` Poker: Learning the Soft Voice of Intuition - Think Deeply Speak SimplyThink Deeply. Speak Simply Poker: Learning the Soft Voice of Intuition - Think Deeply Speak Simply
  • February 01 ,2018

  • Written By Rajat Mishra

What Poker teaches us about the soft voice of intuition?

 “Craft is what we are supposed to know. Art is the unexpected use of that craft” – Ed Catmull

In May 2015, my friend and professional poker player, Alec Torelli was playing a $20,000 buy-in No-Limit Texas Hold’em cash game in Sugar House Casino, Philadelphia. After a few hours of careful play, he was dealt a pair of 9s. When a subsequent player increased the bet to $600 (indicating a very strong hand), Alec matched the $600 bet with the hopes of catching another 9 on the flop winning $20,000 in one hand.

Flop was 9, 10 and Jack. Alec had made three-of-a-kind and had a hammer-lock on the hand. (The probability of having a pair and making three-of-a-kind on the flop is about 0.5% or once in 200 hands). And, when his opponent bet $3300, the math experts and analytical gurus expected Alec to put all his money in with such a strong hand. Instead, in an inexplicable move that dumb-founded everyone, Alec instantly folded.

In a world where airwaves are crammed with the power of data-driven decision-making and analytics, Alec considered the math and made a choice led by intuition. Did he make the right decision by favoring intuition over analytics?

What does it take to make the best decision

Before we go there, let’s ask the question, “What does it take to make the best decision”? There are two primary schools of thought.

The first school believes that the best decisions are made with math & quantitative data. They believe human emotions cloud decision making. Logic and step-by-step reasoning lead to the best decisions. Let’s call this school of decisions as “The Left Brain (or analytical)” school. They go by many names. In the TV show Star Trek, Mr. Spock epitomized power of left-brain thinking. In Poker, we call this Game Theory Optimal (GTO). In business, words like cognitive & data-driven have led to multi-billion investments.

The second group relies on intuition. As Captain Kirk (from Star Trek) says, “Sometimes a feeling is all we have to go on”. A sixth sense guides this decision making. They feel the right answer in their gut. Let’s call this school of decisions as “The Right Brain (or intuitive)”. In Poker, these are the “feel” players. In business these are leaders with gut instinct.

Four conditions where an intuition-led approach could be the optimal strategy
  1. Competitive games where Intent of competitors is unclear (e.g., Poker)
  2. Data-source and data-analysis is commoditized and available to all players (e.g., no proprietary data/analysis)
  3. Uncertain or disruptive times where extrapolation does not work (e.g., extreme uncertainty)
  4. The faint inner voice of intuition does not go away (e.g., that nagging feeling that something is not right)

The more of these conditions are valid the stronger will be the edge of intuition over analytical decision making.

Back to the hand

Going back to Alec Torelli and his three-of-a-kind 9s. Math told him to fold. However, the intent of his players was not clear and there was a faint voice in his head that said he was beat. His opponent had made a straight with King-Queen. One of the only four hands that could have beaten Alec.

Intuition speaks softly.

Relying on your instinct can be scary. There may be consequences, short-term failure and judgement from others. But, in the end, taking these risks is necessary to beating the game.

Thank you to Alec Torelli for discussing his insights with me. For more about Alec please visit: https://alectorelli.com/

Here is the link to the hand (courtesy Alec Torelli poker and YouTube)

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3 responses to “What Bobby Fischer’s c4 opening teaches us about winning at the highest levels?”

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  2. This tendency is generally helpful in smoothing the progress of interpersonal relationships, but too much concern about what others think renders your mind inhospitable to original thought and can result in your holding on to dangerous misconceptions.

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