With the greatest poker movie of all-time – “Rounders” (1998) – recently celebrating the 20th anniversary of its theatrical release, card sharps everywhere are dusting off their old DVDs to watch the classic yet again.

And in that spirit, I’d like you to think about what Matt Damon’s character “Mike McDermott” told the audience in the very first lines spoken in Rounders:

“Listen, here’s the thing…If you can’t spot the sucker in your first half hour at the table, then you ARE the sucker.”(Quote)

And sure, the world of Texas holdem tournaments and cash games has certainly changed, many times over in fact, since Mike McD took on Teddy KGB in a heated heads-up match with several $10,000 stacks of “high society” on the line.

Strategic analysis has been carefully refined by computer assisted “solvers,” or algorithms designed to identify the best possible play given all known variables (hole and board cards, position, pot size, etc.) The world’s best pros seldom step foot in a card room like Mike and Worm’s infamous Chesterfield, preferring to ply their trade on sites like PokerStars instead. And while Mike McD harbored dreams of playing for the $1 million top prize at the World Series of Poker (WSOP), a gold bracelet was awarded in a $1 million buy-in event at the WSOP this summer.

Sufficed to say, poker has certainly been transformed since the Rounders era, but that doesn’t mean Mike McD’s sage advice about suckers should be ignored. If you’re not quite capable of quickly identifying the flaws and holes in your opponents’ game, chances are good you suffer from the very same leaks.

For casual players who enjoy poker as a recreational pastime, one ugly problem can rear its head when trying to figure out how to improve their play – myths and misconceptions. Just like blackjack specialists can fall for the “3rd base decisions decide the outcome” myth, poker players in card rooms and casinos coast to coast often succumb to the same outdated ideas.

And when these myths turn into bad habits that become ingrained in your game, both your bankroll and bottom line can suffer the consequences. Just ask the hero of Rounders himself, as Mike McD infamously fell for the number one myth putting aspiring poker players at risk. You’ll learn all about that fatal fairytale below, as part of a full list of the five poker myths that can hit even the best players where it hurts:


1 – Success in a Short-Term Sample Proves You’re Ready to Go Pro

Before he lit off for Las Vegas looking to conquer the WSOP Main Event, Mike McD was just another part-time player patiently building his bankroll. Rather than risk his hard-earned dough – won slowly but surely in the low- to mid-stakes games throughout New York and Atlantic City – by taking shots at the “big game,” Mike lived up to the film’s title by literally rounding. That all changed, however, during a fateful session of cards at the now defunct Taj Mahal poker room.

You can watch Matt Damon recount the tale for himself in a short scene opposite John Turturro’s consummate grinder “Joey Knish,” but here’s the cliff notes version…

Busy check-raising tourists at the Taj, Mike spots former back to back (’87 and ’88) WSOP Main Event world champion Johnny Chan – better known as “The Master” to mere mortals – stroll into the poker room. Rather than become starstruck like the other locals who quickly surround Chan’s $300/$600 table, Mike takes every dollar he has and “sits short” in the high-stakes game.

The merits of sitting short – or beginning a cash game session without enough chips to cover a few early missteps – will be discussed in greater detail in the fourth entry on this list, but for now let’s focus on what happened next. As Mike later narrates to Knish in the scene above, he mostly folds and plays patiently until deciding to spring a trap on Chan – only the greatest holdem player on the planet at the time.

Knish understandably asks whether Mike was dealt pocket aces or kings, as those monsters should be the only starting hands that merit challenging the champ.

But on that day, Mike was prepared to do battle for his entire bankroll holding nothing but napkins:

“Rags, I had nothing, but he raised and I decided I don’t care about the money, I’m just going to outplay the guy, I’m going to outplay this guy, this hand. I’ll re-raise.He comes back over the top at me trying to bully me like I’m some tourist.

I hesitate for like two seconds, then I reraise. And he makes a move to his checks, and he looks at me, check his cards and looks at me again… And he mucked it. I took it down.

I got up and walked to the cashier. I sat with the best in the world, and I won.”

Mike tells Knish about this audaciously bold bluff to explain why he latter put it all on the line against feared mobster and card game hustler “Teddy KGB.” According to Mike’s reasoning, his experience forcing Chan to fold a single hand – undoubtedly an important hand for Mike himself, but just one of millions in the champ’s career – proves that he is capable to play at the highest levels.

Later on, he’ll apply similar reasoning to justify his choice to make Sin City and the WSOP his new home. Having slayed the dragon by beating Teddy KGB at his own game, Mike believes success in a single session of heads-up Texas holdem makes him worthy of taking on the best pros on the planet. And while the Mike character was a work of fiction, his error in judgment is all too common among poker players. Spend enough time in any card room in the country, and you’ll inevitably see stories like Mike taking his shot play out.

A breakeven player who has called the $1/$3 No Limit games home for years now suddenly hits a major score. For an entire weekend, every draw they chase comes home, every made hand they find holds up, and whenever they put chips into the pot, the pile winds up being pushed their way. When it’s all said and done, these players almost always try to parlay their short-term luck into a higher pay grade. Typically, they’ll jump up to the bigger $2/$5 or $5/$10 tables, mistakenly believing their weekend’s worth of winning was due to skill, rather than random variance.

And invariably, these shot takers find themselves back at the smaller games in short order, having been humiliated and hung out to dry by the superior skill found in bigger games. When you experience a short-term burst of success in poker, by all means, savor those good times while they last. Beating any game is a difficult task in today’s environment, so winning samples – whether over a few sessions, a week, or even a month – definitely warrant celebration.

But at the same time, you must recognize the role played by random variance. To put it simply, the very worst players in the world can still win over the short term, while Johnny Chan himself will experience runs where nothing seems to work. This is because a randomly shuffled deck, combined with any number of interpersonal variables – picture the table drunk calling off his entire stack with 10-high, only to go runner-runner to crack your pocket kings – ensures short-term results will always be unpredictable.

Mike McD should’ve known better, chalking his win over Chan as a mere one-off instead of chasing those “pipe dreams” Knish warned about. Whether you win or lose at an inordinate rate over short samples, it’s always best to stay consistent and focus on the long term. When you can consistently beat a game over extended samples, that’s the time to consider jumping up to higher stakes.

2 – Playing Suited Cards Specifically for Flush Equity is a Savvy Play

Mike McD advised you to spot the sucker at the table, lest you become one yourself. And one of the easiest ways to spot a sucker is when they utter the most common postmortem in all of poker – “but they were suited.” It doesn’t matter if you’re playing a kitchen table game for coins, $1/$3 at the local casino, or a bracelet event at the WSOP… play long enough and you’ll hear all about suited cards. For the typical recreational player – folks who didn’t come to spent entire rounds folding – bad cards bearing the same suit can be quite tempting.

Say you get a hand like J-9 offsuit and the action is raised to you on the button. With a Jack of spades and a 9 of diamonds in the hole, you’ll muck this marginal holding without a second thought. But make it the J-9 of spades, however, and the hand’s “suitedness” seems to be an invitation to see the flop.

As the argument goes, suited hands – and especially those coveted suited connectors like 6-7, 8-9, 9-10, and 10-J – offer more than one way to win the pot. You can find top pair or two pair as per usual, or a straight using the connected values, but a suited hand can also form a flush. This “flush factor” compels many players to turn trash hands into trouble, as they enter the pot in search of three more suits to fill the flush. But when you review the data below – which illustrates various scenarios involving suited cards along with their associated probabilities and odds – it’s easy to see why suited cards aren’t worth the trouble:


Odds of Being Dealt X in holdem

Hand Probability Odds (1 in X hands)
Any Suited Cards 23.52 percent 1 in 4.25
Suited Connectors 3.92 percent 1 in 24.5


Flush Draw Flop Odds

Scenario Probability Odds (1 in X Flops)
Flopping Four to Flush*

*(Holding Two Suited Cards)

12.65 percent 1 in 7.90
Flopping a Flush 0.84 percent 1 in 118
Two Players Flop Flush 0.48 percent 1 in 205


Filling a Flush Draw Odds

Scenario Probability Odds (1 in X )
Completing a Four Flush on Turn 19.15 percent 1 in 4.22
Completing a Four Flush on Turn 19.57 percent 1 in 4.11
Completing a Four Flush by River *

*(Either on turn or river)

34.97 percent 1 in 1.86


That’s right, you’ll get any two suited cards on roughly one-quarter of deals, but they’ll only be connectors every 25 hands or so. And when you get a suited hand, your odds of flopping a picture-perfect flush are terrible at less than 1 percent, or 1 in every 118 hands. More than likely, you’ll flop a “four flush” for a draw, which occurs at a slightly better than 1 in 8 rate.

Once you get this flush draw, you’ll need to pay to hit it in most cases, but that only happens 35 percent of the time. On the other 65 percent of hands, chasing a flush draw because you played suited cards will cost you dearly when it bricks out. Because of these numbers, turning cards like J-9 unsuited into the suited variety only adds 2.5 percent to the hand’s overall equity – which just isn’t worth the additional risk involved in playing inferior holdings.

3 – You Should Always Bet Draw-Heavy Boards to “Protect” Your Hand

This myth owes much of its current prominence to beloved World Poker Tour (WPT) broadcaster Mike Sexton. During his tenure bringing televised poker to the masses, Sexton – a veteran pro before his broadcasting days – applied a bit of old-school thinking whenever a player held a made hand on a draw-heavy board. According to Sexton, when you have something like top-pair / top-kicker on a “wet” board – or one which creates several possible draws – it’s always best to bet, and bet big, to defend your holding.

Sexton warned against “giving your opponent a free card” by checking, and his advice usually consisted of over-betting wet boards to discourage anybody from completing their straights or flushes. But as poker theory has evolved over time, Sexton’s approach has been proven to be woefully outdated. Sure, betting to “charge” your opponent to draw certainly makes sense, but Sexton seems to assume that every wet board should be played based on potential draws. By betting aggressively and often with your made hands on a wet board, you face two common consequences.

First, your opponents who simply hold top pair with a weak kicker, or middle pair, or any hand you have beat at the moment, won’t pay you off when facing an overbet. Betting big here just scares your mark away when you have them right where you want them. Secondly, and most importantly, betting big to protect made hands can cost you significantly in terms of long-term equity. Believe it or not, winning players want their opponents to put money in the pot chasing draws. As you just learned in the proceeding section, those draws don’t hit all that often anyhow, so it’s in your best interest to bet just enough so they call and chase facing incorrect odds.

4 – Buying into a Game on a Short Stack Reduces Your Risk

I alluded to this myth in the first entry when discussing Mike McD’s decision to play $300/$600 Limit holdem – despite having just $6,000 to play with. This concept of sitting short, also known as “short buying,” has become quite popular over the years among the recreational player set. In a typical $1/$3 cash game that you’ll find in any casino card room, the minimum buy-in stands at $100, while the maximum rises to $300. Bump it up to $2/$5 and the limits are adjusted to $200 – $1,000, depending on the house rules.

The actual amounts may be subject to change, but in any cash game you play, there will always be a minimum price point to buy in. And accordingly, there will always be short-sitters who choose to enter the game with their stack set to the minimum. Part of this popularity stems from the strategy’s natural appeal, as players with a leaky bankroll can still get in on the action despite their depleted funds. And as they say, in the great game of Texas holdem, all it takes is one well-timed double up to get yourself off the mat.

But another reason short-buying became the de facto entry point for so many casual players is deceptively simple – the strategy can be quite effective. Even though your options will be “handcuffed” to a certain extent while playing a short stack, the binary nature of many holdem scenarios solves this dilemma in many cases. In other words, a big stack may be needed to make intricate plays involving multiple streets, but when you have pocket aces in the hole, the only play you need is an all-in shove.

Back in 2005, poker strategist Ed Miller penned a defense of the short-buy strategy as part of his book “Getting Started in holdem.” Within that chapter, Miller explained how risk-averse players could use the sitting short move to mitigate their exposure to more skillful players. As he described, buying in to a $1/$3 game with just $100 may leave you with only 33 big blinds to work with, but a basic strategy of folding marginal hands and betting monsters could level the playing field against bigger stacks.

But fast forward to 2017, and Miller wrote a follow up in Card Player magazine to explain why sitting short is no longer viable in the modern game:

“At the time I wrote that chapter, it was a generally profitable strategy in many no-limit cash games. If your sole plan is to make a good hand and stick all the money in, you have to find opponents willing to call you with weak hands even though you always have a good hand. In 2005, these opponents were common enough that you could count on getting paid.

In 2017, these opponents still exist, but you can’t really count on them. If you pick the wrong table to try your short-stack strategy, you can go a very long time before you find someone willing to get their money in bad against you. Meanwhile, you end up folding away a whole lot of blind money.

If you add in that rakes have been creeping up since 2005, and that this strategy is very exposed to high rakes – particularly at the $1-$2 level where many players try this strategy out – it’s probably not profitable anymore in most circumstances.”


As Miller explains, the sitting short approach relies on exploiting bad players who can resist calling your short-stacked shove. Back in 2005, you’d find a steady stream of fish willing to call a $100 all-in holding nothing but a mid-range suited connector or a small pocket pair. These were easy marks, and when your monster hands held up, it didn’t take long to turn a short-buy into a big stack.

But the game has evolved by leaps and bounds over the last 13 years. Most of those fish have either been weeded out of the poker economy, or they’ve improved to the point where short-buyers can’t capitalize on their looseness. If you try to sit short in today’s $1/$3 tables, here’s how the experience will likely go when facing all but the worst opponents.

You’ll start with $100 and fold through a few rounds of blinds, waiting for big aces, pocket pairs, and other premium hands to appear, while whittling your stack down by $4 or $6 per round. With your short stack reduced to just $80, you finally score a sweet Ace-King of spades, so you happily add a $20 three-bet after an opponent opens to $8. But in a flash, the formerly loose table folds around to the original raiser, who doesn’t waste a moment before eyeing your short stack and mucking their hand. You might’ve won $12, but that profit gets eroded by the blinds like clockwork.

And this cycle will repeat itself throughout the rest of the night. Sharp opponents noticed your short buy, so they know you’re looking to pounce with premiums only. So they simply wait you out, folding every time you put chips in the pot while watching the blinds chip away at your stack.

Finally, when you only have $50 or so left to work with, they’ll take a flier and call your shove down to put you at risk. In this spot, the best-case scenario is to double up back to $100, thus starting the cycle over again. And when the worst strikes, your huge hand will be run down by rags, as opponents can feel comfortable calling you light because your $50 won’t dent them at all.

5 – Tournaments Are the Easiest Way to Win Big Bucks

At the end of Rounders, Mike McD headed off into the sunset intent on competing in the WSOP Main Event.  To hear him tell it, the $1 million grand prize may just have his name on it, and he sure as hell wasn’t going to win seven-figures grinding it out at the Chesterfield.

This temptation to chase the huge payouts offered by tournaments can be enormously tempting – especially for avid poker fans who read about million-dollar winners week in and week out. But if you thought achieving consistent success in cash games was hard, just wait until you play tournament poker for a living. Daniel Negreanu is the all-time winningest tournament player in history with nearly $40 million in earnings to his credit. Even so, in 2017 he made waves by revealing the details of his win/loss ledger from tournament play.

As it turns out, even elite players like “Kid Poker” – who cashed for $2,792,104 last year – don’t always wind up in the black. Negreanu actually paid$2,874,164 in buy-ins across his 2017 schedule,so he wound up losing $86,140 on the year. Unless you have a bankroll big enough to withstand tournament swings, a few big scores simply won’t be enough to get over the hump.


Myths are incredibly pervasive in the poker world, where players are free to spread misinformation – whether intentionally or inadvertently – for hours on end to a captive audience. And if you’re not careful, these myths can metastasize into habits that define how you approach the game.

Improving as a poker player involves a healthy dose of self-reflection and introspection. With that in mind, take full advantage of this list by asking yourself if any of the myths above are putting you in a hole at the holdem table.

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