Poker is a game of uncertainty. Very rarely do we have perfect information about our opponent’s hand, frequencies, or even mood. Which means we are left making a lot of assumptions. We make assumptions about our opponent’s holdings, about how often he bluffs, and many other elements in a given hand. Poker essentially boils down to who can make the best math decisions based around the best assumptions while not making mental errors. Pretty simple when you look at it that way, right?
But all too often you hear two players discussing a hand and one claims to know the correct line and the other claims that another line is best. Both players argue until they are blue in the face and then move on to argue about a different hand. You see this all of the time in forums, in poker videos, and even at the table.
I’m not here to persuade you to be nicer when discussing hands or to say that another person’s line is better than yours. Rather let’s understand what’s actually being argued. Player 1 is arguing his line is best because of the assumptions he’s making. Player 2 is arguing that his line is better because of the assumptions that he’s making. The funny thing is, both players can actually be 100% correct…even though they come up with two very different lines.
I recently heard a very old parable of the seven blind men and the elephant. If you’ve never heard it, my paraphrased version is that a teacher takes 7 blind men to an elephant. Each man touches a different single part of the elephant (the tusk, head, leg, body, tail, trunk, and ear) and then the teacher asks each man what the entire entity is. The blind man who touched the leg says, “It’s obviously a tree. Feel how sturdy and round it is.” The man who touched the trunk quickly says, “How could it be a tree? It’s obviously a snake.” A third man who touched the tail says, “No, it’s a fly swatter.” And this continued.
Notice how each man drew his own conclusion based upon the evidence he had available to him. This may seem obvious, but it’s often times overlooked once an argument begins. Two people arguing become so focused on convincing the other person to change their thought process that they forget to ask the important question, “Why do they think that way?” The seven blind men perfectly represent poker as each man drew a staunch conclusion based around incomplete information (only touching a single part of the elephant). But how can we use this to our advantage?
First, when discussing a poker hand always ask what assumptions a person is making. Most debates between poker lines arise because each person is making different assumptions about villain’s range or frequencies. If both parties clearly say, “I think villain has X range, Y frequencies with that range, because of Z reason,” the conversation will always go a lot smoother.
Second, think about why a player would be making a certain assumption. We all have different backgrounds, both in poker and real life, and our backgrounds heavily shape our assumptions. Someone who has only ever played $1/$2 live may not have much experience facing 3bets and thus may make very inaccurate assumptions in those spots due to lack of experience. Someone who came from a 6max online background may assume a live player’s UTG opening-range is much wider than it actually is (again, due to lack of experience).
Our experiences shape our perceptions, which in turn shape our assumptions. This is why new poker players make really bad assumptions, because they don’t have enough experience yet to know otherwise. And this is why really experienced players sometimes discuss hands terribly with new players…because experienced players forget all the things that a new player doesn’t know yet. But even two great players can disagree on a hand because both players are making different assumptions about how tight/wide a range is or how value/bluffy some frequencies are.
And this all brings us to the title of the post, “I’m Right, But You’re Correct.” There are two major parts of any poker decision: the logic and assumption. The logic of a good line is always the same. Take the optimal (most +EV) line. The assumption is what we assume about ranges, frequencies, etc. What this means is that two players could discuss the same hand and propose vastly different lines, but both players could be correct. Meaning they could both be presenting different optimal lines GIVEN the assumptions they’ve laid out. This isn’t to say that both sets of assumptions are correct, rather the line GIVEN the assumptions could be correct.
It’s REALLY important that we keep this in mind when discussing hands, reading hand analysis, watching videos, etc. If you disagree with a line, consider WHY it was proposed. What assumptions was the presenter likely making when suggesting a certain action? What assumptions are you making when suggesting a certain action? If you disagree with a piece of advice, ask for clarifications on the suggestion.
Remember, logic in poker is static while assumptions are the variable. If multiple people can momentarily settle on a static assumption, an optimal line can be calculated. But it takes patience and communication to get to that point. So instead of firing into a hand discussion saying, “I’m right and you’re wrong” say to yourself, “I’m right, but you may be correct given your assumptions…So let’s figure out what those assumptions were!”