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13/11/2006 No. 3
he Guardian G2 Poker Column
Victoria Coren
Monday Nov 13th, 2006

A study from the University of Otago, New Zealand, reveals that snap decisions are more accurate than rational judgments. This conclusion was reached after a series of tests in which volunteers were asked to predict basketball results, half making impulsive guesses and the rest given time and statistics to help their choice.

Can this research help us in poker? When trying to get better at the game, we are supposed to hone our analytical skills, learning to track back through the betting to work out our opponents' likely hands. Let's say you've got AK. You raise before the flop and get one caller. The flop comes 6-7-J with two hearts, and you make a "continuation bet". Your opponent calls. The turn card is a blank. Your opponent calls another bet. The river is a blank. You check. Your opponent goes all in.
Now, what is this guy supposed to have? If he flopped a pair, or even two pair, he would surely raise to protect his hand against the straight and flush draws. Even with a set, he should raise on the turn. Why all this passivity, before an oversized river bet? The most likely option is that he flopped a draw, called twice in a failed attempt to hit it, and is now forced to bet as his only way of winning. Following this careful analysis, you could make a brilliant call. You might also find that the idiot has a pair of sevens.

So, are you better off following the Otago study and acting purely on impulse? I say not. There should be instinct in your game, but analysis is a long-term profitable strategy. Even if you're sometimes wrong. This is, like so many card-table mottoes, equally true of life itself.

Examining the study more closely, beyond the headline-grabbing "result", I see that the impulse volunteers predicted 70% of outcomes correctly. The calculated judgers were 65% correct. A 5% variation, eh? There is a simpler poker lesson to be learned from this: be careful, and sceptical. There is a lot of bullshit out there.


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