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As we research poker math for the tutorial, we come across the term “heuristics”.  We discovered that supporters of heuristic thinking downplay the use of poker math.  It seems to us here at Juicy Stakes Poker that heuristics begin to apply where poker math leaves off.

Heuristics is a Fancy Name for Everyday Problem Solving

Heuristic thinking or heuristics is considered a kind of mental shortcut we use to make some decisions. In poker, heuristic thinking might be used to decide how to proceed in the hand based on the poker rake!  This makes heuristic thinking seem foolish in the extreme.

In poker, you should never use the poker rake as a basis for a decision.  There are many much better ways to decide on your next move.  The rake is simply the amount from each pot the house takes in order to pay its bills so that you and millions of other poker players will have a nice place to play going forward.

That’s all the rake is!  There is also a maximum rake per hand so even if the pot gets quite big, the rake will reach its upper limit and increase no more.

So, let’s get back to heuristic thinking and its relationship with poker math!

Why is Heuristic Thinking so “In the News” if it is Just a Way of Making Everyday Decisions?

Well, this is a common thread in human affairs: we tend to make things more complicated than they are!  Players who get so bogged down in poker math are doing the same that some heuristic thinkers do!

In fact, without the fancy name, we do use heuristic thinking in many decisions every day!  First of all, we use this kind of thinking when we need to make a quick decision and we don’t have the time to make a doctoral level analysis of the situation before we come up with our decision.

  1. Should we turn left or right?
  2. What should we eat for breakfast?
  3. Should we stop for gas now or when we get to the motel?
  4. Which book should I read next?
  5. Is it time to upgrade my computer or mobile device?

As you can see, we gave five very everyday decisions to show what heuristic thinking deals with all the time.  The list could be 500 items or 5000 items long!

So, now we need to see how we can apply heuristic thinking to poker.

The All-important Educated Guess

This is one type of decision based on heuristic thinking.  In poker we make educated guesses all the time because we cannot know for sure what our betting opponent has in the hole.

The educated part of an educated guess in poker includes poker math.  What are the pot odds, the equity, the hand ranges, and our chances of winning the hand?  If we were bluffing in order to see the flop hoping it would help us tremendously at little cost and in a situation where a flop with low cards might throw the other players off the track, and the flop comes out with cards that give us a draw for a straight or flush but might have paired an opponent’s cards or given her three of a kind, an educated guess might say that we should hold onto our money and live to play another day!

Decisions Based on Observation are All Based on Heuristic Thinking

We have spoken a lot about the importance of observing our opponents.  Even on hands where we have folded from the start, we should be carefully paying attention to how those players who have stayed in the pot are playing.  What are their tendencies?  How do they bet in the position they are presently in?

We pay attention because in a subsequent pot we might very well decide to stay in or fold based on what we have observed!  That is heuristic thinking in poker!  We urge players to use poker math to get a firm grip on whether it “pays” to call or raise but we often decide based on impressions, intuition, and other non-mathematical parameters.

By the way, intuition and other heuristic ways of thinking are definitely NOT the way to make decisions in video poker!  This is a game based on five card draw where computers have analyzed millions of hands and have given gamers the best strategy for every possible scenario.

Video poker does not use poker math and it also doesn’t use heuristic thinking.  It follows the statistical realities and gives video poker players a very high return to player rate!  But this is also not the kind of poker Texas Holdem or Omaha players want to play!

Isn’t Heuristic Thinking Just Guessing and Hoping the Cards We Need will Show Up?

Not at all!

Heuristic thinking comes into play in poker on many hands since even the best mathematical analysis cannot take pure luck into account!  A bad beat is a loss on a hand where the math and the non-mathematical thinking were all in our favor and still our opponent got the one out he needed on the river and….poof!...all of our calculations were for naught!

Poker math will help us win far more hands than we would win otherwise.  Heuristic thinking also helps us win a lot more hands than we would otherwise win without close observation and the non-mathematical side of hand ranges, position, and so on!

Which is More Important, Poker Math or Heuristics?

We believe that a player who can master the basic elements of poker math and can also pay close attention to all of the non-mathematical aspects of every poker hand, will have a huge advantage against players who have learned neither!  A poker player with little or no grounding in poker math will always be guessing and educated guessing is a far cry from simple guessing!

So, in a real sense poker math and heuristics are “tied”.  However, since heuristics are intuitive and are based on observation we feel that it is better to place one’s emphasis on studying poker math!

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