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