# How precise is math in the heat of battle?

In the heat of a hand I have never really thought in the kind of precision that is used in this post to answer a question about playing on the bubble. Indeed I have seen other players doing so in various situations. It seems to me that the longer they think, the more they calculate, the more precise they get about the situation, the more I am able to extrapolate about the nature of their hand. I doubt that poster of the answer in the bubble post would of been able to come up with such a precise and validated answer in any amount of time that would be practical at a poker table.

(generally exclude online play here if you would be so kind, there are tools online and this is not a question about tools and such, and online someone just taking their time may not be enough of a tell to be of any value. This is a question about the practicality of a precise thought process in a brick and mortar venue.)

Can the process of adding precision to your calculation be counter productive in the heat of a hand?

• are you sure you can tell someone who's really calculating something from someone who is pretending to be calculating something? There are people who can do really great acting while their eventual action is a no-brainer. By taking time (say by trying to compute mentally "9879 times 3642"), they'd then put you off: you'd start thinking they have a hand requiring complicated calculation and you'd then totally miss their no-brainer hand. I really don't think "calculating" can be counter-productive because there's no way to know for sure one is doing that. Oct 20, 2014 at 0:55
• Nothing is of course sure here. All tells are variable. I would speculate that part of the answer is predicated on how accurate the opponents read is. Just as an aside, pretend tells IMHO are a lot easier to read, except from really great players. In which case any tell I pick up directs me to hit the door.
– Jon
Oct 20, 2014 at 1:01
• @TacticalCoder Little fodder for you, Andy Beal when playing against the syndicate used a stop watch to completely randomize his reaction time. This makes mute my question for him. However it seems that it might be that guys who think a lot are genuinely thinking and this gives us some information.
– Jon
Oct 20, 2014 at 1:12

If such a player is approximating a game-theoretic-optimal (GTO) strategy, then they are essentially putting their opponent in a situation where it doesn't matter what they do. In other words, whatever information you believe you could glean from their play will not help you alter their expectation (i.e., reduce their expectation while increasing yours).

That being said, playing a GTO strategy is very difficult, and much often players (including yourself, based on the nature of your question) will attempt to play an exploitative strategy. Employing an exploitative strategy makes oneself vulnerable to counter-exploitation.

So, the answer to your question relies on how closely your opponent is attempting to approximate a balanced GTO strategy. If they are approximating a GTO strategy, they are giving up essentially nothing by taking any amount of extra time to perform necessary calculations. On the other hand, if they are playing a totally unbalanced and exploitative strategy, they could potentially be giving a lot of useful information to a [counter-]exploitative opponent by doing any number of things during the course of a hand (such as taking an unusual amount of time to make an action).

It entirely depends on your opponent's strategy.

• So your saying in essence someone who is playing a GTO strategy is not telling you anything about their hand? They are not giving up anything useful to their opponent?
– Jon
Oct 27, 2014 at 18:32
• They may be telling you something about their hand, but they are also putting their opponent in a position such that they are indifferent as to what their opponent does. Therefore, they are not giving up anything useful to their opponent. Oct 27, 2014 at 18:54
• Anything you know about a players hand is useful. So perhaps what one gleans about the hand is that the player is using a GTO strategy, there is no advantage to be gained knowing that? (advantage being anything that saves or makes chips)
– Jon
Oct 27, 2014 at 19:04
• I have been thinking about GTO, and your comment that "are essentially putting their opponent in a situation where it doesn't matter what they do". I am not wrapping my head around this, except maybe in the simplest of situations, it smells like a paradox to me. I am going to post a new question and see if we can get some clarification.
– Jon
Oct 30, 2014 at 7:58
• I started writing and boiled it down to this, I am having a bad time wrapping my head around the concept of GTO, and its context within the game. Is there any player in the world that gets it perfect? In theory it seems optimal but is it in practice. What made this bad as a new question is that I think it is essentially my original question. Your answer seems to be predicated on GTO being perfect. I like it just cant mark as the best answer.
– Jon
Oct 30, 2014 at 8:33

Judging from what you wrote in the question, I think you are misunderstanding a few concepts here.

First, math is math. Math doesn't care if you play poker, running, feeding your dog or doing something else. Math's laws are universal. This means that the math will have the same precision both in the heat of the battle and after the session is over and you are reviewing the hand that you just played.

The practicality of the calculations however, is another thing. From my experience, it doesn't make a big difference if you make some approximations at the table, if the approximation methods are correct, because you cannot calculate with precision using only your brain and/or you have a time limit in which you must act. As an example, let's say you're all-in pre-flop with AA and the opponent has KK. It is all right for you to say that you have 80% chances of winning, even if, in reality, you have 82.4% chances of winning. The 2.4% difference is not important at all. The principle goes the same for pot odds, how frequently a bluff has to work in order to be profitable, etc.

In my experience, most players at the table, when they do calculations, they either use shortcuts, memorized tables or they saw the situation they're facing so many times that the details come to them instantly, almost without trying to remember. I am willing to bet my house on the fact that the calculations you saw in the link that you posted are made after the hand was played, in the post-session analysis.

In conclusion, my opinion is that all you can do is to improve the precision of your calculations and/or estimations and I think this can only be done with practice and hand history studying.

• I can agree that most players' when they do calculations have shortcuts and experience but often enough for me, I pick up tells from those who calculate. That is generally the context I am asking the question from.
– Jon
Oct 24, 2014 at 7:46
• How can these tells help you? How do you know they are calculating and not deliberately stall, to mislead you? Oct 24, 2014 at 8:11
• The short answer is practice. I am one of those guys that watches everything, I talk to players to get an ideal of whom they are how they think. Everything at a poker table is a tell. Someone thinking behaves differently when they are thinking then when they are faking. When people mislead, they have tells. Tells are all over the place, in the voice, in the face, in the hands, in the body language. How can you not miss it? How can you not know the difference? Nobody acts nearly as well as they think they do.
– Jon
Oct 24, 2014 at 9:05
• I understand. I was an online player, I played live only two times in 5 years, so this topic is a bit of unknown to me :) Oct 24, 2014 at 10:17
• Even online there may be a bit of a tell. The accuracy, or the trust you might put in that tell would be low, and just simply based on what you have seen with the player at showdown, does he tend to fake it with big obvious hands, or does he tend to play those quickly, there is some data to figure. I learned poker live, have played online your question was asked twice, I found it confusing.:)
– Jon
Oct 24, 2014 at 10:24