Applying Game Theory From Poker to Life

I was a poker professional for years, and something I can tell you is that the vast majority of people think about the game incorrectly from a fundamental standpoint. It happens because they generally think incorrectly about things in their lives in general. That’s a bold thing to say, but it’s the truth, and I’m going to briefly show you why.

Interestingly, the lesson in why that is the case transcends poker and extends to a lot of other areas. It involves the vantage point of game theory, and we’re going to look at how to use that vantage point in dating as an instructive example.

Game Theory and the Correct Vantage Point

Let’s start with what people do wrong with their poker thinking. Suppose you’re dealt KJs on the button in a no-limit hold’em cash game with 100bb stacks. It folds to the cutoff position, a player you’re fairly familiar with, who then raises to 3bb. It’s your turn. What do you do?

This is the critical moment. Most players think about what they should do with KJs, the hand in front of them, in this one situation in the present moment. However intuitive that may be, it’s a mistake.

Most players try to maximize their profit with each individual hand that’s put in front of them. While that is intuitive, it is mistaken and will not lead to the highest amount of profit available in total.

Instead, your first inclination should be to think about how you would play here in general with all available hands and situations. Which hands would you fold, which would you call and which would you use to put in a re-raise?

There will be a range of hands for each of these, and that’s what you should decide on first. Only once you have a feel for those ranges do you look at your actual cards in the moment to decide where your current hand fits into that overall strategy for the situation as a whole.

This is the correct vantage point for the application of game theory to any scenario. Instead of putting blinders on and thinking only about the current situation, you have to take a top-down position as if you are high in the air looking down at the battlefield as a whole.

Strategy vs. Tactics

When you’re stuck only thinking about the current situation in the moment, then you’re stuck thinking tactically. However, when you transcend that and look at all of the possibilities of the present moment and how multiple decisions in the same spot will play out over time, then you’re thinking more strategically.

“Tactics is knowing what to do when there is something to do; strategy is knowing what to do when there is nothing to do.” – Savielly Tartakower

In applying this to your life and decision-making in general, a lot of it also comes down to knowing when to do nothing. You only have so much energy to allot, and if you don’t manage it wisely while thinking of all of the possibilities as a whole, then you’ll inevitably find yourself in a pickle.

Applying Game Theory in Dating

As ominous as this sounds, it’s actually really straightforward and is an incredibly thoughtful thing to do.

Consider the following. People often get bored if you’re always doing the exact same thing or if you always react in the exact same way. What was once a meaningful gesture can become boring, unimportant or even annoying if you do it too often.

For a simple example, imagine getting a woman flowers. If you do this once, it’s easy to see how it could be meaningful. If you do this once every three months, it’s not often enough to become boring. However, if you did this 2-3 times each week for months on end, it would stop being as exciting, and it would probably stop meaning anything to her other than a bunch of stress about what to do with all of these flowers.

If you only think in the given moment, you might decide to buy flowers each chance you get. This is the exact type of in-the-moment thinking that would lead to such a disaster. Instead, you absolutely must think about about overall big picture and how each of your possibilities fits into that.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *