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Thursday
Oct232008

6) Study the Details of the Enemy

Carefully study the details of the enemy so you can glean his future moves. On this point, Sun Tzu’s advice in war is not so different from Mike Caro’s advice in the game of poker.

Mike Caro, “the Mad Genius of Poker,” is a poker teacher, a poker writer, and one of the best poker players in the world. He uses computer analysis, but he is also famous for his work on the psychology and philosophy of gambling. Let’s compare advice from Caro’s Book of Poker Tells to Sun Tzu’s Art of War.

Weak Means Strong, Strong Means Weak

When the enemy is close at hand and remains quiet, he is relying on the natural strength of his position. When he keeps aloof and tries to provoke a battle, he is anxious for the other side to advance. If his place of encampment is easy of access, he is tendering a bait.
—Sun Tzu
In a poker game, the urge to act strong when weak can be overpowering for most players. Its reverse—weak when strong . . . is also widespread.
—Mike Caro
When players go out of their way to act weak, it’s because they hold strong hands.
—Mike Caro

Sudden Action

The sudden rising of birds in their flight is the sign of an ambush at the spot below. Startled beasts indicate that a sudden attack is coming.
—Sun Tzu
Always be alert for a player who suddenly perks up and plays a pot. Usually it takes a genuine hand to rouse a player from a lethargic condition and get him interested in gambling.
—Mike Caro

Smoke Rising

When there is dust rising in a high column, it is the sign of chariots advancing; when the dust is low, and spread over a wide area, it betokens the approach of infantry. When it branches out in different directions, it shows that parties have been sent to collect firewood. A few clouds of dust moving to and fro signify that the army is encamping.
—Sun Tzu
Players who are bluffing and are therefore afraid will be reluctant to exhale their cigarette smoke in a conspicuous manner. Remember, bluffers try to do nothing to bring attention to themselves and promote a call. Most bluffers would like to be invisible if they could. When a player exhales a huge cloud of smoke, he’s not as likely to be afraid of your call.
—Mike Caro

Clues from Appearances

When the soldiers stand leaning on their spears, they are faint from want of food. If those who are sent to draw water begin by themselves drinking, the army is suffering from thirst. If the enemy sees an advantage to be gained and makes no effort to secure it, the soldiers are exhausted.
—Sun Tzu
Well-dressed people tend to play conservatively. However, a man wearing a rumpled business suit with a loosened tie is probably in a gambling mood and will play looser than he would if that same suit were recently donned and his tie were in perfect position.
—Mike Caro

Order and Disorder

Clamor by night betokens nervousness. Fear makes men restless, so they fall to shouting at night in order to keep up their courage. If there is disturbance in the camp, the general’s authority is weak. If the banners and flags are shifted about, sedition is afoot. If the officers are angry, it means the men are weary.
—Sun Tzu
Glimpses of an opponent’s true nature can often be gained by watching the way he stacks his chips. The very organized manner in which these chips are arranged suggests that this player will probably choose his hands carefully, seldom bluff and won’t display a lot of gamble. Of course his mood may change during the game, but in that case his stacks will probably become less neatly arranged. Notice that there are a few extra chips on top of his large stacks. This could be his profit.
—Mike Caro

Reckless Opponents

When an army feeds its horses with grain and kills its cattle for food, and when the men do not hang their cooking pots over the campfires, showing that they will not return to their tents, you may know that they are determined to fight to the death.
—Sun Tzu
“Certainly, players displaying good-luck charms or showing superstitious behavior tend to be more liberal with their poker dollars than average players.
—Mike Caro

Remember: Weak Means Strong, Strong Means Weak

Humble words and increased preparations are signs that the enemy is about to advance. Violent language and driving forward as if to the attack are signs that he will retreat. When the light chariots come out first and take up a position on the wings, it is a sign that the enemy is forming for battle. Peace proposals unaccompanied by a sworn covenant indicate a plot. When there is much running about and the soldiers fall into rank, it means that the critical moment has come. When some are seen advancing and some retreating, it is a lure.
—Sun Tzu
When players encourage your bet, it’s because they think they have a winning hand . . . . The most common visual methods opponents use to make your bet appear safe are: (1) Looking away as if uninterested; (2) Pretending to pass; and (3) Keeping their hands off their chips.
—Mike Caro