Poker: Success is not just how you play your cards, but also how you play your opponents
High stakes poker study reveals how people process information in many contexts.
In high-stakes environments, success isn’t just about playing your cards right, but also playing your opponents well. Examining how more than 35,000 people interacted while playing millions of hands of online poker over a three-week period, a study released by the University of California, Davis reveals that gaming experts are a great source of information on how people handle strategic information in competition.
Seth Frey, assistant professor of communications at UC Davis, said poker experts “derive their informational advantage not from their own cards, not from signals from their opponents, but specifically from how these two sources of information interact. As long as their cards are hidden, their behavior is encrypted: an opponent cannot reconstruct his reasoning without having access to both sources of information. ”
Expert Poker Players Maximize Their Information Without Tipping Their Hands
Poker experts need to extract information from others without revealing too much of it themselves, he said. “Sharks (expert players) accomplish this feat by carefully managing the way their betting behavior is informed by public and private sources of information. Their particular information management behavior allows them to maximize their consistency with the information they use without “tilting their hands.”
And we know experts aren’t just better at reading body language. Online poker eliminates face-to-face knowledge of other players, including clues such as eye contact and other signs. The study is published in the journal Cognitive Science. Frey’s co-authors are Dominic Albino, a former professional poker player training as an economist at the University of Connecticut, and Paul Williams, an information theorist in the Cognitive Science Program at Indiana University. .
Frey notes that the interest in strategic experts, especially chess experts, goes back to the roots of cognitive science and artificial intelligence, and that studies dating back to the 1950s have looked at how people play games.
All about bluffing
Frey and his co-authors examine the variant of No-limit Texas Hold’em poker, which works well for study because the game is designed to make bluffing a central aspect of the game. The game offers many mechanics by which players can strategically misinform themselves about the value of their cards.
Players with strong hands can signal weak hands with small bets to keep the pot growing and players with weak hands can signal strong hands with large bets to intimidate their opponents and get them to fold before ‘showdown’, when all remaining players in the game must reveal their hands.
A player wins and gets back the pot wagered if he has the best cards in the showdown, or if all other players folded before the showdown. According to data collected in the study, only 10 to 15 percent of poker players are profitable. “Professional poker players are experts at extracting signal from noise on many channels and at integrating information from those channels to both exploit their opponents and protect themselves,” the authors conclude.
“By understanding the uncertain strategic behavior in terms of the complexity of information processing, we offer a detailed account of how experts extract, process and hide valuable information in competitive environments with high uncertainty and high stakes. ” It could influence scientific approaches to trading, game design and other areas where strategy, mind reading and uncertainty come together.