I have always found the process of trying to identify poker tells at the table rather difficult. Like most people who have played the game for a long time, I am okay at speculating as to what range of hands a player might have and/or roughing out a percentage of times he might be bluffing. I've read the seminal piece on the subject, Mike Caro's Book of Tells, and though helpful, rarely do I find myself in a situation where I'm thinking, "wow, I saw this in Caro's book! The pot is mine!"
Then I read Blink, Malcolm Gladwell's fantastic book about our intuitive and subconscious ability to nail it on first impressions, even if we don't really know what we nailed. The premise is pretty simple: we observe a lot more than we actually, consciously recognize, and, as applied to poker, when we get that "instinctual" urge to call or fold in a certain context that might seem to dictate otherwise, it is, actually our minds way of telling us it has processed some information behind the scenes.
Though not specifically detailed in Blink, it's relevance to poker is obvious. Blink is referred to in Peter Alston's great book, Take me to the River. And this month, Cardplayer devotes an article to it as it relates to a particular online hand.
Last night, I saw Gladwell speak at the Tate Lecture Series at SMU. His lecture was a fascinating exploration into the unraveling of Enron and a quite compelling argument that perhaps Skilling doesn't deserve to be in prison. From Gladwell's point of view, the"scandal" was not a puzzle, as the prosecutor's would have us believe, were Enron withheld vital pieces of information from the public, but rather a mystery, where in fact, too much information was available, and professionals in the industry (Wall Street types) simply failed to analyze it properly. It will be the subject of an upcoming piece in the New Yorker. Take a read.
Again, I sat there thinking that this puzzle/mystery dichotomy is also applicable to poker. At a certain point in a poker hand (and sometimes throughout), it's a puzzle, where the player is trying to gather as much information as he can. Decisions are made based upon imperfect and incomplete information. At others, however, and I think particularly in a multiway Omaha pots deeper in the hand, it may shift to a mystery. At that point, the player has a ton of information about the hand, and the difficulty is now analyzing that information to make as good a decision as possible.
Following the lecture, it was revealed during the Q&A portion that Gladwell has a blog, where he rants about topics such as racism and the NCAA. It's a fascinating read. Perusing through it, I noticed that one of his favorite writers is the Sports Guy, who is unanimously loved by all batfaces. Wait a second--clever little pokery-related books, he loves the Sports Guy, that hair... he may be my new Gavin Smith.