

Then we just stood there, in the middle of the card floor, poker tables surrounding us. He tried to figure out whether I was serious. I would not break our gazes. I did not blink. He would not break our gazes. He did not blink. So we wouldn’t break our gazes, and we didn’t blink until a very subtle and skewed smile appeared on his face.

“You’re kiddin’ me?” he said, more as a hopeful statement of fact than as a question.

Not kidding. I just shook my head slowly and proudly. No, I’m not kidding, this conveyed. I don’t know if I would have played this match, but I felt brave right then. Additionally, I felt invincible. I had images in my head of beating him and then just saying, “Hey, you don’t have to pay this off. You owe me one. Go have a nice life.” Something like that.

I was sort of nuts back then. I would have played anyone for anything. And I really thought I could prove at the poker table in a short period of time that I was the best in the world, especially one-on-one.

That day, we finally just walked away from each other and sat in normal games. His was, unfortunately, a bigger limit than I was prepared to play, so we didn’t compete against each other. But I felt satisfied that I’d made him surrender, that I had been willing to play for stakes he couldn’t afford. Yes, he had challenged me to a match beyond my bankroll. But I had made him back down. And I was proud.

More matches. That was actually the incident that started me challenging other players to “suicide matches” anytime I got my feathers ruffled, anytime someone would question my skills or my nerve. Nobody ever accepted, of course, and most players took my challenges only half seriously. But at times I was sure that if someone ever did call my pot, if someone did accept my dare, that I’d go through with it. At other times, I wavered.

In any case, my youthful bravado, my quest for a suicide match ended abruptly when one particularly mean-looking guy from out of town listened to my challenge and said, “Kid, you wanna play serious, let’s play.” He calmly unzipped his fly and gestured for me to follow suit. Then he took a pocket knife out, unfolded it and flung it on the table. Then he motioned for me to sit down, saying simply, “Deal.” Well, the symbolism was hard to miss.

I finally began to laugh, and so did everyone else. Well, almost everyone. The guy wasn’t laughing. So, I said, “Sorry, I don’t have that kind of bankroll.” A man needs to learn when not to call a raise. I think that was the beginning of my mellowing out.

Today, I realize you can’t prove who’s really the best poker player in the world, because all the best players are too evenly matched, and it might take years for one player to come out clearly on top. I still believe, privately, that I can beat anyone – especially heads-up. But others feel the same way, and we’ll never be able to settle the argument. Except for a night, maybe. Or a few glorious days. But the victory doesn’t usually last.

And that’s the truth about poker, my friends. Egos often get in the way. Nobody will ever prove who’s best. And eventually you grow wise and you live with the greatest poker lesson of all time:

You win some, you lose some, and you keep it to yourself.

– MC

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September 20, 2008

Poker Tips: On the Quick Bluff and Bunched Aces

Filed under: Doyle Brunson,General Blog Rant,Mike Caro,pro tips — Mike @ 10:16 pm

Here’s a couple of quick poker tips from top professional poker player, Mike Caro.

Mike Caro plays online poker at DoylesRoom.com poker roomA Quick Bluff Is More Likely To Succeed Than A Hesitant One
Of course, there are exceptions, but on average…

If you bluff fairly quickly — without pondering — you’ll succeed in stealing the pot more often than if you hesitate and seem unsure. I was able to further support this theory by programming my artificially intelligent Orac poker player in 1984. I learned while testing that opponents were much more likely to fold against fast bets than against pondered ones — even against a computer!

Mike Caro plays online poker at DoylesRoom.com poker roomBeware Of Bunched Aces In Hold’em

I call this the “bunching factor.” It has nothing to do with poor dealing, though.

If you’re playing 10-handed hold ’em and the first seven players have folded before the flop, there’s a better-than-usual chance that the few remaining players hold aces. Why? It’s because when opponents fold, it’s more likely that they folded something other than aces.

This means that statistically there are more aces left that could appear in the few remaining hands. While this isn’t an overwhelming statistical factor, it is significant enough that you should be more selective about the hands you raise the blinds with from the button (dealer position) when everyone else has folded than you would be if the deal began three-handed!

This “bunching factor” applies to other games, too — especially draw poker.

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September 19, 2008

Continuation Betting: It’s all about timing

Filed under: Poker News & Views,pro tips — Mike @ 2:29 am

Jon Turner plays online poker at FullTiltPoker.comContinuation betting has become so common in No-Limit Hold ’em tournaments that many players no longer give it any respect. They will often call your bet on the flop, whether or not they actually have anything, just to see what you’ll do on the turn. Because continuation bets have lost so much value, you should be wary of making this bet if you don’t have much of a hand, and, even if you do have a hand, you should occasionally check behind just to mix up your play.

When deciding whether or not you should follow up a preflop raise with a bet on the flop, you should consider a variety of factors, including the texture of the flop, the number of players involved in the hand and the tendencies of those players, but here I want to talk about how your use of the continuation bet needs to change as a tournament progresses.

In the early stages of a tournament, you should be much more willing to make a continuation bet on the flop because you generally won’t be risking as high a percentage of your chip stack as you will in later rounds. Losing an extra 80 chips when the blinds are 10/20 and you have 3,000 isn’t going to hurt you all that much. You should be especially willing to make this bet after flopping a set or top two pair because in these situations you really want to build a pot.

However, if you flop a medium-strength hand like top pair with an average kicker you need to employ much more caution. Let’s say you raise before the flop with J-10 suited, and the flop comes J-7-3. If your opponent checks to you, you should also check. You don’t want to build a big pot in this situation because your opponent could easily have K-J or Q-J, just the sort of hands weaker players like to play early on in tournaments.

Checking behind your opponent will also disguise the strength of your hand, allowing you to extract value from it on later streets. If your opponent has a medium pocket pair like 6s or 10s and you check behind on a J-7-3 flop, you’re more likely to get a call out of him if you bet the turn and, if a scare card hits the board, you can simply check behind once again.

Another advantage of checking behind your opponent after flopping top pair is that in the future it will allow you to check behind on flops that don’t connect with your hand without giving away the fact that you’re weak. Doing this will also keep the pot small enough that you won’t feel committed to it if your opponent plays back at you on the turn.

If you do make a continuation bet on the flop in this situation and your opponent check-raises you and you call and he bets the turn, you’ve helped build a large pot when all you have is a medium-strength hand. Calling your opponent down could cost you half your stack, if not more, and the only hand you can really beat is a total bluff.

The way you should play this hand will change after the antes have come into play in the latter stages of the tournament. If you’ve flopped top pair with J-10, you’re up against a single opponent, and you have less than 25 big blinds in your chip stack, you’re going to want to follow up your preflop aggression with a bet on the flop for two reasons.

First, you don’t want to give a free card to somebody who might be holding a hand like A-Q or K-Q. Second, some players will think you’re making a continuation bet with nothing, and if they’ve got a medium pocket pair they might check-raise you all-in, giving you an excellent chance to double up. Just remember that if you’re going to make a continuation bet in this spot, you have to be willing to go all the way with your hand because your bet is going to commit you to the pot.

In general, the further along you get in a tournament the more caution you need to use when making a continuation bet, but even in the early stages you want to be careful because many players will try to bluff you off your hand with a large check-raise. Checking the flop will allow you to avoid this trap and, if you have a medium-strength hand like top pair, often proves to be a more profitable play in the long run.

Jon “PearlJammed” Turner

a5_wJon is one of the most successful online tournament players in the world. He has more than $1.6 Million in online winnings.

2h_wIf you’re USA-based, like Jon, play and chat with top professionals online at Bookmaker Poker or BetOnline Poker.

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September 11, 2008

Backing Yourself: Coin Flips in Poker

Filed under: Poker News & Views,pro tips — Mike @ 8:35 pm

Ben Roberts plays poker online at FullTiltPoker.com

Whether or not you decide to get into a coin flip situation in poker really depends upon what type of game you’re playing. I’m far more likely to take on one of these challenges when I’m playing in a cash game than when I’m playing in a tournament, and I’m also more likely to do so when I’m playing in a live game as opposed to online.

If you’re playing in a cash game, getting into a 50-50 race can occasionally produce greater results beyond simply winning the hand. If you win a race, you can often expect your opponent to become a worse player almost immediately after the hand is over. This will give you the opportunity to take even more money from him over the course of the next several hours. Therefore, I’m more willing to get into a coin flip situation with players who have less control over their emotions after losing a big hand this way.

Conversely, if my opponent wins the hand, he’s not going to get rewarded as much since I’m not going to play any differently after losing a big hand in this manner. Although winning is extremely important to me, I believe people put too high a premium on winning in the short-term, for example, over the course of a session or two.

When they fail to win, they become possessed with a sense of shame and depression, but I believe poker is supposed to be a journey of joy and fun.

Beyond my opponent’s demeanor, one of the biggest factors in deciding whether or not I’m willing to get into a race is the amount of money I’ve invested in the hand. If I’ve already put some money into the pot and I’m sure it’s a 50-50 situation, then no matter how much my opponent raises he won’t be able to get rid of me. If I folded, I would be literally throwing away the money I already put in there, and I’m not in the habit of doing that.

Here’s an example of a coin flip situation after the flop. Let’s say you have A-K of clubs, and the flop comes 9-8-2 with two clubs. Because you have two overcards and a flush draw, this is a nice spot to go on the offensive if somebody makes a bet. If your opponent has made top pair with a hand like 10-9, it’s about a 50-50 situation, but you have plenty of outs to justify your aggression.

However, if you raise and your opponent comes over the top of you, you have to suspect that he has a set and you can no longer depend on a king or an ace being an out. At this point, all you have is flush draw and it’s no longer a coin flip situation. Unless you’re both deep-stacked and think your opponent will pay you off if you do hit your flush, you should back off and wait for a better situation. But don’t lose your initiative and remember to keep playing aggressively.

Now let’s turn it around. The flop is the same, but now you have pocket jacks and your opponent is the one who has two overcards and a flush draw. You bet, and your opponent raises. How you proceed really depends upon what sort of player you’re up against.

Because of situations like this one, I prefer live games to online games. I tend to make more accurate decisions in live games. Most of the time I can get a read on my opponent, and I can capitalize on that. If I feel like he only has two overcards because he just called my raise before the flop, I’ll call and see what the turn brings. But if I raised before the flop and he reraised me, then I’ll throw my jacks away because he could very well have a bigger pair than mine.

My rationale completely changes in a tournament. In the latter stages of a tournament your chips are worth more than they were at the beginning so your first concern should be protecting them, which often means avoiding coin flip situations. After the money bubble bursts, you get financially rewarded whenever a player gets knocked out so quite often the smartest move is to avoid getting into coin flip situations and waiting for a better spot.

Like many aspects of poker, the decision of whether or not to get into a coin flip situation depends on a variety of factors, the most important of which are the type of game you’re playing and the demeanor of the opponent you’re playing against.

Ben Roberts

a5_wBen was born in Persia, but moved to London when he was a teenager. He’s nicknamed “Gentleman Ben” and is the UK’s most successful poker cash game player.

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September 9, 2008

Most Important Thing In Poker? The Law of Least Tilt

Filed under: Doyle Brunson,Mike Caro,pro tips — Mike @ 11:10 pm

Make Money playing online poker cash games at DoylesRoom.com

Caro’s Law of Least Tilt.

“In a poker game among eight equally matched world-class players, what very powerful law dictates who will eventually win and who will lose? ” You’re thinking, “Who cares? How often am I in a poker game made up of eight equally matched world-class players?”

Ah, but this principle has a much broader importance. It ranks among the most powerful laws in the gambling universe. Great poker pros are governed by it. So are Henry, Jack and Felix at your Friday night game. So are blackjack players and golfers, craps shooters and backgammon superstars.

THE BLACK HOLE
I’m talking about The Power, baby. It’s a black hole in the poker table that can suck up all your chips and send you home whimpering. I’m talking about a merciless, ubiquitous, universal law that will never leave you alone until you honor it.

I’m talking about Caro’s Law of Least Tilt. Exactly What is Tilt, Anyway? You might not know the meaning of the phrase “going on tilt.” Turning to the Random House Dictionary of the English Language (unabridged), we find on page 606 that “going on tilt” is not defined.

A pity. But checking a more credible source, Doyle Brunson’s Super/System – A Course in Power Poker, we see that the term “on tilt” is defined on page 539. Quote: “When a player starts playing bad (loses his composure), usually after losing one or more big pots, he’s said to be on tilt.”

There are other slang ways to express this phenomenon. Vegas regulars call it “steaming.” In my favorite Denver game, we used to say a man had “flipped a pancake.”

IT HAPPENS TO PLAYERS & PINBALL MACHINES
Going on tilt describes it best. What happens to a pinball machine when you shake it too hard? The lights go out, its normal mechanical functions are short-circuited, it stops playing its normal game, and suddenly the word Tilt flashes on its scoreboard.

Isn’t that what happens to a poker player when you shake him too hard? Most players can take their bad beats graciously for a while; but when they suffer one blow too many, something usually snaps. Their lights go out, their brains malfunction, they cease to play their best game and, if you look really close, you can see the word “Tilt” etched on their foreheads.

Suddenly the most dedicated scientific poker players are babbling and bluffing and barging into pots with inferior hands. You’ve seen it happen, and it’s a pitiful sight to behold.

THE LAW DEFINED
Write this law on a piece of paper, tape it to the wall and study it. Caro’s Law of Least Tilt: Among similarly skilled opponents, the player with the most discipline is the favorite.

Gee, that seems too obvious to bother saying. Obvious, hell! Ask around and see what the best poker players think is most important. Their opinions will vary. To save you the trouble, I actually surveyed ten tough players. My question was: “In a poker game among players whose ability is about equal, what do you think is the most important winning edge?”

Using a little judgment, I placed their answers into the following categories-
Knowledge of mathematics: 4
Psychological skill: 3
Knowing when to quit: 2
Alertness: 1

Had I undertaken a larger survey, other things would have appeared. But the point is made by this small sample. Incredibly, nobody mentioned the Law of Least Tilt! Everything listed is important.

KNOWLEDGE OF MATHEMATICS
A very weak player who knows nothing about probabilities or mathematics will be at the mercy of a knowledgeable opponent. However, a player with an outstanding grasp of odds and statistics is only a small favorite over a player with a pretty good understanding.

Of course, in some poker games even a small difference in mathematical ability can be critical. Seven-card high-low split is such a game.

PSYCHOLGICAL SKILL
Very important. But, in a game involving contestants of equal overall talent, is it likely that there will be much difference here? No.

KNOWING WHEN TO QUIT
For a bunch of reasons which I don’t want to discuss now, it’s better to quit when you’re losing than when you’re winning. Most players get this backwards and play longer when they’re losing. Anyway, seldom does one player secure an important edge over his peers by quitting at the correct times.

ALERTNESS
You’ll seldom find a game among equally skilled foes where one is substantially more alert than his opponents.

TILT BY MUTUAL AGREEMENT
Tour the card rooms of Las Vegas, the poker parlors of California, the private games in Texas. Try legal seven-stud in Washington and Oregon. Play Hold ’em in Montana.

Yep, poker’s booming everywhere. Look for the toughest, meanest game in the area. Ask around, you’ll find it. It’s usually a medium or high-stakes contest and it’s often comprised of the same regular players night after night. Sometimes there’s a stranger to throw off some money; but usually it’s survival of the fittest – hometown heroes battling for regional honors.

I’m talking about a poker game where players of approximately the same expectations wage a war of egos. Listen to me, you seven-card stud superstars – I’m talking to you!

Almost every ego contest I’ve witnessed has an unspoken rule that goes like this: Weak players are timid and we’re not weak, so let’s bet our hands like crazy. Nobody will get hurt if everyone does it.

There’s more to this tacit understanding. Any player who suffers two bad beats in a row is expected to play more recklessly than usual.

Oh, I almost forgot, there’s another part. If a stranger gets in the game and tries to take advantage of our generous bets and raises, we’ll play conservatively.

This last part is consistently violated. Take these poker pros and near-pros aside and ask what they’d do if a solid, talented player from Milwaukee sat in their game.

“We don’t give action unless we get action.” Snail slime!

The sad thing is, these guys really believe this! Gosh, you take your skilled sever-stud prayer from Topeka and put him in the $30 and $60 limit seven-stud game at the Sahara and . well, I like his chances.

EGO, EGO RAISE ‘EM UP!
The talent in this game is awesome. Gathered here at the Sahara is some of the keenest seven-stud talent that ever sprouted West of the Rockies. But, yes, they do play too recklessly and when they lose too many pots and get on tilt they play really recklessly.

Naturally, you’d expect this to stop when Fred from Sacramento sits in the game. You guys remember Fred, don’t you? Following my instructions he won $3210 in one session. You probably don’t remember, since that isn’t a milestone win. And, of course, you don’t remember Charlie since he won only $1530.

These players were sent in the game as an experiment; and they both reported the same thing. The regular players did not lighten up on their raises. Instead, they made these new players a target and tried to intimidate them with a barrage of irrational raises.

Following my advice, both Fred and Charlie called timidly for the first several pots, letting the aggressors establish an image. Then they counter attacked for three consecutive hands. They’d been instructed to get the last bet in at every opportunity (within reason) no matter what cards they held. Although Charlie managed to lose all three pots, Fred won two of his, once making an inside straight down the river against queens-up.

CONTROLLED TILT – THE CRUELEST WEAPON
According to plan, Fred and Charlie never got out of line after that. They had established an early reckless image. The image stuck, even though they played solid poker from then on. The regular players felt confident that the tacit loose-play agreement was not in jeopardy. No one, they reasoned, was taking advantage.

Although these two sessions are not significant enough to prove the point, let’s make believe they are. What the hell, we’re talking about more than 400 hands, and only a statistician would demand a larger sample.

What it proves is this: In a game where everyone goes on tilt some of the time, the player who spends the fewest minutes on tilt wins the most money.

(Since some tilt plays are horrible and others are merely bad, you could argue that it isn’t the time of tilt, but the quality of tilt that determines the winners. It’s really both.)

Controlled Tilt is simply doing the things that a player on tilt does, while being motivated rationally rather than emotionally. The strategy is to appear totally berserk while remaining thoroughly in command. This is the cruelest, most profitable tactic I know.

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September 5, 2008

Poker Strategy: HORSE

Filed under: Poker News & Views,pro tips — Mike @ 11:47 pm

HORSE tournamentsBecause of the nature of a HORSE tournament, you can quickly reach the point where you’re just one or two hands away from busting. This makes it extremely important to save chips whenever you can. In this tip, Poker Pro Chip Jett shows you why it is crucial to never waste a single bet.

SAVING CHIPS IN HORSE

The $50,000 HORSE tournament at the World Series of Poker is one of the most prestigious events in all of poker, but the structure does not allow room for mistakes. Typically, over 80 percent of the field is still alive halfway through the second day, but none of those players have enough chips to play more than two big hands. Everyone is in danger of going broke. In fact, it’s the same in nearly every HORSE tournament I’ve ever played in, which means it’s crucial that you never waste a single bet.

In no-limit tournaments a few players usually break out from the pack and acquire huge chip leads early on. The blinds and antes only become an issue for them towards the very end of the tournament, but that almost never happens in HORSE tournaments because you’re playing limit poker. The blinds and antes are an issue the entire time so saving chips whenever you can is vital.

In a HORSE tournament it’s particularly important to hold on to your chips in the Stud games because there’s an extra round of betting compared to the flop games, Hold ’em and Omaha. That’s why I think it’s best to play conservatively on Third Street in the Stud games.

For example, let’s say you have A-2 in the hole and a 5 up in Razz. This is one of the best starting hands you can have in Razz so you should definitely open for a raise. But a player showing a 6 re-raises you. For him to reraise you, it’s almost 99 percent certain he has two wheel cards in the hole. He has a very good starting hand, but, of course, your hand is still better.

If this were a cash game, you would want to re-raise him. However, in a HORSE tournament you should just call because you’re only a small favorite at this point in the hand. Not re-raising here is kind of like staying away from coin flip situations in No-Limit Hold ‘em tournaments. You’re avoiding a situation where you’re not a huge favorite. In a HORSE tournament you don’t want to push too hard when you only have a slight advantage.

If you put in three bets on Third Street and get two or more callers, pots odds are going to force you to stay in the hand no matter what you catch on Fourth Street. Playing this way, you might win a big pot, but you might also lose one. You simply can’t afford to play this way in a HORSE tournament because losing one or two such hands can cost you your entire stack.

I’d recommend seeing what falls on Fourth Street before committing any more of your chips because you will have a much better idea where you are at in the hand. If you and your opponent both catch good cards on Fourth Street, you become a much bigger favorite to win the hand than you were on Third Street. Now instead of being just a 52 percent favorite you might be as much as a 65 percent favorite, and you can start raising and re-raising to protect that advantage.

If you catch a bad card on Fourth Street, it will be much easier to muck your cards if you didn’t put in three or four bets on Third Street. For example, if you catch a jack and your opponent catches a 4, you’re going to be happy you didn’t cap the betting on Third Street because now you’re behind in the hand.

Another advantage to just calling a reraise on Third Street with the best hand is deception. If you and your opponent both catch good cards on Fourth Street your opponent is going to think he still has the better hand. You are in effect slowplaying your hand, and it could pay off handsomely because the size of the bets has now doubled.

Because every player in a HORSE tournament is just one or two hands away from going broke, it’s extremely important to save your chips whenever you can. Playing more conservatively on Third Street during the Stud games is a great way to accomplish this.

Chip Jett professional poker playerChip Jett  has more than $1.9 million in lifetime tournament winnings (more obviously from cash games) and is considered one of the world’s top tournament players.

If you’re USA-based, play and chat with top professionals online at Bookmaker Poker or BetOnline Poker.

 

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September 2, 2008

Randomize Your Poker Play Against Sharks

Mike Caro play poker with him online at Doyles Room Poker siteAgainst very weak opponents, it’s usually not necessary to randomize your decisions. You don’t need to be very deceptive, because a straightforward strategy will usually earn the most money. But against more experienced players it’s a good idea to mix it up, as long as you don’t sacrifice too much in the process.

But how do you randomize? There are many ways to do this, some simple, some elaborate. One very easy way is to decide to choose the standard play for close decisions (such as mostly calling, but sometimes raising) three-quarters (75 percent) of the time and the exception one-quarter (25 percent) of the time. For situations in which a three-to-one ratio of standard play to exception seems reasonable to you, you can simply consider the suit of the FIRST card dealt to you. If it’s a spade, choose the exception and raise (for the sake of this example). If it’s any other suit, go with the standard play and just call.

As an extra precaution against the unlikely event that an opponent will catch on, you might change the exception suit from time to time. You could change it each session or even each hour.

Mike Caro

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