A game of pattern recognition

pattern recognition

Α few days ago, I was having a discussion with a novice poker player, who asked me on my thoughts regarding how much calculation is required in poker. My answer shocked him in so much that I said “not as much as what you think”. The majority of the “calculation” so to speak has been done over many hundreds of thousands of hands that have been played.

Poker like chess when played to a high level is a game that relies heavily on pattern recognition. While calculation is very important in chess because without any calculation then you would make horrible blunders when candidate moves don’t work.

So there has to be calculation in chess but the next question is not so much if there is calculation but rather “how much is needed”. The best chess players in the world freely admit that they don’t calculate more than 3-5 moves deep and many top grandmasters actually calculate less than that. The vital ingredient isn’t so much in actually calculating the position but a deep understanding of the position. I have used this chess analogy because it fits perfectly with poker.

Of course calculation is needed within poker; to say otherwise would be sheer folly. However, in my opinion a deep understanding of poker is more important than trying to calculate too deeply. Just like in chess where most of the moves that are available on a chess board are either bad or do not enhance your position at all then in poker this also applies.

If you have played 1,000 games of chess and studied 1,000 chess games of the masters then you are going to recognise more patterns than another player that has only played 50 games of chess and studied 10 games by the masters.

The player with more knowledge and study and experience will “see” more and thus be able to “calculate” more but it isn’t because he has a brain like some super computer. In any complex field like poker or chess then it pays dividends to think in principles.

When you can think in principles then you can actually short cut an absolute myriad of potential analysis. Players that cannot think in principles have no choice but to attempt to analyse but yet it has been proven that in games like chess then the grandmasters actually calculate less than players of far lesser ability.

This may sound staggering at first until you realise that grandmasters in chess actually find an effective way to simplify the decision making processes and find effective moves much faster and with much more consistency than a lesser ranked player. To be able to do this despite them saying and showing that they do not calculate more than 3-5 moves deep at most highlights that they absolutely must be thinking in principles.

As poker players we can take many lessons from chess grandmasters for the simple reason that both chess and poker are games that require strategy, tactics, mental strength, concentration and the ability to think quickly. It is no coincidence that many very strong chess players have become very good poker players.