Inside the Tour, Vol. 90: Mike Caro, Mad Genius
I should mention a few "institutions" of the game of poker, as this review is not complete without it. First up is Mike Caro. If you are ever going to have a roast, or have your career scrutinized, how can one do better than having the clown prince of poker as the keynote speaker? Let me be clear here, he is the best of the best when it comes to entertainment in poker — and he makes many important points about poker along the way. So should you read him? Resoundingly, yes. Should you get your poker advice from him? Resoundingly, no.
There is always some reasoning and explanation behind his presentations, reasons that are often the results of computer printouts, but should one apply such reasons to your play? I say no and can give many examples of this, and likely will in a future column.
For now let's travel back — to the late eighties I believe — where Mike, in a written report that I foolishly paid to receive, advised one to never raise before the flop in hold'em games! First, my prejudice against "always" doing anything surfaced here. Second, I found this advice laughable and a directive to quit accepting advice about a game that was clearly not understood by the author. Third, the reasoning given for this move was that by raising you put a lot more money into the pot and thereby make it correct for a bunch of chasers to go for runner-runner or a gutshot or other weak draws (this from an era that was dominated by limit games). Now I believe you should be aware of this consequence, especially in an "action" game (this is the good aspect of reading Mike's views), but to make that the only thing you focus on is silly as well as wrong, and is typical GIGO in computer-speak (Garbage In, Garbage Out).
In the original Super/System Doyle Brunson talks about an early impression of Caro playing nothing and then spreading five cards with a cackle when called on the river of a draw game. Therefore the standing question regarding Caro, madman or genius? The correct answer is both, hence his nickname, "Mad Genius of Poker." My first encounter with Mike was similar. At the World Series of Poker in a satellite to an Omaha game, at Binion's downtown Las Vegas about 16 years ago, he was raising in the dark (clearly without looking at his hand, which was left as delivered, face-down in front of him) every hand, thereby throwing a wrench into the proceedings for the rest of us! We were trying to play poker, but how could we now? Exactly his point, I am sure, although if one has enough money to play this way why show your skill off in any game of poker? Bill Gates plays $3-6 hold'em in Las Vegas from time to time. That is three-dollar/six-dollar hold'em!
A few years later I played next to Mike in an event in Los Angeles and offered him the story of a shark that would eat his own tail to use in one of his illustrations—now as far as I know he never did, even though such an animal does exist, and an article about this "fish" had just come out. I mean many animals chase their tails, without ever catching up to them, but only this shark (as far as I know) actually catches and bites it own tail(fin).
Another thing that Mike Caro offered the playing community was his The Book of Tells, which was true genius in offering real psychological observation at the time. It is still essential reading for any professional player, and yet in trying to review it I was full of qualifiers and adjustments to current realities.
Let me flesh that comment out a bit. Tells, and books that have followed, are important information, but not to be relied on when playing against top players. When one is faced with amateurs you can often save a bet or two in limited games, or make a key check behind the blatant tell in a big-bet game, but when playing against top players you have to decide what the tell really means. The other player (and this includes most tough amateurs) have likely read a book which gives the same information, and may change behavior accordingly. Is he acting weak because he is weak? Or does he want you to think he is weak? Or is he weak, but thinks you will think he is strong because he is acting weak and won't believe him? One can go as deep into this as you wish to, to decipher the situation and take action after making your determination. Back to reacting to the amateur, do you think that knowing how the amateur is acting is material to beating him? If so, your game likely needs an overhaul.
So while this was important information until everyone had it, how important is it now? Also, it should be pointed out that when playing draw games, which usually had only two rounds of betting, it was very important to determine your opponent's strength as it was often one fourth or so of each pot and your subsequent decision was critical — but in limit hold'em it is often one fifteenth of the pot or even one fortieth of the pot, so how important is it to be right one time out of ten? You might have had negative EV (expected value) in a draw game, but easily have positive EV in a hold'em game with the same play.
A friend of mine was a low-limit hold'em player and discovered that he had skills that magnified his edges in lowball, a draw game played with two rounds of betting. First, the game can be more easily analyzed by computer. Second, he could remember not only what exact hand that a person held in any given situation (a feat of mnemonic proportions), including their state of mind — or more accurately, their state of emotion. Third, he picked up tells on others very quickly — which in a game where you have short odds on your call is essential.
There is a YouTube video showing a monkey falling out of a tree after he smells his own rear end. This is also a useful image and applies itself to many a poker player. Once you see this, the image of it happening will likely stick with you for many years!
Until next time play good… and get lucky!