Have you ever played a hand of poker where you knew the correct mathematical strategy, but your gut told you something different? 

Which side did you err on? 

Was the pull of mathematics stronger, or did your intuition win out? 

Most players think that decision-making is an either/or proposition. That is - either we go with our intuition or with the technically correct decision. 

  • But is this the best way to go about decision-making? 
  • Should we pay more attention to our intuition? 

Let's look deeper into intuition and see if it can be useful at the tables.

What Is Intuition and When Should You Use It?  

Intuition is a complex and multifaceted construct. Psychologists typically use a standard set of definitions and assumptions to explain it. 

The definition of intuition is as follows – 

An unconscious cognitive process that draws on a person's experience, knowledge, and expertise to generate a rapid and effortless sense of judgment or insight. 

Intuition often characterises a feeling of certainty or confidence in response to complex or uncertain situations with no clear solution or answer. 

Intuition is thought to be a non-analytical form of reasoning that operates outside of conscious awareness. Players often describe it as a "gut feeling" or a "hunch." 

Intuition can be a valuable tool in decision-making, particularly in situations with limited time or information. There is a significant caveat to remember before relying solely on your intuition.

Cognitive biases and other factors may influence intuition, leading to errors in judgment.

For all these reasons, intuition is generally considered a non-analytical form of reasoning. In contrast, analytical reasoning. Analytical reasoning involves a deliberate and conscious process of problem-solving. 

Think exploitative play versus GTO

Much research shows that intuition can be a powerful decision-making tool. Many studies show that people who trust their intuition make better decisions than those who ignore their hunches.
Using an intuitive approach can be particularly helpful in high-pressure situations with limited information. 

  • You may find it helpful to call on your intuition when deciding whether to bluff in a specific spot
  • It might also come in handy when deciding to call down with a bluff catcher versus a particular player

Sometimes, you “know” the right play - even if it goes against conventional wisdom. 

Can You Train Your Intuition?

Improving your intuition will undoubtedly make you a more well-rounded poker player There is good news if you do not consider yourself a particularly intuitive player right now. 

You can train and develop your intuition over time. 

Poker Player

Here are some specifics to improve your intuition:

Study and practice the game: Intuition is often an unconscious cognitive process, drawing on a player’s expertise and experience. Developing your poker expertise can help to improve your intuitive decision-making.  Practical ways to do this include the following: 

  • Reading books and articles
  • Watching instructional videos
  • Playing as many hands as possible

The more volume you put in, the more scenarios you’ll have for your memory bank. This information will help you “see” more possibilities at the tables. 

Be purposeful in your poker study - don’t just passively consume content. Constantly seek feedback and additional learning opportunities, and your intuition will improve dramatically.

Pay attention to bodily sensations: In poker, intuition is often accompanied by physical sensations, such as a feeling in the pit of your stomach. Other times, it might be a feeling of nervousness or excitement. 

Paying attention to these sensations can help you tune into your intuition. You can use this gut feeling  to help you to make better decisions. 

Poker Player

Practice mindfulness and reflection: Mindfulness is about being present and fully engaged in the moment. It's like hitting the "pause button" on all the distractions and stresses of life and tuning in to what's happening right now. It involves paying attention to your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations without judgment, accepting them for what they are. 

Practising mindfulness and reflection (both at and away from the tables) can cultivate a more self-aware approach to decision-making. 

Reflect on your thoughts and feelings while open to new perspectives and feedback.

Use mental imagery: Mental imagery can be a potent tool for improving your poker intuition. It’s a fancy term meaning visualising different scenarios and imagining different outcomes. 

You’ll likely generate new ideas and insights by training your mind to do this.

Seek diverse perspectives: In poker (and life in general), cognitive biases can limit intuition, leading to errors in judgment. Seeking varied perceptions and opinions from friends and/or coaches can counteract these biases and broaden your perspective. 

You must remain open to feedback and not just seek confirmation that you did the right thing. You may get better results if you go into discussions thinking you made an error as the default. 

Review and analyse hand histories: Reviewing and analysing hand histories is one of the best ways poker players can learn from their mistakes and develop a more intuitive sense of the game. 

This method typically involves using software to track and analyse hand histories. You should also seek feedback and advice from more experienced players or a coach.

Practice using your intuition at the tables: One of the best ways to improve your intuition is to practise it in world situations. This calculated risk should reflect the information that you learnt. 

Evaluate the outcome of your decisions while being open to learning from mistakes or failures. 

If you “see” a solid bluffing spot, take it! 

Afterwards, evaluate how it went and see if you can determine what information told you this was a good spot. Did you miss anything? 

Sometimes hindsight is 20/20. That’s okay! 

Your goal is to develop your intuition. And any information is good information in this regard. 

Summary: Improving Your Intuition Abilities

As you can see, improving intuition in poker involves a combination of the following:

  • Developing your expertise
  • Paying attention to bodily sensations
  • Practising mindfulness and reflection
  • Using mental imagery
  • Seeking out diverse perspectives
  • Reviewing and analysing hand histories

You’ll also have to take your intuitive abilities for a spin by using them in real life. 

Intuition is complex and multifaceted. While helpful, there are no substitutes for a solid poker strategy. 

Intuition can be valuable when generating new ideas and helping you figure out solutions at the table. But it must also exist in conjunction with careful analysis and rigorous reasoning. 

Combining these two sides of the decision-making coin should give you the best of both worlds! 

Dr. Tricia Cardner is the author of Positive Poker, Peak Poker Performance and co-author of Purposeful Practice for Poker. She podcasts at Poker on The Mind with her co-host Gareth James. You can find her at peakpokermindset.com where she teaches poker players the most effective psychological strategies for optimal poker performance.