Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2013) in Poker Player newspaper.
You’ve probably heard that you need to adjust to your opponents to win at poker. That’s wrong! In fact, you risk costing yourself money whenever you make an adjustment. And today, I’ll explain why.
I’ve previously taught you about hundreds of adjustments that are profitable. Fine. Now I’m warning you that the practice can be dangerous. If you take poker seriously, it’s important to understand the theory behind this mysterious poker phenomenon. So, let’s talk about it.
Among the oldest common sense poker advice you’ll hear is that if the game is tight play loose, and if the game is loose, play tight. The advised trick is to take advantage of opposing weakness by veering in the opposite direction. Seems to make sense.
Unfortunately, that simple advice is wrong. The primary reason it’s wrong is that you take advantage of opponents’ mistakes by finding opportunities. And whenever an opponent strays from the best strategy, you have more opportunities and can play more hands, whether the error is playing too loose or too tight. If the game is too tight, you’ll have more opportunities to bluff; and if the game is too loose, you can liberalize your hand selection and still have an advantage.
Play their game
So, here’s the deal: Against perfect opponents, you’ll play the fewest pots among all possible strategies. But, wait! I don’t mean that you should play fewer pots than those opponents. I mean that, in a game that lasts forever, you should play exactly the same percentage of pots as your opponents.
And, even stranger, you should play exactly the same kind of pots at the same ratios that they choose to enter or fold. And you should bet the same average amounts. In fact, you should precisely mirror what they do.
Why? It’s because you’re a perfect player in a perfect game. Everyone plays perfectly. And — listen closely — in poker, there’s only one “perfect!”
Of course, I can’t tell you what perfect is. Despite arguably having done more poker research and analysis over the decades than anyone else, I’m nowhere near defining the perfect poker strategy.
That’s because even the highest speed modern computers would quickly get lost. They might be able to crunch chess, because there are much fewer combinations of things that can happen. Chess, you see, isn’t really a game — it’s a puzzle. A puzzle having the illusion of a game. A puzzle that can be solved.
And, once solved, there will be a perfect opening chess move that must be followed by a perfect countermove. The sequence will probably result in a tie. And there are likely to be multiple acceptable sequences. It’s just like playing tic-tac-toe, where perfect play is easy to see and always results in a tie, yet there are several ways to get there.
I’m guessing that the white chess pieces, which have the advantage of going first, will eventually be proved to be able to tie my making any initial move. Note that this positional advantage is the opposite of poker. Going first against imperfect opponents is an advantage in chess and a disadvantage in poker.
Now let’s compare this to poker. You could say that poker is also a puzzle that can be resolved — and you’d be right! But on a scale of simplicity, poker is to chess what chess is to tic-tac-toe. A full-handed poker deal has trillions of possibilities, to make an obvious understatement. Each decision at every stage opens a different path, requiring even more decisions and more branching.
Theoretically, poker can be resolved, but you wouldn’t be able to read or memorize the instruction manual with an unassisted human brain. In order to win, you’d still have to use your best personal judgment in the time allotted. So, don’t worry about computers spoiling your real-world poker game.
Now, here’s where it gets goofy. In the early 1980x, I created Orac (Caro backwards), using artificial intelligence to play world-class poker. I learned that, although it was theoretically possible to rely on game theory to dictate decisions, it was impossible in practice. You had to program a best guess, based on incomplete analysis.
Still, Orac played at a level more consistent than humans are capable. It monitored opponents for mistakes. Were they bluffing too often? Betting too often? Not raising enough? Then, I had to decide what to tell Orac to do when these opposing results were out of whack.
You’d think the answer would be obvious, that you should exploit these weaknesses. But there is risk in doing that? Why? It’s because the weaknesses might only be a mirage. Opponents might have been playing the same great strategy that Orac was. That strategy allowed random decision variations in order to employ game theory deception.
So, what if the opposing trends that looked like weakness were actually just a fluke? What if they were just random variations that had happened in a clump by chance? Then if Orac adjusted, it would be moving away from best strategy in an attempt to make more money in quest of an illusion.
And that’s what you should know about everyday poker. You never need to adjust your strategy at all. You can stubbornly stick to your predetermined strategy and make money when opponents play poorly.
You can potentially make more money by each adjustment that allows you to better exploit an opponent’s weakness. But you will make some money from that weakness by not adjusting. And, if you decide to adjust, you’re taking a risk. The adjustment might give your opponent an advantage, because the weakness you perceived wasn’t real.
So, my advice. Adjust. But be drawn into each adjustment kicking and screaming, because — in the real world — most adjustments are ill-conceived or overdone.
Yes, I teach about making adjustments. And they can account for most of your profit, if done right. But if you aren’t sure why you’re adjusting, here’s the answer: Don’t. – MC