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What Type of Poker Player Are You? A Gut Player or a Math Player?

In the ongoing battle between gut-feel players and math-based play, who wins?

Do You Have Poker Instinct or Do You Trust the Numbers?


Poker is a funny old game; it’s really easy to learn the rules, but it’s one of the most challenging games to master. If you don’t believe it, ask the pros – they will confirm it time and again. The world’s most successful poker professionals including the Texas Dolly, a.k.a. Doyle Brunson, the inimitable Phil Ivey, Stu Ungar, Johnny Moss, Chip Reese, Andy Beal and others will all tell you the same thing: Poker is a game of gut feel and mathematics. Not only do you have to know how to interpret the numbers, but you have to have a sixth sense about the game.

Consider some of the best quotes of the game – they confirm that poker is a brain game through and through. ‘Poker is war. People pretend it is a game,’ (Doyle Brunson) or this one, ‘I guess if there weren’t luck involved, I’d win every time.’ (Phil Hellmuth). The most legendary quote of all was spoken by Hollywood A-list celebrity, the legendary Paul Newman, ‘If you’re playing a poker game and you look around the table and you can’t tell who the sucker is, it’s you.’ In all instances, reference is made to the mental aspect of the game (the mathematical component) and the luck component – the gut instinct.

So what makes poker players good at what they do?


Many articles, books and discussions focus on the impact of making decisions on gut instinct versus mathematical sensibility. This topic has also been likened to another topic: Are leaders born, or are leaders made? The fact of the matter is that it’s a little bit of both. It is impossible to determine with precision whether any particular playing style is best. On a good day, a player who wins multiple hands with gut instinct will appear to be a player who has found the poker panacea.

But if a player’s gut instinct falters, it is safe to assume that you can always rely on the numbers. There is a considerable difference between players who play by feel and those who play by the numbers. If you are sitting at a poker table and you are understanding the way other players are reacting to the cards they have been dealt and to one another, your gut instinct counts tremendously. However, if you’re sitting at a table and you don’t understand the reactions of other players your gut instinct will fail you.


Poker is a game of probabilities – that is an undeniable fact. For a mathematical mind, it’s not so much about how a player feels about the hand, it’s about how the numbers make sense. This means it’s irrelevant how other players are reacting to a math poker player. For a math poker player, what matters are things like pot odds. There is a theory that players who base their decisions on numbers traditionally fare well in online poker tournaments where they cannot gauge the reactions and mood of other players at the table. The flipside of the coin is that players who rely on gut instinct tend to perform better at live poker tournaments where they can take in the atmosphere.

Play According to the Format that Works Best for Your Style


Players with a gut feel for the game are generally better at no limit poker tournaments. This adds a psychological component to the game which traditionally favours gut-instinct players. Math players have been able to use all manner of poker odds calculators, strategy charts and various online programs to significantly up their game and win more consistently. For this reason, limit games all fixed limit games are favored for math poker players.


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