Fold or bet? Poker and the science of the unknown

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As a game of chance, as well as a game rooted in game theory - players are constantly adjusting their strategies based on what their competitors are doing - poker play is situational in nature. "Right" and "wrong" bets are heavily dependent on the cards dealt and the skill with which individual players can read their human foes at the table. Given the exact same set of circumstances, the right bet can come at the wrong time and vice verse.

So how might science approach the game? Cocktail Party Physicist Jennifer Ouelette is glad you asked

But remember that poker is a game of limited information, where players must deduce what cards their opponents are likely to have based on their knowledge of the odds and clues from other players’ behavior. There may not be a single answer. As Harvey -- ever the string theorist -- puts it in the Discover article: 'Chess is like classical mechanics. Poker is like quantum mechanics. In chess, there is only one right move. In poker, there is a probability distribution of right moves.' Harvey admits that one of his classic errors is 'calling wen I think I am beat for other reasons (betting patterns, tells, and so on),' but he calls anyway because 'the math says I should. At times like that, I need to pay less attention to the math.'

Read her entire post online, or check out the edited version, "Big Game Theory," in the November Discover.