Uses of game theory in poker

When we started discussing game theory in class it occurred to me that this concept would be extremely useful to individuals who compete in poker. A UCLA graduate student, Chris Ferguson, believed this as well. His father taught game theory at UCLA and started grooming Chris and his brother when they were younger to be able to understand and apply game theory. An authentic deck of cards comes with fifty two cards in it. There are a total of 2,598,960 combinations of hands that any single player can have when the cards are dealt out. Now this is where it gets interesting. Most poker experts rely on a branch of game theory known as maximally exploitive. This means that when a poker player is facing another poker player they will try to exploit their opponent as much as possible in order to gain as much as they can from the game. This strategy seems like it would be best possible option but Ferguson being as innovative as he is realized that poker is not just about gaining as much as you can but also about trying not loose what you already have won. Every time a player tries to exploit another player they leave themselves vulnerable to attack. So in light of this Ferguson implied a fairly new strategy to poker known as optimal strategy. Instead of being based on attack like the maximally exploitive strategy this strategy is based on trying not to lose instead of trying to win. More specifically this strategy is used against expert players when not making mistakes is crucial. Ferguson was the first to win over a million dollars in a poker tournament. He didn’t stop there he also served as chairman of the board for Tiltware. Tiltware is the software company that developed the poker software for the popular online poker site, Full Tilt Poker. Although Ferguson has not perfected the game of poker, which I believe is impossible; he has created one of the best strategies for playing the game aside from card counting of course.



2 thoughts on “Uses of game theory in poker”

  1. I wonder what type of equilibrium becomes established, particularly as the optimal strategy becomes more widely known and practiced. It seems that much of the strength of the strategy would come from presupposing that your opponents would be playing the maximally exploitive strategy. As this shifts it seems “optimal” could still be a dominant strategy, but the pace of a poker game would likely slow down as players are playing more protectively. Of course the dynamics at the highest level are likely much more complicated than at the casino at one AM, so I’ll just head down to sugar house and stick with the optimal.

  2. Great post! I believe that game theory in poker is a fascinating area of study and I agree with you that it will probably never be figured out. This concept of trying to not lose, instead of trying to win, is a great game theory concept on its own, and becomes even more complex when applied to the game of poker. In most poker games, it is not about who has the best cards in any given hand, it is about who can last the entirety of an entire round. This seems to be the starting point for Ferguson’s strategy. What would also be interesting is to look at his opinions and beliefs about bluffing. Due to the concept that he is trying to “not lose” I believe he would be extremely adverse to bluffing, which is inherently only used when trying to win. Bluffing then becomes its own sort of prisoners dilemma game, which is a totally different post in and of itself. But, the box would look like this: both bluff, neither bluff, one bluffs or the other bluffs, but is it evenly distributed across both boxes?

    Anyway, great post! Now you’ve gotten me thinking.


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