Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Thinky and Blinky

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.


Tiny B said...


Gonz said...

Listen, TBR, the Sports Guy is NOT "unanimously loved by all Batfaces." This will likely shock you and the rest of the guys, but Simmons and I have a rather acrimonious relationship. When last we spoke, he and I spent a good amount of time screaming at each other. He is a talentless hack, and a pussy, too.

Anyway, point is, I vote for Dan (or maybe Simmons--Mike, that is, not Bill) as our group mouthpiece. Clearly TBR has proven unfit for the gig.

Anonymous said...

Here is another puzzle/mystery dichotomy: it is a puzzle trying to make any sense of your posts and a mystery as to why anyone would want to read all the crap cited in them.

Tulsa said...

Tiny B says the game isn't that complicated: flop sets and you win. Gonz doesn't acknowledge that he was a big fan of Simmons BEFORE they yelled at each other. And Anonymous/Shane is funny. Gladwell is good, but Blink is an interesting magazine article stretched into book form, and it shows. Monk?

Shane said...

A. I am not "anonymous", although I sometimes agree with him/Peaches.

B. TBR is correct about Simmons being unanimously loved by the Batfaces.

C. Gonz is incorrect about Simmons not being unanimously loved since he does not like him. Gonz is not a Batface. Never has been, never will.

D. People forget that Gladwell's rise to fame in The Tipping Point began because he took a creepy interest in the rise of syphillis in Baltimore. That and the hair make me think he is an over-hyped, self-important, snake oil salesman.

E. At the 2003 Yahoo Annual Sales Conference, Gladwell was a keynote speaker. Following his lecture, he got plastered at the bar nailed the bejeezus out of a midly attractive skank who also happened to be the Vice President of Film Marketing for the Disney Corporation. That and the third-hand account of her screaming overheard in the hallway outside of Gladwell's room make me think he is a well accomplished playa.

TBR said...

...which leads me begin the early list of BF resolutions for 2007:

1. More Shane

Gonz said...

Listen, Jolly Roger, or whatever butt pirate name you call yourself, when I'm done with Simmons, you're next.

Tulsa said...

Hello, boys. I'm a Lionel Hutz, noted libel attorney. Shane, this case Mr. Gladwell has brought against you will be tough to defend. He's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Gentle Shane said...


Shut your pie hole before I have you deported.