Q&A with “The Mad Genius of Poker” Mike Caro

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How did you become known as the Mad Genius of Poker?

You know getting my name there’s a story that goes with it, and I can lay it at Doyle Brunson’s doorstep. In about 1977 he decided to do Super System and he decided I was one of the five people who were the best in the world at their specific games, mine was draw poker, and also statistics, I did the statistics section. … When it got to him doing the bio of me in that book he decided that I was Crazy Mike, and I hated the term Crazy Mike. At this one game I was playing, draw poker in the Gardena at the time, a few people had said “he’s a mad genius,” so the next time I was interviewed by the press they asked if I had any nicknames and I said “Sure, I’m called the Mad Genius of Poker!” It got in print and I was able to reference it from then on. Everybody just picked it up. It’s just amazing what you can do if you can get something in print just once. It becomes gospel.

Has poker going mainstream hurt the anonymity for you and the tactics that you’d use because a lot of people will recognize you now?

I think it has in some regard because people are expecting this act. And yet, it’s like a show, and you kinda suspend disbelief. … and it has a little bit of that element. I found that in spite of the fact that they seem to know it’s an act, they are expecting it, and a segment of my opponents seem to get caught up in it. … There’s nothing more terrifying than somebody comes into your game and burns a hundred-dollar bill at the table, because now you gotta think twice. You just can’t get it out of your head. Here you’re up against an opponent who’s burning a hundred-dollar bill. In the (stakes) I play, a hundred dollars in those games is not much. People who say you can advertise and to do it creatively. They’re planning tactics at the table on single plays that might cost them $400-$800. I can get more benefit out of burning a hundred-dollar bill.

How do you not have a WSOP bracelet?

In a nutshell here’s the deal with me and tournaments: When you have a proportional-payoff tournament where first place gets a certain percentage of the money, second place gets a lesser percentage of the prize pool and so on down the line, a phenomenal mathematical thing happens: There’s a penalty. Who gets penalized? One person gets penalized and that’s the winner of the tournament. … because he has to win all of the chips and then give most of them away to players he’s already conquered. That’s a penalty. … So, what’s the object now? This will blow your mind, but if I were to define these proportional-payout tournaments, the object is to avoid taking first place. Now what kind of tournament is that? … If you want to play for the profit then you play not to win first place, and hope to stumble into it. If you want to play for the glory, which is the only reason I would ever enter a tournament, by the way, then you want to play to win first place. As long as they have these proportional-payoff tournaments, I don’t like them, so I won’t play very many. … So to answer your question, I just don’t play them.

Because of TV and endorsements that come with tournaments, is there not something to be said for the people who play these tournaments for more than just how the math works out?

Yeah, there’s a benefit of publicity and it translates into real money. … but right now, I’m fishing. (laughs)

Are there any plans to update your Book of Poker Tells?

Yes, it will be updated, probably this year sometime. … I’m doing a professional poker play-by-play series, it’ll have hold’em, and it will actually go through play by play, and other forms of poker. The series also has one I’m planning called Tells, Psychology and Manipulation and it covers the entire psychological gamut of poker. That’ll probably be coming out (in 2009).

Do you ever get tired of writing, and where do you come up with these topics that no one else is coming up with?

When I passed a thousand columns I covered everything I have to do … so most of the ideas I want to talk about have already been covered. So I needed a tactic that would handle that. The way to do that is to cover the same topics, kinda dress it up with some kind of leading paragraph that says “It just occurred to me today that …” I figured out that six years after saying that, or 16 years, or 26 years, you can come back and get excited about it all over again and it will be new.

What is the “Final Winning Affirmation” and what’s the story behind it?

As I end every seminar, of course I’m not a superstitious guy and I teach my students not to be superstitious because that’s counterproductive. … and I’m not a real fan of affirmations either. … We end with an affirmation that sounds a lit bit new-agey and I say it once and the whole audience says it three times together, loudly hopefully, and it is “I am a lucky player. A powerful winning force surrounds me.” … What’s the powerful winning force? It’s the power of probability, it’s working on your side because you have the scientific answers. So that’s our final affirmation. Of course there was one seminar where a person left and came back and said “There was a powerful winning force that surrounds me, it was on my right and on my left.” (laughs) So it doesn’t always go the way you want.