While Mike Caro’s intellect and
insights into the psychology and body language of poker are undoubtedly “genius”, there is very little about his study of the art
and science of “poker tells” that could ever be considered “mad”. It is Caro’s profound approach and unconventional style, rather,
which earned him the moniker of “the Mad Genius of Poker”. In addition to being a world-class player, Mike’s real claim to fame is
his research and teaching seminars that helped revolutionize the human aspect of poker.
Any reader who feels they have “mastered” the technical aspects of poker (if such can really be accomplished) still has a lot to
gain by adding a new ingredient to his methodology: Psychology. “Caro’s Book of Poker Tells” (CBPT) demonstrates in convincing fashion
that knowing the basic elements of poker psychology (the ability to read your opponents and get inside their heads) will undoubtedly
help players make (or save) a great deal of money in their careers. Learning the motives behind an opponent’s actions and mannerisms
can greatly influence one’s profits over time, and that is what CBPT is all about.
CBPT begins with introductory explanations of its subject matter; the terminology used, Caro’s “MCU Poker Charts” (his vision for
a universally accepted method of presenting poker hands in written form), and introduces "Caro's Law of Loose Wiring". All
this introductory material is a good foundation to better understand where Mike is taking his readers, and helps lay the groundwork
for the “meat” of the text in the following four sections of the book.
Mike starts his “down-to-business” discussion with a chapter (and many subsections) on “Tells from Those who are Unaware”. These are
tells coming from players who are innocently giving away valuable information, but are not intentionally trying to fool anyone.
The next major chapter, “Tells from Actors”, deals with the players who are indeed trying to deceive their opponents. This is where the
“strong is weak”, and “weak is strong” ideas are driven home in numerous variations. Caro is at his most fun in this area, where he
often giddily teaches his readers how to disappoint those giving off feigned intentions. The final two chapters are somewhat cursory
relative to the above mentioned, and deal with “General Tells” and the “Sounds of Tells”. While brief, they are informative and worthwhile
discussions that round out the subject of tells.
Throughout all the chapters, each individual “tell” is highlighted separately as a sub-section with photographs, explanations of what
the tell is intended to accomplish (or what benefit is to be gained from recognizing it), and the motivation behind it. Caro also includes
two other “measures” for each tell: a gauge of the tell’s “reliability” and an estimate of its monetary “value per hour” to players at
different levels (stakes). Mike admits that the “reliability” percentages and “value per hour” estimates are his personal judgements
and are therefore very subjective inclusions that many readers will find of little interest. Their only real value is perhaps relative
to (or in relationship to) other tells (in combination), but trying to make concrete sense of these numbers in any absolute form seems
inconsistent with the “human” approach to the text, and outside the scope of Caro’s main intentions. Skipping over these two “indicators”
altogether will not be detrimental to the reader’s understanding of each topic, and in fact might keep things clearer and more streamlined.
On the downside, the book is in dire need of a facelift. The photographs used to demonstrate players’ movements, expressions, etc. are
sorely lacking in clarity and many are simply too small. Many times, Caro will explain in the text something like - “Here we see in photo
#74 that the player in the foreground is holding a pair of Jacks with an eight kicker”. However, the best that can be made out in the
photos (without a magnifying glass) is barely a distinction between fuzzy paint cards and dots representing any other rank. If any further
reprints of this book take place in the future, it can only be hoped that the publisher will wake up and smell the digital age. An updated
“reshoot” would be much welcomed in any new edition. Luckily, the written explanations suffice to bring home the points being made in most
cases even without the visual aid. In addition to being disappointed by the quality of the photographs, the reader may feel he is in a
“time warp” back to Studio 54 due to the outdated clothing and hairstyles of the actors in each. They just aren’t “groovy” anymore.
There is another “sore thumb” throughout the book that prevents it from feeling as contemporary a work as its timeless subject matter
deserves. That is, far too many of CBPT’s examples use five-card draw poker to demonstrate the lessons being shown. While some online
sites have introduced this “home favorite” into their offerings of games, any reader will be hard pressed to find a casino spreading a
live 5-card draw poker game these days. And since the book deals with visual (live) tells, the use of this casino-extinct poker variation
seems very dated and inappropriate. The photos of players leaning back in their chairs, holding their cards up to their chest seems more
like a scene in an old west nickelodeon than one belonging in a book preaching to today’s
Texas Hold’em crowd. Again, while the points
are still made, the overuse of draw poker may contribute to a feeling of “uselessness” by some readers.
Despite these minor glitches and the mere age of this work (over 20 years), it must still be considered a major contribution to the
poker libraries of the world, and a timeless classic. Obviously, it will benefit the live player only, as it was written before online
poker even existed. However, its teachings are unique and cover an aspect of the game that will take players to another level of understanding
about how much the human side of the game can influence one’s results and profits. There is no question that Mike Caro is the one who best
teaches and presents this information that others have not been able to improve upon.
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