Should you trust your intuition?

Every poker player has it. That voice inside your head screaming that your opponent is bluffing.

That gut feeling that he ‘definitely has it this time’.

Should you listen to that voice?

The answer may surprise you.

Maths vs Feel Players

Poker Intuition vs Poker Math - Maths vs Feel
Poker Intuition vs Poker Math - Maths vs Feel

Poker players use the poker term ‘feel player’ to describe someone who plays poker without using maths to properly inform their decisions.

Feel players base almost everything they do on instinct, intuition and experience.

  • It's no secret that the best poker players typically use maths.
  • ‘Feel’ players are often looked down on as a result.

Some ‘feel’ players perform exceptionally well at the poker table despite never studying a GTO poker combo chart or performing any calculation mid-hand.

There is clearly more to an intuitive approach than initially meets the eye.

What is Intuition?

Intuition is a feeling produced by data processed at a subconscious level.

It's based on our past relevant experiences and observations.

Did you ever suddenly feel that your opponent is bluffing or holding a specific poker hand?

Poker Intuition vs Poker Math - Intuition
Poker Intuition vs Poker Math - Intuition

This belief is likely based on past observations. You may not consciously remember the past observations in question, and you likely won't even realise that these past observations are triggering your poker instinct.

It manifests itself as a feeling, often an unexplainable one. You sense that your opponent is very likely bluffing but can't explain rationally why you suddenly feel that way.

The data processing has occurred on a subconscious rather than rational level.

It's not accurate to say 'feel' players run no calculation.

It's more accurate to say that they rely on their subconscious mind for most of their computation.

Subconscious vs Rational Mind

But surely, the rational mind has to be superior to the subconscious mind - right?

The answer is yes in many ways, while in other ways, the answer is a resounding no. 

Poker Intuition vs Poker Math - Subconscious vs Rational
Poker Intuition vs Poker Math - Subconscious vs Rational

Our subconscious mind is significantly more efficient at processing large quantities of data.

  • Scientists have estimated that our rational mind can process data at a few hundred bits per second.
  • Our subconscious brain can process approximately over 10 Million bits per second (around 1.25 megabytes) - roughly 25,000 times as fast.

There is a very real chance that our subconscious mind can pick up on pieces of information that our rational mind completely misses.

In other words, your subconscious mind is a supercomputer.

Every poker player should absolutely be interested in harnessing its raw processing power.

Harnessing the Power of Intuition

Although the subconscious is extremely powerful, we shouldn’t all transition to ‘feel’ players.

The rational mind has advantages, too.

  1. It is more accurate at rejecting faulty logic.
  2. The subconscious has less of a filter in this regard.
Poker Intuition vs Poker Math - Harnessing Poker of Intuition
Poker Intuition vs Poker Math - Harnessing Poker of Intuition

For example, imagine our strong hand gets cracked five times in a row on a wet poker board. The next time we get dealt something strong, our gut feeling may tell us that we are about to lose another large pot.

Our rational mind, however, knows that probability has no memory. Our recent run of bad luck has zero influence over whether our strong hand will hold up this time.

The subconscious mind is most powerful when guided and filtered by our more logical, rational mind. 

Our quest is not to be either ‘maths’ or ‘feel’ players but to unlock the power of both in unison.

Training the Intuitive Mind

A poker player’s intuition requires a great deal of training to be valid.

The intuition of a new poker player is unlikely to be very good, especially when there are so many counter-intuitive aspects in poker.

Poker Intuition vs Poker Math - Training the Intuitive Mind
Poker Intuition vs Poker Math - Training the Intuitive Mind
  • The intuition of an inexperienced poker player may result in wild assumptions such as ‘I think my opponent has AK’, even though there is no rational basis.
  • It leaves them open to psychological biases such as “I’ve missed my flush draw the last two times, so I’ll probably hit this time”.

It takes a present, rational mind to understand which gut feelings should be trusted and which shouldn’t.

The suggestions from our subconscious mind will improve in quality over time. But first, it requires experience and (ideally) deliberate practice in analysing the game rationally.

Anything we consider in-depth on a rational level ultimately becomes part of our subconscious data processing.

Using Intuition in Practice

The world’s elite players often make decisions based on a mixture of mathematical analysis and subconscious instinct.

That’s why we see many of the same faces on the WPT poker tour stages.

We should also strive to do the same - at least, eventually.

Since the intuition of an inexperienced poker player is unrefined, it can be more dangerous than helpful.

Taking a theoretical, mathematical, rational approach to poker is the best starting point for newer players until their poker intuition has had time to develop properly.

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