Poker Philosophy & Psychology

“If scientific reasoning were limited to the logical processes of arithmetic, we should not get very far in our understanding of the physical world. One might as well attempt to grasp the game of poker entirely by the use of the mathematics of probability.”

Vannevar Bush

Vannevar Bush was a remarkable man. Born in 1890 in Everett, Massachusetts, he grew up to be an engineer that heralded the birth of analog computing and the atomic age as well as the early notions of what would become the World Wide Web. As the director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, Bush coordinated the activities of more than six thousand scientists in the application of science to America’s war efforts. He was also a respected policymaker and public intellectual during the Second World War and the Cold War that followed, effectively acting as the first science advisor to the President. He was known for pushing his views on technocracies and how they can best serve democracy and the way that entrepreneurship can foster international understanding.

In other words, he was sort of a big brain.

It’s important to note that someone whose mind was so firmly entrenched in the world of math and science understood that poker was a game that was about people as much as it was about the cards, positions and pot odds. There’s a psychological aspect to the game, a human factor that is unpredictable and fantastic at the same time, the sort of thing that makes the game exactly what it is and you need to examine both other players’ reactions and your own play to make the most at the tables.

Other players are, of course, the great unknown, particularly when you are playing online poker and even more so when you are engaged in lower-level games, where there’s a greater number of players competing for the chance to take your money away from you. However, there are two assumptions that are safe to make: you’re likely not playing against a maniac unless you’re engaged in a free game and nobody is playing poker to lose money. Keeping these two rules in mind can go a long way towards determining and creating a workable poker strategy for you, but there will be the occasional outlier who seems to exist just to throw you off.

Within yourself, however, there are steps you can take to ensure that you play poker as well as possible. Outside of working to not give information away to other players, you can look at how to minimize the emotional highs and lows of the game and how they affect your play. Yes, it feels amazing to win a difficult pot and horrible to lose you a bucket on a bad beat, but working to minimize their impact on the next hand is a key part of your own psychological arsenal in the game. With online poker, you at least have a chance to vent out loud without the rest of the table noticing how upset you are, but let it wash over you and then move on to the next hand as rationally as possible.

Poker is a human game; full of unpredictable moments and astounding highs and lows, and learning how best to use them to your advantage can turn a mediocre player into a strong one.