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Welcome to Poker - a game of uncertainties

Poker is a game in which we have to make reasoned decisions without complete information.  Many of the decisions we make in our everyday lives also involve insufficient information but we have to make these decisions anyway.  What can we learn from poker and what can poker players learn from decision-making in general?

Poker Techniques for Dealing with Uncertainty

This article is about ways that poker players can deal with uncertainty without the new math that has become so pervasive in poker in recent years.  This does not mean, of course, that math is not important; it simply means that there are also excellent non-mathematical ways to deal with uncertainty

Looks are Deceiving

Online poker is said to lack the visual aspect that is present at land-based poker rooms.  The skills we need to reach sound decisions when we play poker online go far beyond what we think we see when we actually can see our opponents.

Some tells are fake; they may be ploys used by an opponent to deceive us even more.  Some tells are simply nervous quirks that a player may show with a good hand or a poor hand.  The read we make on a player’s behavior is as much based on insufficient information as the range we apply to the opponent’s hole cards.

Uncertainty Abounding

Here are just a few more real-life decisions people make every day that they make with insufficient information.

  • We choose dates for a holiday not knowing what the weather will be like.
  • We buy airline tickets far in advance not knowing if the price later on will be higher or lower.
  • People make financial investments without the knowledge of how the investment will work out.
  • People also make investments in politicians not knowing if they will be happy about their decision in the long term or not.
  • No one who gets married knows if the marriage will last one year or fifty.
  • When we buy a house with a mortgage we don’t know if we’ll be able to afford the mortgage year after year.  Furthermore, we don’t know if we’ll like the city or neighborhood years down the road.

And yet, despite all the uncertainties in our lives, we move on, get things done and progress in life.  We can also "use" this uncertainty in our poker game.  Here's how.....

Embrace Uncertainty

In poker as in life, we need to not only accept uncertainty but to embrace it.  Not to embrace uncertainty means to box ourselves in.  In poker terms, we can’t bluff effectively or call a bet whilst in doubt if we can’t embrace uncertainty.  Embracing uncertainty means that we often have to make a decision quickly without knowing the consequences.  We never know how the hand, the game, the evening poker session will end.  But we must embrace the uncertainty and move on - bet our hands, decide to fold or stay in....and on and on.  That is the name of the game:  moving forward without all the information.

Embrace Luck

This is the other side of the embracing uncertainty coin.  There are many times in which we have to rely on luck to see us through.  

Embracing luck means that after we have done everything we could to turn luck our way, we might still lose.  By embracing luck, we remind ourselves that unlucky today may mean lucky tomorrow and at all times play the games of poker and of life to the best of our ability.  Only then can we turn the outcome over to luck.

The Universe is NOT Out to Get You

Ultimately, poker is a game that combines skill and chance.  We can try to make the skill side of poker far more determinant of the long term outcome than the chance side.

However, even if we are on a long term trajectory to poker success, we will have many ups and downs.  We will float aimlessly in the doldrums and then catch a strong back breeze and sail forward gloriously.   During the doldrums, we’ll have bad beats that will make our poker universe seem dark indeed.  Embrace uncertainty and you’ll see that uncertainty abounds.

The all-time great players never get thrown by a series of bad beats.  They understand uncertainty to the T. 

In poker, a deranged response to bad luck or a bad beat exponentially increases the possibility that we’ll lose the nest winnable hand as well.  Stay calm, toe the line and move forward slowly and surely.

Be Your Own Best Friend

This means supporting yourself when the time comes to make that difficult decision.  It means giving yourself positive as well as negative feedback.  To thine own self be true. Positive feedback means forgiving yourself for a mistake.  Negative fedback means committing to studying poker more so that this mistake might not repeat itself.  Imagine your best friend having a toiugh time at the poker table.  How would you show her or him support?  That is exactly how you should show yourself support.