Texas Holdem Tournament Theories and Strategies – Demystified

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This strategy provides the highest level of EV, at 0. The strategy that offers the highest possible expected value EV against any opponent strategy. Returning to the Rock, Paper, Scissors example, in a game where you know your opponent's strategy was to throw rock on every game, the optimal exploitive strategy would be to counter with paper every game - because this would create an EV of percent. And should your opponent modulate to a strategy based on using rock on 50 percent of games, paper on 25 percent, and scissors on the other 25 percent, the optimal exploitative strategy would also be to throw paper on every game - because you'd create a scenario in which you'd win or tie on 75 percent of games, while losing only 25 percent of the time.

Any strategy that offers a lower expected value EV than the optimal exploitive strategy. Back to that Rock, Paper, Scissors game, where your opponent's strategy is to throw rock on each game, you could opt for a 50 percent paper and 50 percent rock blend of moves. And while this would still be a winning strategy, because you'd only win or tie, it's performance can't match that of the optimal exploitative strategy throwing paper every time - making it a suboptimal strategy at best. In a cooperative game, players are permitted, encouraged, or even required to form binding agreements with fellow players.

A game like Monopoly, in which players can negotiate the price of a mortgage on property deeds among other agreements, is a classic cooperative game. A non cooperative game, on the other hand, forbids players from making similar arrangements among themselves. Technically speaking, poker variants like Texas holdem are non cooperative games, because the rules preclude collusion and other forms of explicit cooperation.


  1. Pre-flop poker strategy.
  2. 49 Poker Strategy Articles You Should Read in .
  3. Alas Sisyphus.
  4. Basic bubble strategy.

Even so, as you'll learn in the next section featuring examples of Texas holdem game theory in action, many situations in the game compel players to form implicit agreements to achieve a certain effect stalling on the bubble, big stacks avoiding one another with pending pay jumps, etc.. From a practical standpoint, any game involving human players must be a finitely long game - or one that has a fixed endpoint.

Whether that means attaining a certain score, satisfying a series of conditions, or otherwise defeating your opponent, a finitely long game has a beginning - and a definitive end. And even in a game designed to stretch on into perpetuity, the limits of human endurance, and indeed lifespan, prevent it from being truly infinite. But game theorists have no such limitations on their work, and in the process of investigating mathematical proofs, they've created the concept of infinitely long games that are never forced to end. These games are devised, in part, to study the relative strengths and weaknesses of dueling strategies which adapt based on one another's actions.

For poker players, every cash game or tournament session has a start and an end. But as any experienced poker pro knows quite well, judging the results of any particular session provides an inconsistent appraisal, and the truth is best discovered by examining results over the long run. That long run can encompass years, decades, or even a player's entire lifetime on the felt - making Texas holdem and other poker formats an infinitely long game in spirit.

For game theorists, a "meta game" means something entirely different, but as a poker player, you'll hear this expression used largely to describe the multitude of external factors that conspire to influence every action, hand, and session. These factors can span the spectrum from personal history between particular players, the relative importance of pending prize money to opponents of different means, the impact of physical fatigue and diminished stamina, and even the presence of television cameras or a similar spotlight.

Some players can dominate a large tournament field until reaching the final table, where the change of setting from anonymous area on the floor to ringed off feature table can jar their nerves. Experienced players use their knowledge of this meta game to apply increased pressure and make things uncomfortable for less experienced foes. For the most part though, when a poker player mentions the meta game affecting their decision making, they're referring to prior history between themselves and an opponent.

Perhaps the other player has shown a propensity for checking back strong hands in position, so you may begin using flop checks more often to clarify his range. Or maybe you were a tournament victor to their runner up twice before, and you know they'll be looking to knock you out of the final table earlier to prevent another heads up match, so you widen your range in anticipation of them playing back light. The concept of meta game at the poker table can go as deep as a thinking player prefers to take it, but in many cases, if your opponent isn't a thinking player in their own right, the advantages gained simply aren't all that effective.

An oblivious opponent who doesn't even realize that they've played dozens of pots with you before can't really be exploited based on that meta game, as they aren't even aware that it exists. A perfect information game is one in which both players have full knowledge of each other's previous moves or actions. The classic example of a perfect information game is chess, as both players begin with identical piece alignments and witness all subsequent moves.

An imperfect information game is one in which both players are limited to an obscured view of the full game conditions. In blackjack, for example, you know your own hole cards, but not that of the dealer, leading to a situation in which making educated guesses is the only way to proceed. Texas holdem is another imperfect information game, because even though all players can see the same community cards on board, and their own hole cards, the hole cards of every other opponent remain concealed until the showdown round is reached.

A zero sum game is one in which the amount of "available resources" in play can never be changed. Poker is the standard zero sum game, because leaving aside the house's rake in cash games, every pot that is played results in an equal transfer of chips.

Examples of Game Theory You Already Use in Texas Holdem

If you win 12, chips in a pot, a player or players at the table must have lost 12, chips as a result. A poker tournament is a perfect encapsulation of a zero sum game, as every chip put in play throughout the proceedings will wind up in the eventual winner's stack. Players will transfer chips back and forth throughout the tournament, stacks will grow, shrink, and disappear, but when it's all said and done, the same amount of chips will be present and accounted for when the final two competitors begin heads up play. Conversely, a non zero sum game is one in which the amount of available resources in play can be changed.

While playing Monopoly, for example, everybody begins with a set amount of dollars in their bank, but factors like Chance cards and other features can add dollars into the game's economy without transferring them from one player to another. After perusing the scholarly definitions listed in the Glossary section, some readers may be thinking that game theory is a bridge too far in terms of what they're willing to learn.

Poker is supposed to be a fun game after all, and most of us aren't trained in upper level mathematics anyway, so can game theory approaches really help the recreational player? They can, and they already do. In fact, if you've spent any serious time at the Texas holdem tables, whether in tournament play or cash games, chances are high that you already apply game theory concepts without even knowing it. Strategies that rely on unspoken acknowledgement of certain factors, deviations from the norm decided on when competing against certain players - these plays that seem instinctual are actually demonstrations of game theory in action.

The 5 Best Books for Poker Tournament Strategy of

We'll run through a laundry list of commonly encountered Texas holdem scenarios below, covering both the No Limit and Limit versions of the game, to show you a few different ways game theory principles are routinely put into use by beginners:. You wind up playing your way into the final four out of nine players - but only three players will earn a payout. The next one to be eliminated will take home nothing for their efforts, an ignoble end to a long tournament, but you don't really have to worry too much about that at this point.

You sit with 7, chips, another has 6,, while two short stacks are clinging to 1, and 1, respectively. In the big blind position, with chips already committed, you watch the shortest stack shove all in for his last 1, The small blind player, who is your fellow big stack, makes the call to put the shorty at risk. You look down at Kc 10c - a decent hand to try and bust the next player with - so you call as well, creating a heads up side pot while the all in player sweats the action.

The flop comes down 10s 9h 7h, and the small blind checks it over to you. In most spots, firing out with top pair on a textured flop would be advisable, as to prevent opponents from backing into a straight or flush on the turn.

Texas Hold'em strategy books.

But you shoot your heads up opponent a quick look and knock the felt with your fist, signaling a check. The turn comes a blank with the 2d, but this time the small blind is checking as the baby card falls. You check back quickly, and the process repeats itself on the Kh river. Upon the showdown, you show your top two pair, but the short stacked player flips up his J 8 with a smile, knowing his straight has beaten one of the two hands it'll need to fade. But the small blind turns his 5h 3h face up on the felt, and the flush is good enough to bust the short stacked player in fourth place.

Poker Glossary – Poker Terms Explained

You, the small blind, and the other shorty have each made the money - and all because you never bet to force out the small blind's ragged flush draw. In this case, even though poker is a non cooperative game by rule, you and the small blind recognized a prime opportunity to cooperate.

By checking down through all three streets, you and the small blind effectively ensured that two hands, rather than one, would have a chance to eliminate the fourth place player and burst the bubble. Almost all poker theorists and poker players agree that the game is always changing, and therefore no player can ever "know it all. Good players understand that they should never stop learning and improving their game, and great players try to take a new lesson out of every session they play. Studying the game and discussing poker theory with fellow players is essential to becoming a better player and increasing your profits.

The articles on this page are great conversation starters if you are looking for topics to fuel your next poker discussion. If you are interested in broadening your horizons or perhaps reinforcing some previously learned concepts, take a look at the above articles.

Intermediate Lessons

Poker-Vibe covers several unique poker concepts aimed at every level of player, and is here to help you increase your knowledge and make you feel more comfortable on the felt. Make sure to check back often, as we are continuously adding articles on poker theory to this section. More Poker Tips. Poker Journal. Snyder introduces a controversial theory that the more chips you have, the more valuable each chip is.

This flies in the face of how most players view the value of chips due to the mathematical concept of ICM, which says that the fewer chips you have, the more each chip is worth. I tend to side with Snyder on this one. Think about it. Have you ever had a mountain of chips in front of you during a tournament?