Poker (Texas Hold'Em)

I've been playing Texas Hold'Em pretty seriously for the past several months. I've played Limit Hold'Em in casinos and online. I play a regular tournament-style no-limit game with friends, and I've played in tournaments at casinos and online. Limit Hold'Em is easier to analyze and study, while No Limit Hold'em is a lot more fun and interesting to play.

Some thoughts on Poker (and Texas Hold'Em in particular). Poker is a very interesting game, both mathematically and to play. The analysis of poker involves a lot of probability, Bayesian estimation, opponent modeling, game theory, and the study of hidden or partial information. Playing poker involves more gut feelings, instincts, tells and reading and manipulation. One of the great things about poker is that in the long run it is a true game of skill - better players will make money over time - but in the short term, it's dominated by variance. That is, any one day that you play poker, your chance of winning or losing is almost totally random, but over time skill dominates. This means that playing poker is basically free (or even profitable) for a decent player, but a poor player is not totally dominated. That's why poor players will play for money against pros. An average joe is not going to play chess with Gary Kasparov for $10,000 a game, but people do it all the time with poker pros. What's more, that average joe will beat the poker pro once in a while. The stupid joe (a "fish") thinks that win means that poker is all luck (or worse, that he's a good player), but the pro just smiles and silently knows that it's just the variance, and he'll take all the fish's money in time.

A lot of the mathematical analysis I do is not really something that I advise doing at the table. It's more of an attempt to figure out the theory of poker, and determine optimal moves. Human brains are very good at pattern matching and interpolation, so if you can figure out the optimal move in situations A,B,C,D, then you can often look at some other situation E and make a pretty good estimation of the optimal move. Also, all the analysis doesn't account of the reads and tells that are very important in real poker. If you *know* someone is bluffing, the obviously you ignore the analysis that says they beat you 60% of the time.

Addendum : this page is pretty old ; I wrote it mostly before I became good at poker, so take it with a grain of salt.


Charles Bloom / cb at my domain

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