Heard that one before? That’s Mike Caro’s self-described “most famous quote.” Caro appeared recently on Poker Psychology with Dr. Alan Schoonmaker over on Hold ’em Radio (the 10/24/07 episode). Schoonmaker started his podcast back in April of this year and consistently provides interesting guests and thoughtful interviews.
The episode featuring Caro was no exception. Great stuff throughout. (Incidentally, I only recently figured out how to subscribe to the feeds for Hold ’em Radio shows in my Juice player. I had been downloading them manually before. Here’s the page where you can find all of the feeds.)
Caro explains that quote along with several other concepts during the course of his appearance on Poker Psychology. Like a lot of you, I’m most familiar with him via Caro’s Book of Poker Tells. I’ve also spent some time now and then perusing some of the Mike Caro University of Poker, Gambling, and Life Strategy website from time to time. Can’t remember if I’d ever heard him interviewed before or not. Unsurprisingly (for those of us who have read him), Caro is a great speaker whose smooth, professorial delivery and sound way of thinking through his various ideas make us soon realize the “Mad Genius of Poker” is probably about the sanest person alive.
There are plenty of other places where one can find Caro expounding on his idea that we all start out this life with the notion that “everything is even money.” On the MCU site, he credits himself as having first uttered his “mantra” back in 1982. It’s the first of his “43 Exclusive Super/System 2 Tips from Mike Caro University” (in Super/System 2). You can also read a full explanation of the idea in this Gambling Times article from 2001.
In a nutshell, Caro is emphasizing that the most important skill one can develop in poker -- or in any other context -- is to learn how to estimate one’s chances for success or failure in any given situation. The quote particularly refers back to that moment when one lacks enough information to make such calculations, a time when -- according Caro -- all decisions appear to the untutored as coin flips. As he explains in Super/System 2, “If you don’t know how to estimate chances or you don’t have any information at all about a situation, then that event appears to be an even money situation.”
By way of further explanation, Caro describes scenarios illustrating the value of experiential learning. For example, on the Schoonmaker show, Caro talks about how one learns that when crossing a busy freeway, the chances are not 50-50 that one will avoid getting run over. Thankfully (for most of us), we don’t actually have to run out into the freeway to figure this out. We’re able by other means -- observation, an ability to think abstractly, study of analogous situations -- to calculate our odds of surviving such a freeway dash, and thus more than likely avoid making the attempt. We figure out, explains Caro, that “not everything is 50-50 . . . and your mission in life -- and your mission in poker -- is to defeat [or get beyond simply assuming] the concept that something is even money, unless it turns out, by coincidence, to be exactly even money.”
Been brooding over this idea for the last few days since I heard Caro bring it up again on Schoonmaker’s show. My instinctive response is to appreciate the lyrical, aphoristic quality of the saying. As I think about it further, though, I find myself wanting to qualify Caro’s observation in a couple of ways.
First of all, the point here isn’t really “in the beginning, everything was even money,” but rather that in the beginning, everything appears to be even money. Less pretty as a proverb, I know, but that is essentially the point.
Secondly, I wonder if this observation really holds in the same way for all of us. Do we all really begin this life with the notion that everything is a coin flip, having to determine, eventually, that our assumptions are in most cases inaccurate? I’m not going to try to ascend to the heights of the philosophers and posit any profundities about how children learn here. Instead let’s just take the more humble example of the novice limit Hold ’em player who in his very first hand ever played gets dealt A9-offsuit in the big blind. Does he think he’s even money to win the hand? When the flop comes seven-high, does he still think he’s even money? When an ace peels off on the turn, does he still think he’s even money?
Perhaps we might say the learning happens more quickly than we realize and just by sitting down and absorbing how others are responding to the board our novice player is rapidly moving away from the “even money” fallacy. Something tells me, though, that a lot of new players aren’t beginning with the idea that their odds are 50-50.
Rather -- and I’m speaking from my own experience and from observing others here -- I’d say more often than not the novice thinks his chances are much better than 50-50. In other words, in the beginning, everything (appears to be) better than even money, and it is only after a dozen or a hundred or a thousand times of realizing your flush is going to come on the river only a fifth of the time that you start to understand differently.
Then again, I could be wrong. Let your experience and learning determine whether or not I am.
Labels: *shots in the dark