Robert Greene’s work, The 48 Rules of Power is a textbook for those interested in the complexities of power dynamics.
It is banned in most prisons and correctional facilities and is required reading for those engaged in the cut and thrust of any competitive endeavour.
The poker table is a great learning environment. It pits up to 9 players in a multidimensional battle of wills, smarts, discipline, strategy, deception, and luck. Anyone can win all the chips on any given day, but finding weaknesses within your opponents’ game is the fastest way to tilt the odds in your favour.
There are two main modern schools of poker theory – GTO and Exploitative
GTO or Game Theory Optimal is the cutting edge of modern poker study. It attempts to play perfectly balanced poker. It adopts machine learning to apply robotic-like discipline to all scenarios. For example, every time the hero (you) makes a bet he should have a carefully calibrated mixture of bluffs and value bets. The ratio changes based on the texture of the community cards, and the likelihood that they favour either the hero’s range of possible hands or the villain’s range.
This balanced approach makes it very difficult for a villain to decide when to call the hero’s bets and when to fold. A typical bet on the river might contain 70% value hands – when the hero is confident he has the better holding, and 30% bluffs – when he believes he has the worst hand. In many such scenarios, the hero is indifferent to either a call or fold, he is theoretically making money no matter what his opponent does.
This is how AI plays poker. It has determined that such a strategy is impossible to counter. Professional GTO poker players spend hours feeding hands in solvers to determine what a balanced strategy looks like in certain spots. The answers often appear counterintuitive and would not readily be employed without the solver’s support. The best poker players in the world right now are mostly European whiz kids who stare at computer screens all day and play with robotic efficiency.
The second school of poker theory is a much more fluid approach to the game. Exploitative play looks to identify weaknesses in an opponent’s game, and then capitalise until the errors are corrected or all the money is won. Some players bluff too much, so the natural counter involves displaying weakness and setting traps to profit from this specific error. The GTO approach, with its emphasis on balanced play, will fail to fully cash in on this apparent weakness.
Other players are too passive and fail to apply sufficient pressure, and this too can be exploited through naked aggression. Another group of players is governed by an insatiable curiosity. They hate to be bluffed and will call down with weak holdings, another weakness that can be capitalised on by betting almost exclusively with the best hand and limiting bluffs. Other players become emotional when luck is seemingly against them, and are likely to play recklessly in such moments. This can also be exploited. There are limitless ways to exploit a poker player.
The secret to exploitative play is to identify the weakness before it is visible to both the target and others at the table. This skill can only really be learned at the table and is a combination of psychological and behavioural analysis and the interpretation of physical tells.
All poker players have encountered at least one session when it seemed that an opponent was inside their head. The villain knew our actions in advance. It was uncanny. When we bluffed he called, and when we bet our hands for value he instantly folded. This is an unnerving, costly, and soul-crushing experience.
The game of poker is a complicated power struggle played in many dimensions. Professional players ruthlessly probe for weaknesses in their opponents’ game. Once identified, these weaknesses pay the bills. The lessons of poker are the lessons of life. Studying your opponents and capitalising on their character flaws is an effective way to get ahead in life.
Jackson Byrne – Editor at A Man’s Guide