The Poker Lab Rat

October 30, 2010

Poker Tells: Stop Accidentally Giving Away Your Poker Hand

Filed under: Doyle Brunson,General Blog Rant,Mike Caro,pro tips — Mike @ 7:32 pm

Mike Caro: How To Stop Accidentally Giving Away Information About Your Poker Hand

About a year ago, this happened. It’s seven-card stud, $150/$300 limit. A 34-year-old man (all right, it’s just an estimate) has been losing all night. He sat in the game shortly after I did, which was 10 hours ago. In all this time, through all those hands, I have not detected anything that might indicate that he has ever acquired any useful poker skills. Got the picture?

Good. A regular winning player, age 63 (again an estimate), has been competing in this same game for the past four hours. I don’t know much about 63, although I’m an expert on 54 – which is how old I am as we speak. The only thing I know for sure about age 63 is that it’s old enough to know better.

That “Hollywood” act.

Better than what? Well, just hang on; you’ll see shortly. For convenience, we’ll call these two principal characters the Kid and Mr. Regular. Suddenly there’s this monster pot, over $4,000. It’s the final card, the river. Mr. Regular bets with three kings showing.

The Kid hesitates. Looks at his card a second time. Leans back in his chair. Suddenly shrugs his shoulders. Raises. His voice is sadly melodic as he sighs, “I guess I might as well make it six hundred.”

Immediately, and angrily, Mr. Regular calls.

“I can beat your three kings,” the Kid says.

“Well, if you can beat my three kings, show me what you got. Stop yappin’ about it.” Mr. Regular is truly irritated.

Obviously, I wonder why Mr. Regular would even bet three kings. They were all exposed. Clearly, the Kid wasn’t going call if he couldn’t beat the three kings he saw right before his eyes. And loose, inexperienced, and losing players like the Kid are never going to throw away anything that is better than three kings. You might bet an exposed three kings as a bluff, hoping a knowledgeable foe will fold a straight, a flush, or a full house, smaller than kings full. But you better be sure it’s a knowledgeable opponent, because nobody else has enough common sense to fold. In order to make this laydown, you need to have enough sophistication to realize that your opponent wouldn’t bet three exposed kings that stood unimproved and you need to have enough emotional stability to make the laydown in response to this realization.

Poker traps for the waryBut wait! There’s another problem here. If your opponent with three kings grasps that you’re sophisticated enough and emotionally stable enough to make that laydown, then he can bet his exposed three-of-a-kind as a bluff. So, there are levels of reasoning in poker. And there are always levels beyond those, and if you miscalculate what level your opponent is on now, that’s trouble. Still, in the case of most weak opponents, such as the Kid, there is no chance in hell that your bet will be met with a laydown of a straight, flush, full house, four of a kind, or a straight flush. It just won’t happen, so bluffing is out of the question. In this case, if you bet your exposed three kings, you can only lose, you cannot possibly win anything.

Calling and losing is fun.

OK, most readers realize that, and the point today is something else. But before I get to that point, let me drift even further off topic. If I say that nobody would ever call if they couldn’t beat the exposed three kings, that isn’t exactly true. I would, and I have. I do it just to get a laugh from some players and to thoroughly bewilder others. The psychological advantage of making a call that cannot win can be worth the money, if you know how to maximize the profit with the right kind of chatter. I say stuff like, “I had to call, because I’ve seen him bluff before.”

Opponents will think you’re crazy, and even ones who believe they are too smart to be taken in by your “act,” will be taken in. They just feel you’re too unpredictable and bizarre not to be called in the future. Done right, calling with, say, a pair of aces against three exposed kings will return much more than its cost in future calls.

Now, where was I? Oh, yeah, back to the point. Mr. Regular made a very bad bet with three kings exposed and no improvement, because unsophisticated opponents like the Kid are always going to call if they can beat that board and are never going to call if they can’t. But, it’s what happened next that is the real point of today’s column.

Remember what I already told you: After betting, the Kid had hesitated, re-examined his final card, leaned back, pondered, and eventually raised with a sigh. Mr. Regular had called instantly and was irritated when the Kid said he could beat three kings. He told the Kid to stop yapping and prove it.

You have a what?

So, now the Kid turns over a straight flush! Well, Mr. Regular rises halfway from his chair, fuming. “You didn’t need to go through that Hollywood routine,” he rants. “I was going to call you anyway!”

A couple comments, here. First of all, as bad as Mr. Regular’s bet was, his call was even worse. The Kid was not going to raise three exposed kings in an attempted bluff. Such a maneuver would never occur to him. Second, Mr. Regular probably wouldn’t have called the raise if it hadn’t been for the Kid’s act. While Mr. Regular no doubt was smart enough to see through the act, it irritated him into calling. This happens all the time in poker, a game where it’s very easy to let your emotions overrule your intellect. Third, players who hesitate and bet with a sigh and a sad voice are almost never bluffing. Fourth – and here’s today’s point – if the Kid never hesitates when he has the absolutely unbeatable nuts, then he better never hesitate at all!

What’s that supposed to mean? It means plenty. In poker, if you want to disguise the strength of your hand in the long run and remain unpredictable, things that you do under some circumstances need to be done, also, under different circumstances. Most players hesitate when they have tough decisions to make. They need the time to reflect. This hesitation means, those hands are borderline. If an opponent knows this, then he knows exactly what to do when faced with hesitation. He knows that the raising hand cannot possibly be extremely strong, within the spectrum of raising hands, and he can call, fold, or re-raise based on that information.

The only ways to avoid giving this type of information to an astute opponent are (1) occasionally hesitate and pretend to ponder when you have unbeatable hands, or (2) never hesitate at all. So, when I said Mr. Regular was old enough to know better, I meant that his years of poker experience should have taught him that “Hollywood” is a perfectly acceptable, and sometimes necessary aspect of poker.

My way.

Personally, I almost never use this form of extreme acting when I have a powerful hand. Instead, I often just tell opponents that I have them beat and that they’re about to make a ridiculous call for which I am thanking them in advance. This usually makes them suspicious enough to trigger their calling reflex. The reason I personally don’t use that “Hollywood” act often to induce a call is because many opponents have negative feelings about it, and I don’t want to do anything to destroy the carefree atmosphere needed to maximize profit in a game.

However, I would never criticize others for their “Academy Award” performances with unbeatable hands. And neither should you. By the way, in no-limit and pot-limit games, this “Hollywood” behavior is more readily accepted. That’s because much more emphasis is put on reading opponents in those games, and anything goes as a counter-measure to the scrutiny of others. Even in these games, though, most experienced players do little acting and favor a “poker face.”

Another tell exposed.

One more thing. Have you ever seen an opponent throw his hand away before you act on the final betting round? This often happens when an opponent has missed a straight or a flush in seven-card stud. You will frequently hear something like, “Take the pot. Why waste time? I can’t beat your board.”

What’s the harm in that? The harm can be significant if this becomes a habit. If you’re observant, you can make conclusions about the times your opponent does not throw the hand away prematurely. At those times, you realize that your opponent can beat your board, and you worry about the hand he might have made. The average hand you are facing now is stronger than it would be against an opponent you had never seen fold out of turn.

When an opponent folds prematurely, even with only one opponent involved in the pot, he is not just giving away information about that poker hand, he is giving away information about his future poker hands. And he probably never even considered the possibility.

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August 2, 2010

Mike Caro: The poker word is expand

Filed under: Doyle Brunson,General Blog Rant,Mike Caro,pro tips — Mike @ 8:36 pm

Mike Caro professional poker player and coachSure, I’m the one who creates solid guidelines governing which poker hands you can play profitably. That’s me. But, even though I stress these standards that tell you which hands to call with, raise with, and fold with in which positions under which circumstances, I don’t usually stick to them myself.

I expand these standards and define more hands as playable. How come?

Well, today I’m going to tell you why that’s so. If you’re still an average player or a beginner, I want you seldom to stray from a predetermined, conservative set of standards. But you still need to understand what I’m about to say for the future. And if you’re already a sophisticated poker player, please pay particular attention.

This is the transcript of one of my lectures…

Winning by playing hands you “shouldn’t”

One thing I teach beginning players is to stick to a rigid set of standards. Don’t vary from them. These beginning standards are necessarily tight, because I don’t want students who are unfamiliar with the subtleties of poker to encounter difficult situations that may cost them money.

Fine. But as you progress as a player, as you begin to grasp the subtleties, something almost the opposite happens. Instead of staying away from danger by avoiding hands that require more finesse, you play these hands and the beginning players, inexperienced players, and poor players all lose money to you on the very hands that they themselves cannot profitably play. You play and win with the same hands they lose with.

Find more

So one of the key secrets to mastering poker isn’t to just play those same basic hands for more profit, it’s to find more hands that you can play profitably. The truth is, you can play more hands profitably when you are able to outplay opponents on later betting rounds. Once you develop a good understanding of later-round play, you can play hands that you used to think were unprofitable – and you used to be right.

What if you can’t outplay opponents on the betting sequences after you enter the pot – if you don’t know when to bet, when not to bet, when to call, and when to raise with more certainty than your opponents? Then you must stick to a rigid and conservative set of starting hands to have any hope of winning. That’s the key. That’s why I teach beginners to only play premium hands.

If they only enter pots with these premium hands, then they’ll average a profit on all the hands they play, even if their understanding of when to bet, call, raise, and fold on later rounds is inferior. Those select hands are just too powerful to lose money by playing. But that doesn’t guarantee them that they’ll win overall.

Finding hands

You see, every hand you don’t play costs money. That’s obvious, because you’re anteing or making blind bets and losing that money if you never play a hand. So, you have to find enough hands to play to overcome the cost of the antes or blinds. Most beginners can’t do that, even if they stick to just their most powerful hands, because there aren’t enough of them, and because they aren’t getting the same value from these rare strong hands that a skilled professional would.

Also, some beginners can’t even make money with hands that are only semi-strong, but not premium. That’s because, even average opponents outplay them.

So, beginners – if they try as hard as they can – should only play premium starting hands or those where they got into the pot cheaply or for free and found themselves with excellent chances to make straights or flushes – or managed to make strong pairs or better. They should fold on early betting rounds when their hands would otherwise figure to be about break-even or slightly profitable, because they’ll be outplayed and these hands will lose money under their control.

So, you can see how very dismal poker can be for beginners. They can’t play many hands, and because they can’t hold their own against most opponents, they must forego the opportunities to make profit with hands of secondary strength. It’s a mess. They don’t even make as much money as they should when they do play premium hands.

Average and world-class players

What about average players. Well, they can play more hands, because they won’t get beat up as badly on later betting rounds.

And what about truly world-class players? Ah, now listen closely. Truly world-class players can enter pots with hands that are theoretically losers. In other words, if I simulate poker on a computer and give everyone the same degree of skill, there will be hands that are clearly not playable.

But in non-raked games, meaning home games or games where the casino charges rent by the hour or half hour, a really strong player can enter pots with some of these substandard hands. You won’t usually be able to do this in rake games, because the cost of the rake tends to swallow up the advantages gained from later round strategy.

But you can play some of these otherwise substandard hands in non-rake games. The theoretical loss in a medium limit game for playing one of those weak hands might be $2.

But, wait! If the player can out maneuver his opponents on subsequent betting rounds while they make mistakes, there may be $4 worth of value in pursuing the later betting rounds. That means a hand that would lose $2 if everyone played equally or, similarly, when played by an average player can win $2 under control of a world-class player. And a hand that might lose $6 when played by a weak or beginning player, can win $2 through expert play. Those dollar amounts are just used to convey a point and aren’t meant to be precise.

Dollar expectation

So, what does this mean? It means that a beginning poker player can’t play a specific hand because it loses $6. An average player can’t play that hand because it loses $2. However, a world-class player should play that same hand, because it wins $2.

Am I saying that strong players can play more pots? Absolutely! And you’ve always heard that strong players play tighter than weak players, right? Well, OK, now don’t get confused. Strong players do usually play tighter than weak players – as far as starting hand selection goes. But that’s only because many weak players enter pots that they have no business playing. They play hands that even the world-class players couldn’t make profit from by using correct strategy on the later rounds.

So, yes, world-class players do tend to play fewer hands than weak opponents. But if the weak opponents were trying to win, then they’d have to play much tighter than the world-class opponents, because they wouldn’t know what to do on later betting rounds.

Simple fact

The simple fact is, the best players can enter pots with hands that would be theoretically unprofitable in games where everyone has their same skill. The extra skill allows them to play more hands. So, you shouldn’t criticize them for playing hands you think are losing, because in their control, these hands might win.

The better you are, the more hands you can play profitably. I know that runs contrary to the notion that the best players have the most discipline and play the tightest, but it’s the truth and you need to know it.

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

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July 16, 2010

Part II: How Mike Caro Got Eliminated From The World Series Of Poker

Mike Caro professional poker playerTournament complaint three.

Rebuy tournaments. I don’t like that whole concept. I won’t revisit the reasons today, but it comes down to the inequality of opportunity between those who can afford to rebuy and those who can’t. Furthermore, those – like myself – who are interested primarily in winning the first-place trophy will usually rebuy or add-on, given the opportunity, even when the decision is not merited in terms of profit.
I believe that in a tournament, anything you do correctly to increase your chances of winning first place should not be punished. But that’s not the case with poker tournaments today. The ones that work, in my mind, are winner-take-all in which the table champion gets immediate compensation and advances to the next winner-take-all table. Don’t get me wrong. As I’ve said before, I have nothing against “rebuy events,” just don’t call them “tournaments.”

Having now sounded my tournament dissent, I’ll tell you that this year I entered the main event at Binion’s World Series of Poker for the first time. Before this year I was content to say that, although I’d never won the event, I’d never lost it, either. Now I can’t say that anymore.

The hand.

Those of you who follow this column and take an interest in the Internet know that I frequently recommend the discussion group rec.gambling.poker. You’ll need a newsreader to access it. Anyway, in May, I left a message about how I got eliminated from the tournament. I’d like to share it with you now. Then, next column, I provide some of the responses and my subsequent comments. Here it is (although it has been edited slightly to conform to my follow-up post revising the seating positions)…
Subject: How Mike Caro got eliminated — an interesting hand From: (Mike Caro) Date: 1998/05/12 Newsgroup: rec.gambling.poker

How would y’all have played this hand? I got eliminated with it, and possibly should have played it differently. Here’s the situation…

We are three hours into the final $10,000 buy-in event at the World Series of Poker. I’m at table two, which is outside the main room in the satellite area. My table consists of no players that I am very familiar with, but five of my eight opponents have talked about my books and introduced themselves. Surrealistically, there are two separate discussions about my philosophy of tells while the action is going on — neither of which I participate in. Everyone is friendly. Opponents all seem experienced and capable, but no super stars that I can spot. All male. Action is marginally loose compared to what I expected in this main event at the early stages (I’ve never entered before).

After about three hours, I’ve built to $13,500 in chips. I have Ad-Qd Two seats to the right of the button (dealer position), nine handed. Blinds are $50 and $100. Everyone passes to the player on my right (6th position). He makes a routine attack raise of $300 ($400 total). He has far fewer chips than I do, probably about $7,000. Here’s my first decision.

I can pass, call, raise marginally, or raise big. You could make an argument for any of those four tactics, since nobody behind me has more chips than I do, although the button has almost as many.

I call. Button also calls. Time for the flop.

It’s Kd-Kc-6d giving me an ace-high flush draw with my Ad-Qd. Sixth seat bets $1,400. I debate. A good argument can be made for throwing the hand away here. Actually, I would if the off card were a nine or higher, because this would greatly increase the chances of a full house. Pot is now $4,100 and it costs me $1,400 to call. In a ring game, I would occasionally raise here (not usually, though) — perhaps $3,000 or $4,000 more.

Again, there are valid arguments for passing, calling, and raising. I decide to call, but I think I would have folded a good percent of the time in similar situations. Button also calls.

Turn card is 7d. I make my flush. Check to me. There is danger here, but I need to weigh the chances of an opponent holding K-K, 6-6, K-6, or K-7 (not likely to be 7-7) to beat me against the chances of an opponent holding K-anything else — or even, less likely, two diamonds or another pair to lose to me. If I bet big, K-J, K-10, K-9 or K-smaller (except K-7 or K-6) may fold. If those hands call, I’m not as happy (because of the tournament danger), but I have the best of it.

There are valid arguments for checking along, making a small bet, or making a large bet. I move all-in.

Player on the button calls instantly with 6-6 (a full house), leaving me with only $300 in chips that last another 10 minutes.

I thought that since this was a hand with so many options, it would be fitting for r.g.p discussion. Of course, some readers will look at it and conclude that it is obvious that the hand should be played a particular way. But I don’t think so. Let me know what you think.

Build your poker bankroll at DoylesRoom.com pokerStraight Flushes, Mike Caro

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July 11, 2010

Part I: How Mike Caro Got Eliminated From The World Series Of Poker

Filed under: General Blog Rant,Mike Caro,pro tips — Mike @ 7:42 pm

Mike CaroI’m going to share a hand with you. It is an actual hand I played in the main event at this years World Series of Poker. You need to know that poker tournaments are not my favorite things. I don’t play many. My reasons are these:

Tournament complaint one.

There are just too many people to beat. The popularity of tournaments in recent years has meant that a great many have fields of competitors exceeding 300. Some have fields exceeding 500.
What does this mean to us? If you’re much better than your typical opponents, aren’t you going to win often regardless of the number of competitors? That depends on what you mean by often.

First, let’s get something out of the way. I’m an egomaniac. I know it and you know it. I think I’m the best player in the world, but you’re welcome to doubt, snicker, or scoff and assert that it’s really someone else. Maybe it’s you. Fine. The point is this: A good estimate is that against a typical field of mostly experienced opponents, the BPITW will win no more than three times his or her “fair share” of tournaments, through infinity.

Don’t panic. I’m going to explain what I mean. If there are 300 players in a tournament and everyone is equally skilled, then pure dumb luck will determine the winner. Skill is not a factor, because everyone has the same skill, so it all cancels out. In that case, each player would have exactly one chance in 300 of winning. But I’m saying that, in reality, skill does matter in a tournament. It matters a lot, and the very best players can expect to win three times that one-in-300 share. That’s a genuine Mad Genius estimate, and it means one win in 100 tournaments.

That’s profitable, and it suggests – assuming other factors break down equally, for simplicity – that you will have a 300 percent return on investment. In other words, if you enter a no-rebuy tournament for $500, your theoretical cash-out value is $1,500, and you’ve earned a $1,000 profit.

What’s wrong with that? I didn’t say anything actually was wrong with it, and I enjoy tournaments. That’s why I play them occasionally. It’s just that, even if I entered 10 times as many tournaments in a year as I do now, I wouldn’t be able to prove my skills to anyone’s satisfaction. I would need to be very lucky to win enough tournaments to sound any alarms in the heads of opponents.

Some players enter 250 events a year. Depending on the size of the fields, an experienced player of average skills, devoting full time to tournaments and forsaking all else, can expect to win anywhere from zero to four times in a year. The average will be about one win, but many years could pass without a single trophy. Think about that.

Yet, we know somebody is going to get lucky, and you’ll see that name much more often than you’d expect to over a period of a year or two, or even longer. Because poker is a game of skill, those stand-out names are much more likely to belong to the better players. But sometimes, due to random luck fluctuations, the repeat winners are just average players, or sometimes worse than average.

Put simply, if you’re planning to compete on the tournament circuit, willing to forego all else in your travels and in your pursuit of trophies, hope to get lucky. Otherwise, the drought may seem like forever.

Tournament complaint two.

But here’s the real reason I am unhappy with tournaments. In a winner-take-all tournament, your strategy is pretty simple: Play your best regular game. That’s the very same game you’d play if you were not in a tournament. While there may be a few minor adjustments you’ll make, most of these will be because of how your opponent’s play tournaments. No adjustments will be monumental, and playing your best regular game gives you the greatest chance at the trophy.
OK, but what about proportional prize pools? These are the norm in tournaments today, and this means that first place will earn a certain percent of all the buy-ins, typically 40 percent or less. Second place may get 20 or 25 percent, and so on.

Well, a semi-terrible thing happens in these proportional-payoff tournaments. Namely, a strategy designed to take first place is not the most profitable. This amazes folks who haven’t thought about, but is obvious upon examination. In order to win the tournament, you need to gather everyone’s chips. You need to win them all.

Fine. But then what? Then you have to give most of them back so that the close finishers who you just conquered can be happy. Of course, you don’t really give them the chips, but you do give them the largest share of the prize pool. Same thing.

When this happens, your best strategy is to decline to play some of your profitable, but risky, hands and opt not to make some of your profitable, but risky, raises. That’s because that stretch-it-to-the-limit “profit” isn’t really worth the risk, when you have to give most of it back if you win first place.

OK, so we’ve determined that the best tournament strategy is not to play your best everyday game in a proportional payoff tournament. But, it’s still fair to everyone, right? Wrong! It’s not fair to the people who prize winning first place more than anything else. After all, originally tournaments were about winning the trophy. And the best strategy designed to win the trophy is often a losing strategy in terms of long-range tournament profits. That’s why I have mixed feelings about most tournaments. I want the trophy; and I want to play for it. Why should I have to take the worst of it financially to pursue the trophy?

Players from around the World incl USA are safe and welcomePart II of this poker rant from Mike Caro will be posted soon….
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June 24, 2010

Three Big Mistakes Poker Players Make When Reading Tells

Mike Caro professional poker player, coach, authorWe haven’t talked about poker tells for a long time. Recently I revised Caro’s Book of Tells — The Body Language of Poker, and put it back into print. While I was working on that revision, I thought, reasoned, pondered, and concentrated. Sometimes I did all four at once. Pretty soon it became clear to me that there were three central reasons why most serious players never master poker tells.

Before we survey that subject and discover those three central secrets for tell failure, let’s talk a little about the theory of tells. Poker tells are all around you, but you must learn to see them. If you don’t, you’ll consider them to be like the fairies of lore, magical manifestations of minds that meander — not real, not serious, not valuable, and not verifiable by photograph. But tells are real, serious, and valuable. And you can photograph them. In fact, I did exactly that for my Book of Tells.

Poker Tells Described Simply

Let’s make a bet. I’ll bet you that the majority of typical poker players haven’t discovered one measly tell in their lifetimes that they can reliably use over and over against more than one opponent. Sure, many have spotted tells now and then. When Jack is bluffing, he often reaches for his coffee cup, grabs the handle, and stops. Stops dead. Doesn’t bring the cup to his lips. Doesn’t even lift the cup. Fine. That’s a tell.

But it’s a tell in isolation. In order to use it, you have to be playing poker against Jack. He has to have coffee nearby. He has to make this one move. And this habit must remain from session to session. That’s a problem, because most peculiar tells are just short-term habits and will soon fade as repeated mannerisms, to be replaced by others.

So, wouldn’t it be better if you knew some reliable tells that apply to Jack all the time? And why stop there? Wouldn’t it be better still if you knew some reliable tells that apply to Jack and other opponents? Is that asking for too much? Nope.

Universal tells that are shared by many, many opponents are real. They are the basis of my 25-year investigation into the science of reading body language in poker. Is it really a “science”? Maybe not, but it feels like a science and I like to say it. It sells more books, too. Where was I? OK, I remember: A lot of your opponents share tells in common.

All of these common tells arise from a single fact. That fact is: Most of your weak and average opponents are forced into an arena where they feel uncomfortable. They feel uncomfortable because they are — in effect — forced to lie about their hands. They can’t just tell you the truth or you’d always know what they hold and be able to beat them for all of their money. (Because these tells are so powerful, their lies will speak the truth about their poker hands and you might beat them out of all of their money anyway. Oh, well.)

The “lies” are not usually stated. Instead, they typically are comprised of what your opponents try to imply through body language and tone of voice. We can’t get into the hundreds of tells today, but it comes down to this …
Your opponents usually will try to act as if they have weak hands when they have strong hands, and strong hands when they have weak hands. So, when an opponent sighs, shrugs as if bewildered, and says “I bet” in a sad tone of voice, you can be pretty sure that he holds a very strong hand. If you don’t hold one also, you usually should fold. Conversely, if an opponent makes a subtle extra movement to bolster his bet and make it seem a little stronger, there’s a good chance he’s weak.

More Tells That Most Players Don’t See

Beyond these tells from actors, there are involuntary tells of which your opponents are unaware. There are nonacted tells, like trembling hands, that are almost never a sign of true nervousness. Bluffers do not shake. They bolster themselves so as not to give you clues that they’re bluffing. They’re afraid to move for fear you will “read” them. Bluffers often are rigid, and sometimes they don’t breathe.

Players with real hands are more relaxed and animated. These are powerful clues. Also, players who have strong hands often pretend not to be interested. They’ll look away while the action approaches. They don’t want you to have any clues that they’re going to bet or raise, so they pretend to be focusing on something else. Sometimes they look as if they’re watching imaginary butterflies dance to their left as the players to their right decide what to do. Conversely, when their hands are weak, they’ll scrutinize the action as if interested. These are easy tells. They’re all around you.

But why doesn’t everyone see them? Good question. It’s not just that everyone doesn’t see them. It’s that most opponents don’t see them. And that’s even stranger. Worse yet, some players deny that tells exist or profess that they have little value. This is like the blind preaching to the sighted about what isn’t there.

I believe there are three major reasons why serious poker players fail to win significant extra profit through mastering tells.

Profitable poker playTell Failure No. 1: Looking All Around You

You’re never going to master tells if you look all around you to spot them. Yes, I’ve said that they are all around you, but if that’s where you look, you probably won’t see any. There are so many things happening at the poker table that interpretation becomes monumentally difficult. You’ve got to focus on just one player while you’re learning to spot tells. As you get more proficient, you will automatically spot other tells while still focusing mainly on just a single player. It’s magic. You’ll see.

But you’ll never see by trying to grasp every tell at once. I can’t do it, and neither can you. And don’t expect to see what you’re looking for immediately. Observe and be patient. Find an opponent who is likely to exhibit tells. Some aren’t. Eventually, you’ll pick up the opponent’s mannerisms. And what’s really exciting is that most of them will conform to my broad theory of tells — actors pretending to be weak when strong and vice versa.

Don’t expect to see a lot of tells, either. If I can pick up three powerful tells in an hour, I’m very happy. Some of them save me a whole pot. There may be many lesser tells, but these minor ones should be weighted and factored into your fold-call-raise and betting decisions, just like other things — such as the opponent’s wagering habits and deductions you make from betting sequences and faceup cards.

Profitable poker playTell Failure No. 2:

Looking For Tells That Make You Call

If you’re like most players, you have a bias toward calling. You didn’t drive to the casino hoping to throw hands away. This is when a rudimentary knowledge of tells can be dangerous. You need to fight the urge to only look for tells that indicate that you should call, and ignore those that indicate that you should throw your hand away.

The truth is, there are more tells that indicate that you should fold than there are those that indicate that you should call. And those should-fold tells are usually more blatant. They are the ones where opponents act weak — sigh, shrug, use sad voices, look away — and they’re often the most profitable. The problem is that profit is hard to measure directly. After all, each time you act in accordance with these tells, you’ve folded and won nothing stackable. However, you won something theoretically — the money you didn’t lose. And that adds up in a hurry.

Of course, if you only looked for tells that caused you to call, you’d still be ahead of where you’d be if you didn’t use any tells at all, right? Probably not. That’s because players tend to manufacture let-me-call tells in their minds and put too much emphasis on weak indications. I believe the result of this is that many players end up using tells as a justification for playing bad hands and making weak calls. Please don’t do that.

Profitable poker playTell Failure No. 3:

Showing Pride in Your Success With Tells

One of the worst things you can do is convey to your opponents how proud you are about having spotted a tell. This makes your foes aware that you’re scrutinizing them. It also makes the player you just profited from aware of the specific tell you spotted. This means that he’s probably going to correct the mannerism and not provide the same tell in the future.

I’ve actually seen supposedly smart professionals say something like, “I knew you were bluffing when …,” and then go on to describe a very profitable tell that could have been used again and again if the pro had let his ego float to the shallow side of the pool and kept his mouth shut.

I even go to the trouble of hesitating when I’m 100 percent certain that I’ve spotted a tell. I then pretend to act indecisively. That way, my opponent is much less likely to realize that he’s broadcast a tell, and I’m much more likely to profit from it many more times.

So, yes, tells are all around you. They’re worth mastering, because they — along with related psychology — can account for most of the additional profit you make in poker once you’ve mastered the fundamentals. But remember the three “tell failures” we’ve discussed today. Otherwise, you might be better off believing that tells, like fairies, really don’t exist.

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June 22, 2010

Professional Poker Play: Are You Lucky?

Mike Caro, professional poker player, coach and authorMost poker players, even logical ones, sometimes feel something has gone wrong with the law of averages. You know about the law of averages, right? Given enough time, the cards even out, and everyone’s luck is the same.

But sometimes it doesn’t seem that way, and even the most scientific gamblers lose faith. Are there other factors controlling our luck? Something beyond the science we know now? Something mysterious and untoward? Who know? Probably not, but I can’t say definitely not. And neither should anyone.

What I do know is that you will make the most money if you play your cards as if the law of averages rules, even if there’s a haunting chance in your mind that it doesn’t. And you should never complain about your bad luck, because… well, because nobody cares about your bad luck. I was able to pull these concepts together in a column I wrote for the September, 1981 issue of Gambling Times magazine. The following is condensed from that long-forgotten column:

How I said it in 1981.

“The worst thing of all is I’m never lucky!” Having so stated, Adam took a huge gulp of hot coffee. It seemed to me that he was deliberately trying to scald his innards. “Damn!” he shouted. “Damn, that’s hot!” And he took another grimacing swallow, just to prove it.

“You wanna hear something really pathetic, M.J.C.?” he continued, using the initials that I’m known by around Gardena. Tears were bulging from his 29-year-old eyes. I guess it was because of the hot coffee, but who knows?

“Wanna hear something really pathetic?” he repeated.

Having just lost three important football bets, I could have handled sad, but not pathetic.

“This’ll just take a minute,” he said. “I’m in this 10 blind lowball game. Everybody passes. Gets around to me. I’m dealing. I look at my hand. What do you think I’ve got?”

“A pat seven?”

“No! A six! A goddamn pat six! Six, five, one, two, three! ” He tried another dramatic pause that didn’t seem very effective.

squirmed beside him, trying to determine my best strategy of escape.

“Did you hear what I said? A six! Pat!”

Obviously he wanted some sort of acknowledgement. ” Wow! Those are hard to get. I suppose you got it beat.” In all my years of hearing lowball stories told by sad losers, I can’t remember ever hearing about a pat six that won!

“You’re damn right I got it cracked! Listen to this, M.J.C. The blind calls. How many do you think he draws?”

“Three.”

“That’s right! Three cards! You heard about it from someone? ”

“No, just guessing.”

“Well, now guess what he made?”
A wheel,” I speculated.

“No! A six-four!” Damn! I thought. I’d started to say six-four.

Just at that instant my true friend Art Sathmary (known professionally as A.S.Q.) appeared.

Adam said, as I started to rise, “Just one more thing. Two hands later I get dealt-”

“Hi, A.S.Q.!” I greeted. I walked briskly away from Adam, muttering apologetically, “We’re going to be late.”

The Point.

Every experienced gambler hears this sort of thing all the time. The vocabulary of complaint, the language of misery, is universal. If you’re a regular poker player, you can hear echoes of similar tales right now.

Losers like to complain. Losing is a lonely experience. You suffer alone at a poker table. No one else seems aware of your tragedies. After the game, many humans need to share their agony.

Losers exaggerate. That’s because they’re not trying to convey what really happened so much as how bad they feel. You shouldn’t challenge their outrageous claims of misfortune. Merely do your duty as a human being and commiserate.

A woman in A.S.Q.’s game once complained of having missed “17 flush draws in a row!”

“What are you talking about?” he corrected. “You just made one against me five minutes ago.”

“Not in diamonds!” she raged.

Exclusive.

Finally, after years and years of struggling to decipher what the world of poker complainers means by these bizarre assertions, I’m ready to announce my findings to the public. What follows is a sample of typical claims you’re apt to hear from gamblers, and the truth.

Statement #1: “I can’t believe it! I got 14 full houses beat in three hours playing draw poker! ” The truth: The speaker lost on one full house and on two flushes. Furthermore, he drew to two pair, sevens and fours, caught a seven and would hare had he caught a four, since the opener had sixes full. He’s counting this as a loss, anyway, since he didn’t hold three-of-a-kind in nearly an hour.

Statement #2: “I went to Vegas over the weekend. Must’ve played 21 for fifteen hours and never got a single blackjack!” The truth: This person got about 40 blackjacks, perhaps less than his mathematical share. However, he only remembers 10 of them clearly, and these are hardly worth mentioning since he dumped $2000 playing keno.

Statement #3: “I would’ve hit the daily double. I had it figured cold, but I got tied up at the office.” The truth: The guy’s second choice won the first half of the double. The horse that won the other race was a complete surprise. But now, looking back at the Racing Form, he can positively see why he might have picked it.

You see? It’s human nature to feel you’re running bad, even when you’re not. In the past, I showed that the fluctuations for a gambler can be a lot greater than most informed people suppose. There’s a lot of luck involved in games like gin rummy, poker and backgammon. That’s why it’s important to get as big an edge as possible.

Taboo.

There’s one subject that no self-respecting gambling authority will discuss. It’s the supernatural. Sure, it’s easy to say that we have all the answers.

There are two main types of people who are screwing up my world: those who claim to have discovered secret psychic answers; and those who blindly proclaim there can be no reality beyond that which they can fathom.

Both these groups, the fortune tellers and the tunnel-vision scientists, are suffering from the same insanity. They both need answers. The former makes them up; the latter shouts that luck is understood by equation.

Nothing is more important to a gambler than whether unexplored phenomena might be influencing his luck. Although I can’t prove to you conclusively that such forces don’t exist, here is my advice. Get a good grasp of probabilities and gamble accordingly. Maybe there are undiscovered forces that guide our luck. But our best shot of winning the money right now is to deal with concepts we comprehend.

If you mistakenly expect to get a pat full house every hour, you’re apt to feel miserable and cheated by fate. Your game will suffer. When you run bad, keep your luck secret. Getting sympathy from a fellow poker player is practically impossible.

This appropriate exchange of words happened two years ago in Reno. An elderly man slithered up to my friend and asked to borrow $20. “I lost my ass!” he explained.

My friend slapped him softly on the shoulders, whispered, “I hope you find it,” and walked away.

 

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June 17, 2010

Poker: Old And Profitable Wisdom About Bluffing

Filed under: Doyle Brunson,General Blog Rant,Mike Caro,pro tips — Mike @ 8:51 pm

Mike Caro professional poker player and coachAll around us, everywhere in poker, survives those ancient adages. Like what? Well, like: “Don’t count your chips while you’re sitting at the table.” That one even made its way into Kenny Rogers’ song, The Gambler.

“You gotta know when to hold ’em; you gotta know when to fold ’em.” Same song. Frankly, Kenny, we need to talk about this. As an advocate of poker integrity, I sometimes worry about foes who know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em. But, hey, I understand what you meant, brother.

Getting back to not counting your chips – Let’s all chant this out loud together: “Don’t count your chips while you’re sitting at the table.” And all you head football coaches out there, go paste that message on your refrigerator where you won’t forget. Put it right beside the one for that says, “Never check the scoreboard until after fourth quarter.”

THE POKER SCOREBOARD.

What? Oh, you think it makes sense to check that football scoreboard? Me too. And I think it makes sense to count your chips at the table. It gives me an idea whether I’m winning or losing. Besides, if you don’t count your chips at the table, you might not get to count ’em at all “when the dealing’s done” – if you know what I mean, guy.

Sometimes, I adjust my strategy according to my chip count. If I’m winning more than two buy-ins, I figure players are intimidated and will fall victim to marginally aggressive bets and raises. The more I’m losing, the more likely I am to be restrictive in my hand selection. That’s because then opponents are not intimidated, but, rather, inspired; and they will tend to play better and less predictably against me. When that happens, I often cancel those borderline bets that win money when I have my opponents under my spell.

The more I’m losing, the fewer borderline plays I make. The more I’m winning, the more borderline plays I make. So, yeah, I count my chips. But this gets worse, Kenny. I often count everyone else’s chips while they’re sitting at the table. It’s a hard habit to break, but I’m trying. Keep singing.

WHOM CAN YOU BLUFF?

There’s another poker adage I know you’ve heard: “You can’t bluff a bluffer.” Familiar,right? And folks will argue about this one. Some think it makes sense, and some think you really can bluff a bluffer. Those who think it makes sense contend that bluffers believe others act the same way they do, so every bet is suspect. Those who think it doesn’t make sense contend that frequent bluffers are easy victims of bluffs, because they envision that their opponents are more timid than they actually are. Bluffers think opponents are afraid to call and afraid to bluff. This attitude makes them less likely to call, according to the argument.

What’s the truth here? Well, the truth is monumental – as is every truth I share with you, the way I see it. And this truth is doubly monumental. If you haven’t been abiding by what I’m about to tell you, you’re bankroll is about to bulge.

If you’re a break-even player now, and you haven’t been applying what follows, then… poof! … you’re suddenly a winner. If you were a marginal winner who hasn’t been applying my advice, then… poof! … you’re a big winner now. If you’re a small loser who hasn’t been abiding by the following advice, then… poof! … I just made you a winner. If you’re a huge loser who hasn’t been using the advice that follows, then… poof! … get a job.

THE SECRET TO HANDLING BLUFFERS.

OK, we’re ready. The adage is right. You usually should not bluff a bluffer. How come? Listen, here’s how come: Let’s say it’s just you and your opponent on the final bet. You have a very weak hand that will almost surely lose in a showdown; and you have no clear idea what the opponent is holding. He goes first; he checks.

This is the time, right now, that you must ask yourself one of the most profitable questions in poker: Is my opponent a frequent bluffer? Ask, because if he is, my friends, you must abandon all thoughts of bluffing. Here’s why.

Just to make it simple, we’ll say there were 10 possible hands your opponent could hold. Of these 10, two are very strong, which he would have bet, and three are very weak, which he would have bluffed with. Assuming, for the simplicity of this example, that he would never check-raise or bet the marginal hands, we can see that he would bet with legitimate strength twice, but would bluff three times. The other five times he would check.

It’s easy to see that, faced with a bet, you should always call with any hand strong enough to beat a bluff, because for every five bets, three of them – on average – your opponent will be bluffing. Fine. But in this case, your opponent didn’t bet; and you don’t hold a hand strong enough to guarantee a win against a bluff.

So, the question is, after your opponent checks, should you try to win the pot by bluffing. Using the same example, the answer is no, oh, no. You must never try to bluff. Because this opponent always bluffs, given the opportunity, all that remains after his check are hands he’ll feel comfortable calling with. Don’t make the mistake of thinking there are still 10 hands he could hold, two great, three terrible, and five in-between. You should figure that once the player checks, he holds a reasonably strong hand. If he’s like most frequent bluffers, having abandoned his opportunity to bluff, he now intends to call. That means, if you bluff, you WILL lose. This type of player cannot be holding a worse hand, simply because he would have bluffed with it. In this extreme example, you will get called and you will lose every time you try to bluff.

The strange thing is, this “extreme” example isn’t very extreme. This is precisely what happens in real life, in real games, against real opponents. Opponents who bluff too much should generally not be bet into after they check. Just check along and limit your loss.

EVERSING THE POSITIONS.

But what if you’re first to act, instead of last? It turns out that you usually should still be reluctant to bet into a frequent bluffer for a very simple reason. This player bluffs too often. That’s his weakness. This means when he bets into you, you will usually call. If you had a strong enough hand, you would check and call if he bet, allowing him to destroy himself with too much bluffing.

But you don’t have a strong enough hand. You have a hopeless hand, and you’re first to act. My advice? Check. Just give up on the pot, unless you think your opponent is unusually likely to throw away his hand right now.

But what can you possibly gain by checking? You’ll lose the pot, sure. But you might accomplish something that is quite valuable to your long-range success. You might let his bluff succeed! Think about it. We’re talking about you holding a totally hopeless hand here, one that can’t win in a showdown. Let’s say that you figure it’s borderline at best whether a bluff is worthwhile. Given that definition, a bluff theoretically is worth nothing to you in the long-run (you’ll win a few times, you’ll lose many times, and overall you’ll show no profit).

Well, if you gain nothing long-term by bluffing, then wouldn’t you prefer a tactic that gains something? Good choice. This is where you can take advantage of your opponent and pad your purse or your wallet. Since you know he bluffs too often, you’re going to be calling him every chance you get with reasonable hands. That means he might wise up and stop over-bluffing. You don’t want that to happen. So, the best way to condition him to continue his bad habit is to reward him. We can do this for free, simply by checking and letting him have the pot. Why for free? It’s because we already estimated that bluffing would not be profitable and was break-even at best.

“Don’t bluff a bluffer” is excellent advice, but not for the reasons usually stated. Good-bye.
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April 8, 2010

Mike Caro on Successful Poker Tournament Strategy

Filed under: General Blog Rant,Mike Caro,Poker Tournaments,pro tips — Mike @ 5:02 am

Mike Caro poker tipsWhom to attack in tournaments…

The most common types of poker tournaments are the “proportional payoff” variety. That’s where, as players are eliminated, tables are consolidated until the survivors meet at a final table and first place wins all the chips. But first place doesn’t get to keep all the money, so there’s — in effect — a penalty for winning. This means survival is worth more than using many sophisticated tactics that would earn extra profit in non-tournament games. So, you should avoid high-risk, seemingly profitable finesses and play more conservatively in order to survive and win more of the prize pool. Fine.

But, correct strategy for these tournaments also requires that you attack mostly players with fewer chips than you have. This provides two advantages:

(1) You can’t be eliminated by those players, so you’ll survive even if you lose the pot;
(2) If you win the pot, you’ll eliminate the short-stacked opponent and automatically move up in the money.
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March 4, 2010

The Difference Between Aces And Kings In Texas Holdem Poker

Filed under: Doyle Brunson,Mike Caro,pro tips — Mike @ 10:15 pm

Free Poker tips and adviceIn hold ’em, you hear a lot of talk about aces and kings being the ultimate hands. That’s true, but don’t be too quick to put them in the same category, as many players do. A pair of aces before the flop logically belongs in a category all to itself.

Here’s how often each hand wins against nine opponents holding random hands when everyone stays to the river…

A-A = 31% (21 percentage points higher than a fair share)

K-K = 26% (16 percentage points higher than a fair share)

What really makes the difference is that, when you consider actual betting strategy, A-A is much more likely to gain extra bets and to stay out of trouble. For this reason, in the hands of a professional, A-A can be almost twice as profitable as K-K overall in a full-handed game. That’s something to keep in mind.

Mike Caro

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February 16, 2010

Texas Holdem Poker: Four Suited Cards On The Board

Filed under: Doyle Brunson,Mike Caro,pro tips — Mike @ 5:33 am

Play poker online You should, of course, exercise caution when there are four cards of one suit on the board and you don’t have a flush. But sometimes you should bet right into that board without a flush.

The best time to bet is when you have two pair, three-of-a-kind, or a straight against a lone sophisticated player who has checked into you. If there were raises before the flop and parts of the four-flush on the board are high cards, especially an ace, figure it’s more likely that your opponent does NOT have a flush.

He is more apt than usual to hold high cards, and those high cards are likely to MATCH the suited cards on the board. There are fewer likely ranks that will provide your opponent with a flush, and it’s more likely than usual that he has a pair. So, sometimes bet two pair. Not only can this be a profitable decision, the play will enhance your image.

Mike Caro

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