James “SplitSuit” Sweeney is back from Vegas and back in action on this week’s podcast. After quickly bringing listeners up to speed on his summer at the WSOP (consisting of much Red Chip business, socializing with members, and a lot of big O), he dives into the topic du jour: Perfect poker information, and the quest to get it.

The inspiration for this podcast was an article posted about our Preflop Poker Quiz. If you haven’t taken it yet, we highly recommend you do. If nothing else, you’ll get to see the decisions that every other player that took the quiz made (in aggregate). This way, you can see how typical players at your level are shaping their lines, and gain an edge by exploiting them. Of course, you’ll also learn a lot about your own game as well by comparing your decisions to the crowd.

The specific inspiration was not the quiz itself, but a comment left on the quiz:

“I found the quiz to be more robotic in nature rather than dynamic in the sense of there being potential profitable spots when having reads, knowing the in-game dynamics, etc. To me, it taught more ABC poker than anything else…” – Joe

Featuring: Sweeney

SplitSuit uses this comment as a jumping-off point for a larger conversation about ‘perfect poker information.’ He says the points brought up are very valid, in the sense that the quiz does not include player stats like VPIP or 3-bet percentage, game dynamics, table dynamics, etc.

It is not surprisng that we would be looking for all of this information before making a decision. Poker is, after all, an information game where the goal is to acquire the most information so we can make the most informed decisions.

That being said, poker is a game of incomplete information as well. Even to the extent that we can tailor our play based on a player’s previous actions, who’s to say the way they played their first 1,000 hands with us will bear relation to the way they play the next 1,000? We don’t play in a vacuum, we develop as players, we change our strategies and adapt to the changing strategies of others.

So while no one could argue we are trying to get perfect information in poker, the simple truth is that it does not exist. There will always be too many unknowns to achieve it. So rather than shying away from getting involved in a discussion about poker strategy because we lack all the information we’d like to make a decision, SplitSuit encourages listeners to jump in and address the situation with the information at hand. This is, after all, what we do when we actually sit down to play.

Especially when it comes to live games, we are generally going to have very limited information on our opponents. Over a lifetime, you’d be lucky to see 500 hands with the same player unless you play in a really small player pool.

SplitSuit’s advice is to stop using “perfect information” as a crutch. Statements like, “I didn’t want to 3-bet there because I didn’t have all the information I needed to make that decision” are counterproductive, because “all the information” you’d like is frequently unavailable.

In a game of incomplete information, what use is the excuse that you have incomplete information?

ABC Poker for Information Deficits

It’s a really good thing to understand what your default “ABC” play might be in a given spot. Rather than being a hinderance, it serves as a strategic foundation to work from as you factor in the information you gather in a hand and in a session. It’s as important to know how to play solid ABC poker as it is to know when to deviate from that when taking into account the information you have.

With an ABC poker foundation, one can then tailor their play to be more aggressive or more passive depending on the information coming in.

Yes, information will lead us the wrong way sometimes. But we only have access to the information we have access to. As long as we made the best decision we could with the information we had, we are playing solid poker. The times we make decisions that don’t work out are also opportunities to gather more information. And the more information we gather, the more we do better in the future. So every move — even the ones that don’t work out as we wanted — gets us closer to our goal of having as much information as we can get.

We always need to be looking for information.

Yes, it’s important to understand ABC poker and have some default lines. But it’s also very important to understand when to bend those lines, what information will cause you to bend those lines, and how you will actually achieve that bending of your strategy by playing more or less aggressively.

Informed Poker Discussions

SplitSuit also encourages listeners to include as much information as possible when discussing hands with friends, coaches or even anonymous folks on the poker forums. Things like effective stack size, observed player tendencies, tells, patterns, and any information you had to base your decision on should be included. You want the people you’re talking poker with to have the exact set of information you had. The purpose of doing this is twofold: You will get the best feedback, but you will also protect yourself from any claims that you didn’t provide enough information to get feedback. If you provide all the information you have — and it will be necessarily incomplete in some ways — then no one can criticize you for what they don’t know, because you don’t know it either.

This is especially true about discussing hands where you’re taking weird lines or making big, unpredictable moves based on a specific piece of information. Make sure that you’re clear about why you’re doing anything out of the ordinary in response to unique information that you have gleaned from your opponent.

Perhaps more importantly, SplitSuit urges all listeners not to let perfect information prevent you from discussing or analyzing a hand. SplitSuit sees a lot of this in his YouTube comments. People will often use imperfect information as an excuse to not share their thoughts. This isn’t just detrimental to the discussion, it’s detrimental to one’s own development as a poker strategist. Discussing hands with others is paramount to improving as a player, but if you set perfect information as your bar for opening your mouth, you will never speak. Don’t worry about having perfect information, just get in there and start analyzing.

Get into the conversation and discuss the gray areas, don’t avoid them.

Get in the Forum

SplitSuit talked to a lot of Red Chippers and poker players out in Vegas during this year’s WSOP and Red Chip Poker meetup, and one thing he came across time and time again was that folks were reluctant to post in the forums. Almost everyone lurked in the forums, picking up useful information from other peoples’ posts, but they failed to actually participate.

It seems the #1 thing keeping people back from improving their games by discussing hands with their poker peers is this quest for perfect information. Or rather, the fear that one cannot present a hand for analysis by others without perfect information.

This is ironic because, ostensibly, with perfect information they would have made a perfect decision, and therefore would have had no reason to get feedback in the forums. The group discussion is there for times when we have incomplete information and need to deal with that fact. It can be daunting to put yourself and your play out there, but you have to understand that other poker players understand this. Our most common forum posters were once reluctant to post their hands. And lack of perfect information may have contributed. But after they made it a habit, they saw their game improve so much, perfect information is no longer a hinderance to their ability to get feedback and get better.

Poker is a challenging game because there is incomplete information. Complete information doesn’t exist, and would make for a pretty boring poker game, honestly.

If you don’t post to the forums because you don’t think what you have to contribute will add to the community, SplitSuit respectfully says that’s nonsense. Every post is an opportunity to learn more, and not just for you, but for the whole community. Just posting the way you’re thinking about a hand to the forum will illuminate your thought process. Receiving respectful feedback will help hone that thought process. And when others chime in with useful advice, they are honing their own thought processes and games.

And if you’re turned off by forums in general because you had a bad experience in another poker forum, or you dislike the anonymous world of online commenting as much as many of us do, you should understand that the Red Chip Poker forums are a much different, much friendlier place than much of the internet. Our community shares a mutual respect that extends especially to first-time posters, who are welcomed in and never ridiculed. Our culture is one of constructive criticism, and neither our community nor our moderators tolerate trolls or people who are specifically picking on others. The result is that you can post anywhere in the forum and know that your post will be carefully read and respectfully replied to by helpful members and coaches. It’s a free resource that is way to good to pass up out of fear or apprehension that you lack the skills or knowledge to participate. In a sense, you only lack the skills or knowledge to participate because you don’t participate. That’s why SplitSuit challenges anyone who’s still skeptical to post once per day in the forum for 30 days. By the end, you will have new poker friends and tons of support from our community, and you’ll be contributing value to others by discussing poker with them as well.

One thing you’ll also notice as you start writing up your hands to post to the forum for feedback, is you will often answer your own question about the hand simply by going through the motion of writing it out. In those cases, SplitSuit encourages you to still post the hand to the forum to start the discussion, as you never know what additional insight our members can give, let alone the help you might give another poster or lurker. At the very least, you will get validation that the answer you found to your question is on the right track.

Always keep your eyes open for information, but understand perfect information is a unicorn. It doesn’t exist.