The Differences Between Experienced and Inexperienced Poker Players

There are tactical differences and strategic differences.

Experienced players make bets against hand ranges, not specific hands. A moderately experienced player will say “in this situation, my opponent has a flush draw X% of the time, a pair Y% of the time, and nothing Z% of the time, therefore I should make the decision that does best against the weighted average of those three.” A very experienced player will break it down with more granularity, and sometimes optimize for the high-return scenario, even if it means disregarding other plausible futures.

Bet sizing is something inexperienced players don’t have the bandwidth for. It’s important to think about the minimum bet X you can make to have a Y% chance of accomplishing a goal, and it’s important to understand how ratcheting up X relates to Y. The do not scale linearly.

Hand ranges and bet sizing are tactics. The strategic differences are more interesting because they are applicable away from poker.

Opportunities with low downside risk and high upside potential are the focus of every experienced poker player. But those opportunities are few and far between in modern high-stakes poker. This is why much of the smart money has left the game altogether.

Premiums for scenarios with disproportionate upside have gone up over time. If you watch every episode of GSN’s “High Stakes Poker” in chronological order, you will see the pros paying higher and higher prices to enter pots with amateur players. This is because High Stakes Poker was filmed over five years where poker was exploding in popularity and the tables were getting swamped with experts. When there are fewer low risk opportunities with high upside, poker becomes a war of attrition. Experienced players who still want to play poker professionally are forced to resort to volume or differentiation.

Volume is a measure of how many hands a player plays. There is a player called Nanonoko who is famous for playing 24 tables at a time. His decisions aren’t as good as when he is playing four tables at a time, but his hourly rate is better than anyone else who plays 24 tables. He has optimized for volume.

Differentiation causes a player and his opponents to enter unfamiliar territory through unconventional betting styles. Viktor Blom is a prime example of this. He earned outsized returns for a short period of time playing heads up against the best players in the world, due to his imaginative play. Then, many of those players colluded against him, decoding his strategy and halting his winning streak.

In addition to what I have mentioned, the best players excel because they are more disciplined, emotionally balanced, and hard working than everyone else. The same ingredients that go into a successful person in any competitive field.


Originally published at www.quora.com.