• The Role of Intuition in Poker

    What is intuition?

    Basically, Intuition is a vague, largely unconscious sense that seems almost like a little voice, far away, telling you something, like: "Fold, muck 'em, now." The feeling is usually kind of muddy, fuzzy. If someone asked you what it is you know at that moment, you would likely be unable to say anything.

    Is it a "Gut" feeling?

    Is it "instinctual?" Not really. The "gut" notion comes about because it often has an emotional component. The process also seems so natural and automatic that some think it must be an instinct. Instincts, however, are unlearned biological reactions. Intuitive knowledge is most definitely learned. But, hey, we're talking about poker here, not evolutionary biology.

    Does it lead to good decision-making?

    Yes, but it's nowhere near perfect. This unconscious system evolved because it "satisficed." That is, it provided enough information so that pretty good decisions could be made. If you want perfect decision-making, you need conscious control over the process. Poker, of course, is a game of partial information so the implicit, intuitive system works fine.

    Can you learn to use your intuition?

    Absolutely! There are two key elements. One is practice. Because the system operates by detecting patterns in the world around us, the more time you spend in a setting, the more often you will pick up the patterns that are there. As all of us who have played long enough realize, the more time we spend at the tables, the more we seem to develop a deep appreciation for the complexities of the game, even though we would be hard-pressed to say what we are learning. Second, you need to pay attention. The learning mechanism operates best when we are focused. Players who examine what other players are doing are going to build up their intuitive knowledge faster than others.

    Do good poker players use their intuition, and if so, how?

    Of course they do. Doyle was right-on about the subconscious voice that whispers about how an opponent plays. What good players do, however, involves a number of elements. As noted, they have put in a lot of hours so their store of unconscious knowledge is large. They have confidence in their abilities and know when the tiny, distant voice is saying something relevant. And, importantly, they do not get screwed up by that "I-just-got-a-feeling-about-this-hand" nonsense that pops up all the time. This "feeling" that something good/bad is going to happen is an illusion and about as reliable as Quija board.

    Practice, pay attention, learn the game in all of its delicious complexity and slowly allow your intuitive knowledge base to build. You'll get a sense of it as it grows and that soft, off-stage voice will whisper hints about a hand and how it's being played. It will reveal some vital knowledge about your opponents and their tendencies and, eventually, lead you into a deep, Zen-like appreciation of the game and the profits that come with it.