Poker book review: Caro’s Secrets of Winning Poker

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By Christopher Cosenza

Mike Caro would agree his personality is as split as Omaha/8 or better. He admits in the original Super System he’s a regular “Jeykll and Hyde.” His unorthodox mannerisms at the table are as calculated and precise as the thousands of statistics and odds tables he’s manually compiled through the years.

And his writing style is no different.

Caro’s latest effort, Caro’s Secrets of Winning Poker, is essentially the fourth edition of Caro’s Fundamental Secrets of Poker (1991), but with some additions to include the hold’em craze, among other things: “I’ve decided to yield to the voice of the players and acknowledge that hold’em is the hottest poker game going right now,” writes the draw poker savant on page 112. He then offers significant advice on the game. But the Mad Genius of Poker (a nickname he gave himself decades ago for obvious reasons) resurfaces with some of the most entertaining analogies pen has ever put to paper, comparing preflop play to trying to pick up a woman at a party.

“There’s a woman standing a few feet away that you crave. Let me define the word ‘crave’ in the present context. Crave means you want to lure her to your apartment and have sex. That’s what crave usually means, right?”

Only Mike Caro could use this comparison in a poker book and not only get away with it, but use it so perfectly that it eventually hammers home the axiom beautifully. Essentially he says there are many different ways to try get her to talk to you and follow you back to your place. He says it’s the same with poker. When you have pocket aces, you want to choose a path that will work best for your current situation and get your opponent to do exactly what you want to succeed. Brilliant stuff.

There are times in the book, like most poker publications, where you might find yourself skimming, either because the content is repetitious (something he intentionally does to enforce his important points) or too basic (he readily admits he hated putting in the chapter that explained the rules of each game). You easily could breeze through this book on a flight to Vegas or one lazy afternoon at home. But it’s full of concepts and life lessons that should be revisited over and over again. Caro uses “blackboards” throughout the book to highlight the important theories he’s compiled through years as a leading poker writer and instructor (Mike Caro University of Poker is his baby), and these blackboards make it easy to grasp the essential theme of the section.

He also can raise an eyebrow or two when his theories fly in the face of conventional poker instruction. “One of the most consistent misconceptions about poker is that you should quit when you lose more than a preconceived amount of money. Poker doesn’t work well with that philosophy.” What does he mean? You’ll have to read the book. And he doesn’t stop there, insisting that limping in hold’em generally is the way to go rather than raising from early position because most of the time you’ll be disappointed with the flop. He makes a compelling argument for a strategy that goes against just about every poker book ever written.

Though Caro’s legacy will be as the best draw poker player in history and the author of the Book of Poker Tells, he only dedicates one brief chapter (to be fair, most chapters are short in this book) to each of these strengths. After all, it is a book about winning poker, not tells or draw. Later on he lists15 tips he believes are “worth at least $2,500 a year to any middle-limit serious competitor who plays poker several times a week.” If he’s right, then the paltry $14.95 you need to shell out for Secrets is a mere drop in the bankroll bucket.

Here’s a gem from the tips list, and he calls it Caro’s First Law of Poker Conduct: “If they’re helpless and can’t defend themselves, you’re in the right game.” And it’s this kind of wisdom — not numbers and probabilities — that flourishes in the Cardoza Publishing product. Other chapters include bankroll management, general winning advice and strategies for stud games and tournaments.

Though he likes to profess that winning poker is all about skill, he wraps up the book with an affirmation he uses at the end of all of his seminars. He makes his students say it three times.

“I am a lucky player. A powerful winning force surrounds me.”

If you believe it, then others will believe you’re lucky, too, and they’ll be intimidated and play poorly while you remain confident. It may seem to contradict Caro’s theories that are rooted in hard evidence and research, but then again, would you expect anything less from the Mad Genius?