Friday, October 28, 2005

Game Theory

I'm reading Matt Matros' new book, "The Making of a Poker Player," which deals with many poker ideas, including a short section on game theory. I'll probably post a review of the book when I finish it. So far I've found it to be lacking, but I won't make a final judgment until it's finished.

The crux of game theory is that you should consider how to have a solid game overall, rather than making every individual decision based on rote tactics. Game theory recommends concepts like randomly bluffing at predetermined percentages of the time based on the second-hand of your watch, or mixing up your game in order to set up future plays.

The more complicated explanation of game theory is that if you make the optimal play, you don't care whether your opponent calls or folds. That's because you're trying to make a bet based on the value of your hand that your opponent cannot counter.

Game theory predicts that there is a mathematically "optimal" move at all points in the hand, and that by learning some complicated math-based rules, you can become unbeatable.

Sure. To some extent that's true.

My complaint is that the game theorist wants a perfect answer at all times, and I have a hard time believing that there is such a thing as a grand universal theory of poker. Steven Hawking isn't going to wake up one day and present a master formula for playing like God would.

In my opinion, a lot of the same solutions that game theory recommends can also be reached by playing solid poker -- especially when it comes to reading the texture of the flop and evaluating the value of all possible hands.

The most important and useful aspect of game theory to me is that it suggests constantly mixing up and evaluating your game. Attention to exactly how you play poker, both at the table or behind a book, is how people improve their games and become better poker players. There are very few automatic answers (side note: I can think of one automatic answer. When you raise preflop in limit hold 'em and get one early position caller who checks to you on the flop, always bet). Every answer should be considered depending on the specific situation at hand, depending on many factors. Often, the correct answer is not the obvious one.

A game theory expert can tell me that the math says minimum raises in no limit hold 'em make sense. A game theory expert can tell me that preflop calling makes more sense than frequent raising (like this numbers-based article implies). Normally, I would claim you can't argue with the numbers.

But as a poker player, I am certain that bigger bets and isolation raises are more than a little important. When it comes to these kinds of minute details about the game, I believe the game theorists are absolutely wrong.

4 Comments:

At 2:50 PM, Blogger Victor_Enriq said...

There is definitely a lot about game theory that can be said. Actually I'm certain there are aspects of the game I havent even thinked of.

I'm very much thrilled with "game theory" as treated on "Ace on the river". Its much more broad, as I think that the subject in itself to be.

I really cant think of Game theory, as a walkthrough on every detail of the game.

 
At 1:03 AM, Anonymous Jim Online said...

Poker may be game of strategy, but I still think that luck plays a vital role. I remember last time I played with my friends. Among them, I was the most fundamental poker player. However, I ended up being booted out first in the table. I asked myself, how can I win when all get is a small hand.

 
At 9:22 AM, Blogger Nick Christy said...

" Game theory recommends concepts like randomly bluffing at predetermined percentages of the time based on the second-hand of your watch"

That concept was first introduced in Harrington on Holdem V1, I hope he credits Dan with that idea.

 
At 4:53 PM, Blogger Pokermaniak said...

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