In this article, we’re going to look at the fundamentals of game theory as they apply to poker. Now, game theory is a very complex branch of applied mathematics that can take years to understand. Just ask Chris Ferguson, who spent more than ten years studying the concept at UCLA! For our purposes, however, we’re going to define game theory as the attempt to mathematically determine behavior in strategic situations, where an individual success in making choices depends on the decisions of others. Or, to put it more simply, game theory is just all about strategic thinking in a poker game.
One of the keys to maximizing your win rate is to understand how people are reacting to your table image into their own place in the tournament. Do your opponents think you’re loose and they want to get into pots with you? Are they frightened of giving up too many chips, because the tournament is, say, getting close to the money bubble? Will they play back at you with a weak hand, or wait for a monster? Will they be happy to win the minimum cash prize on offer in this tournament, or, like you, are they playing for the win? Much of it is based on bluffing.
Understanding your table image will help you exploit your opponent’s tendencies at critical stages of the tournament. For example, because we know that many players tighten up around the money bubble, this is an excellent time to open up and play a wider variety of hands; especially from a position, because most players who have made a deep run don’t want to risk not cashing. It would be devastating to them. They’re going to lay down a lot of hands that they may have been willing to play earlier in the tournament, giving you a chance to pick valuable pots without very much resistance.
Now, on the other hand, once the bubble bursts, players tend to drastically loosen up, which means you should shift gears and tighten up your game. Especially if you were playing very loose before the bubble burst. Now since your opponents will still see you as an aggressive, crazy, maniacal player, they’re going to be more inclined to play weaker hands against you after that money bubble has burst; and you can look for spots to trap them when now you’re actually playing quite tight, so you can be holding powerful hands!
In short, game theory relies on exploiting your image against your opponent’s customary playing habits and using it all against them. Understanding your opponent’s psychological state at various stages of the tournament will help you make strategic adjustments to your game; and ultimately, this is the only answer to how to be a better poker player.
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