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Game Theory in Poker

Poker, or Texas Hold’em is one of the most complicated games that is very difficult to master. The idea behind the game is very simple: each player receives two cards and is trying to get the biggest hand (best combination of 5 cards) with the five on the table. There are multiple betting rounds where players can raise and increase the value of the pot, and in the end, whoever has the best hand wins the entire pot. From lecture, we learn that game theory provides the best decision at any given moment for a poker player with other players’ strategies taken into consideration. For examples, if a poker player has a better hand than you do, you immediately fold; or if you have a better hand, you raise to “just the right amount” so that he would call and not fold. It is very difficult as there are just so many variables that need to be taken into consideration. So does game theory actually work in poker?

The truth is, yes, but not perfectly. The objective is to make the decision that leaves no weak points where other players can take advantage of. The best way is to randomize your strategies. You shouldn’t bluff all the time, but you must bluff sometime in order to keep your opponent guessing. While playing your hands “randomly” may seem dumbfounding to some people, it is the right answer. A perfectly randomized strategy theoretically cannot lose to a fixed strategy (a strategy that isn’t random) because the entire point of game theory is to exploit the other player’s mistakes.

However, it is impossible to be play your mixed strategies perfectly random according to the other player, and that is why Game theory only partly works in poker. The game is just too complicated as there are too many variables to take into account; it is so complicated that it’s not possible for humans to compute, especially when there are not two, but three or four players at the table. In reality, professional poker players do not rely fully on game theory, instead, they incorporate it into their mix of strategies.


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