Theories of Poker

It is important to know the poker theory. Two texts have been devoted to poker theory and neither attempts to cover up the topic fully. This section is not presented to give review of poker theory, but to provide a summary of how poker theory provides direction to strategic and tactical thinking of poker.

The problem in poker theory is that the poker analysts who write books or any articles about poker don't seem to really understand how theory influences thinking about the strategy and tactics of the game. These analysts have a favorite theory about the game and whenever they are faced with a situation for analysis, they view the situation through their favorite perspective. There are many other alternative theories of poker and a complete analysis of the game requires a frequent shifting of theoretical perspective.

In many cases, it is not unusual for researchers or analysts to identify the distinction between the theory of some phenomena and model based on the poker theory. This is true in poker literature. A theory of poker and a model of poker are two different things and it is crucial to understand that difference when you are thinking and learning about poker.

What is a Theory?

A three contains three characteristics: descriptive, explanatory and predictive. These characteristics are not necessary precise and complete in any particular theory. A good theory is one which can be stated in one or more straightforward declarative sentences which have desirable implications for describing, explaining or calculating observed behavior of the event under study. A good theory doesn't need to do all three of these things. However, a good theory does need to have some strong explanatory power. A theory that doesn't help us understand the game doesn't really help all that much.

An example of the stated theory of poker is poker is a struggle among the players for the rights to the ante. This theory doesn't lend much toward describing poker. It doesn't tell us how the betting is structured to facilitate the struggle among the players. It neither tells us how to determine which player ends up with the pot.
The theory does have a descriptive power for the first round of betting. It explains why it is best to limit your opening poker hands to those hands with self-contained power rather than those that have value through drawing power. Because it does not address the pot growth that comes from multiple betting rounds, it adds nothing to an explanation of the value of such hands as Jack, 10 suited in Hold'em.

The theory has some productive power, but not much. A theoretical prediction of poker should provide us with a prescription for play - it should represent something about the best way to play the game. For poker variants with multiple rounds of betting such as Hold'em, it doesn't do that. It helps to predict things like a tight range of possible hands which a knowledgeable player who started from an early position might have.

The example of poker theory with different kind of predictive power is money flows from bad players to good poker players. This poker theory doesn't have explanatory power; it doesn't describe who the good and bad players are. Assuming we have some other method to identify good and bad players it does help to predict the result of a poker session. A simple mathematical model of that theory is used to develop the recommendations as to when a single really bad player in a game can make an otherwise unprofitable game into profitable one.