3 Counter-intuitive Thoughts in Poker

poker Dec 12, 2018

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3 Counter-intuitive thoughts in poker 

1. GTO is not the end goal 

People are always thinking, how to play GTO? The real money in poker comes from you exploiting people. If you just go down the GTO train, you reach your ceiling pretty quickly. When you get to the big games where you play against pretty tough opponents, no one is letting you exploit them or win with your GTO strategy. People are playing very good defensive strategies against the general strategies. 

If you want to make more than the equilibrium that both players reach at GTO, you need to go out of your way to exploit people. The objective is to understand GTO so that you can see when people are significantly deviating from it in order to exploit them. However, you must understand that GTO is not the end goal. 

2. Always choose short-term pain when you’re split between 2 decisions that seem pretty close 

I’m a huge fan of Naval Ravikant and his decision-making heuristics. One of them says that when you have two very equal options, you should choose the option with more short-run pain. All minds of humans are trained to overestimate the painfulness of the short run. Instead if we look at the option that gives us the short run pain, ignoring this compensation that our brain actually does, it is actually the more +EV option. 

I felt I could apply this to poker. For example, I’m on the river and someone goes all in. It is a spot where I have to make a decision between calling and folding. In this spot when you’re indifferent between these 2 options, your natural tendency is to take one more often. For somebody that is a bit more of a calling station, he should instead fold and vice versa. On top of that, if your opponent is someone that is smart, he would be thinking what your natural tendency is. Most good poker players would actually be trying to exploit you. If you fold too much, you opponent is going to be bluffing you a lot more.

3. You should try to look significantly worse than you actually are 

Often at a poker table, people are trying to look more professional than they actually are. Poker players want to go to a table looking like a good player such that they would look scary and be able to bully people. I think it is the opposite. One concept which I'd like to explain to you – in any situation, newbies have incentives to look a lot better than they are because they don’t want the pros to attack them. *See illustration in video at 9:29*  

If you know me well, you understand that when I play high stakes tournaments, I try to make myself look like a China boss. The reason is that I want people to underestimate my abilities. When pros underestimate my abilities, I am able to understand how they would try to exploit me at that position. I can then re-counter and exploit them.

 

FULL TRANSCRIPT

3 Counter-intuitive thoughts in poker 

1. GTO is not the end goal 

People are always thinking, how to play GTO? A lot of times, they think ‘I want to reach this GTO stage because if I reach this stage, everything will okay.’ But I'm here to spoil that for you. The real money in poker comes from you exploiting people. On top of that, when you become perhaps 70-80% accurate in GTO and you can defend yourself against other opponents playing GTO, you realise that all the money you make is going to come from exploiting other players. Plus, you realise that if you just go down the GTO train, you reach your ceiling pretty quickly. There’s not that much money to be made when everyone’s trying to play GTO.  

When you get to the big games where you play against pretty tough opponents, no one is letting you exploit them or win with your GTO strategy. People are playing very good defensive strategies against the general strategies. Since everyone is trying to play like the solvers, every good player is learning how to defend themselves against these strategies. At the end of the day, the objective is to make money. If you want to make more than the equilibrium that both players reach at GTO which is pretty much very little, you need to go out of your way to exploit people.  

If you understand how GTO came about, it is when one player is playing against another player – they’re playing against each other until they counter each other’s strategy and they’re using the maximally exploitative strategy to counter one another. After they keep doing it, they reach an equilibrium. When player A is playing at an equilibrium and player B is using his maximum exploitative strategy to play against player A, both of them are playing exploitative as well. The objective is to understand GTO so that you can see when people are significantly deviating from it, in order to exploit them. However, you must understand that GTO is not the end goal. It is frustrating as a coach, for me to keep hearing ‘How do I play GTO?’ You must first understand what GTO is and why you want to play it before you actually get there.  

The general confusion for most people is that every time they see a good player, for example in Asia, many guys probably play the tournaments in Phillipines/Vietnam and see a western pro doing pretty well in tournaments, then assume he is playing GTO and ask themselves ‘how do I play against his GTO strategy?’ That is not the case, don’t think every decent player is playing GTO. We need to look beyond that. If you actually thought GTO was the end goal, it’s okay. I’m just trying to tell you something you do not want to hear, but to actually give you that slap on the face to wake you up and understand that the objective is not GTO. 

2. Always choose short-term pain when you’re split between 2 decisions that seem pretty close 

I’m a huge fan of Naval Ravikant and his decision-making heuristics. One of them says that when you have two very equal options, you should choose the option with more short-run pain. Why is that the case? All minds of humans are trained to overestimate the painfulness of the short run. Instead if we look at the option that gives us the short run pain, ignoring this compensation that our brain actually does, it is actually the more +EV option. Our brain likes to defer the pain to later and therefore we always choose the option with the long run pain, which isn’t your maximum utility option most of the time.When I was listening to him say this, I felt this is really true. How can I take this to apply it to my life first?  

After I was thinking more about it, I felt I could actually apply this to poker. There are many spots – for example I’m on the river and someone goes all in. It is a spot where I have to make a decision between calling and folding. Quite often in these situations, I’m pretty confused and don’t know what the best option is. Both seem fairly good options to me, I'm somewhat indifferent between making those 2 options. What I am recommending you to try doing is – realise that in this spot when you’re indifferent between these 2 options, your natural tendency is to take one of these 2 options more often. For somebody that is a bit more of a calling station (he tends to call too much since it is his natural tendency and hates folding), he should instead fold. The option that you hate – folding in this case – your brain is overestimating how good that calling option is because you actually like one option more.  

On top of that, if your opponent is someone that is smart, he would be thinking of these things as well. What is your natural tendency? What kind of defaults do you have? Most good poker players would actually be trying to exploit you. They would try to play against your pain, to put you in more painful situations since that’s the move you end up doing. If you fold too much, you opponent is going to be bluffing you a lot more. Even though calling is quite painful for you, you should actually choose that option since it compensates pretty well. It is counter-intuitive and meta, but when you’re between two close options, choose the one with more short-run pain. 

3. You should try to look significantly worse than you actually are 

Often at a poker table, people are trying to look more professional than they actually are. Poker players wearing hoodies/sunglasses that says ‘pokerstars’ are trying to look a lot better than they are. Poker players think that they want to go to a table looking like a good player such that they would look scary and be able to bully people and win money from them. I think it is the opposite. One concept which I'd like to explain to you – hopefully this would shed some light off why I would think this way – in any situation, newbies have incentives to look a lot better than they are because they don’t want the pros to attack them. *See illustration in video at 9:29*  

If you know me well, you understand that when I play high stakes tournaments, I’m wearing Phillip Plein shirts, flowery shirts, I'm bringing sunglasses to make myself look like a China boss. The reason is that I want people to underestimate my abilities. When pros underestimate my abilities, I am able to understand how they would try to exploit me at that position. When I can understand how they think but they can’t understand how I’m thinking and why I'm doing these things, I can actually re-counter and exploit them. You would also throw them out of a game tree. For example, if I'm limping a lot in certain spots and trying to act like a bad player wearing pretty loud clothes, most people would assume I'm a bad player or a fish. In those situations, I can then construct a pretty solid limp-rereraise or limp-call range and understand how that range plays against a range that is trying to exploit me. I will throw all of these into Piosolver and seek to understand this. Once I understand a few concepts, I can counter-exploit their strategies really easily. 

Hope you’ve enjoyed this training. If you do, please follow me on social media/leave some comments below/join my facebook group!

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