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BBC Reveals How Math and Psychology Give Poker Players the Upper Hand

BBC Reveals How Math and Psychology Give Poker Players the Upper Hand

While the exact origins of Poker are somewhat unclear, it is still one of the most popular card games in the world. Poker is relatively easy to play, and yet it’s a common game at casinos and the highest skilled players could potentially find themselves at the World Series of Poker. But what about the rest of us? Not everyone has what it takes to be a great Poker player. And then there’s the ongoing question of whether Poker is a game of numbers or a game of the mind.

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In a recent episode of BBC Radio 4’s The Infinite Monkey Cage, hosts Brian Cox and Robin Ince invited a panel of guests to share their thoughts on how to beat the house and win at games. When the topic of Poker came up, mathematician Hannah Fry broke down how it is possible to use math to get the upper hand in a Poker game. “Ultimately, Poker is just a game of logic, really. You’re playing the probability of you winning against the probability of somebody else winning. So, in the very simplest way, what you need to do is work out, based on what cards you have at that moment, how many different cards there are left in the pack that could potentially give you a winning hand. It’s quite easy to count up those cards.” She went on to add that, “you can also work out what the other players around the table are likely to have in their hands that could potentially beat your hand. Putting those two things together, you can work out your probability of winning. That’s fairly simple to do.”


However, mathematician Alex Bellos argued that the psychological side of the game is also critical to playing Poker, perhaps even more so than mastering the numbers. “I think you need the basis of understanding what the numbers are, but after that it really is at the top level, more of a game of psychology.” Psychologist Richard Wiseman briefly spoke about the “Poker face” and noted that people are terrible at reading each other during the game, and not nearly as talented at picking up on deception as they claim to be. However, Wiseman did suggest a micro expression strategy to throw off opponents during the game, but he added that “it’s not such a bad thing to be doing, but you’re not going to have many friends by the end of the Poker game.”

The entire episode of The Infinite Monkey Cage is just under a half hour, and it really is a fascinating look at Poker, Monopoly, and other games from a perspective that we don’t ordinarily hear. You can listen to the episode here.

What are some of your Poker strategies? Let us know in the comment section below!

Featured Image Credit: BBC Radio 4
Blog Image Credit: Thomas van der Weerd (Wikimedia Commons)

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