Comparing intuition vs. reasoning in poker

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How many times in your life have you felt something just wasn’t right? How many times has the thought, “If I had only gone with my gut this wouldn’t have happened,” crossed your mind? Have you ever wondered where this intuition comes from? Could it come from a knowledge-based foundation? If so, could this be considered reasoning? If so, how and when do we separate them? Are we capable of separating intuition from reasoning?

A well-known philosopher once described intuition as “the absence of logic coupled with truth.” I like to think we all have the power to use intuition and reasoning to make the correct choices. The real question, however, is which weighs more heavily in our thought process?

When you lay down a big hand to a big bet do you do so based on intuition or reasoning? When you bet into a check or when you flat call a big bet is it intuition or reasoning?

More often than not the answer to the previous questions will be based on reasoning.

Seldom are you put to the test and use intuition to decide what to do.
Super-aggressive players may use intuition more often than reason to play this style of poker. “If I keep the pressure on he’ll lay it down.”

Will reason or intuition work more often on an aggressive player? Can a well-timed bluff be considered intuition or reason? Do we all possess a sixth sense to guide us in the process?

I’ve always maintained that a knowledge-based foundation would carry me much further in poker than any form of intuition. That being said, intuition has become a much bigger part of my game.

Many of my students have asked, “How do you defeat an aggressive player?” My answer has been, “Wait for a big hand and trap them.” This doesn’t always work out well, however. When I have that hand the aggressive player isn’t in the hand, or my hand simply isn’t strong enough to risk it. What now?

Intuition coupled with reason.

So, are we capable of separating intuition from reason? Can we combine both to make a more informed decision? Yes, and both must be encompassed to protect us from the super-aggressive players who dominate the game.

Recently I’ve been asking, “What’s my gut telling me about this play?” What is my sixth sense (intuition) telling me? I then ask, “What has happened so far in the hand (reasoning)?” By combining both I’m forcing myself to think more about the hand. This process has several major effects on play. Because I’m taking more time to play I’m able to pick up more tells from my opponents. My game seems to have a more vigorous effect on other players; they seem to have a more difficult time putting me on a hand. I’m able to make different style bets that seem more difficult to understand.

Being able to define a hand more clearly is a great advantage over simply using reasoning through a hand. Asking “What is your gut telling you?” and then replaying the hand to the point of reason often allows you to make the correct decision.

Admittedly there are times when good old intuition comes roaring in and saves us all. Super-aggressive players are so common that relying solely on reasoning detracts from our ability to make the correct decisions. Finding a well-balanced approach to the aggressive game is mandatory for survival in this pressure-cooker environment of the poker world.

Poker is really a people game and always will be. If our understanding of players’ factors in intuition based on reasoning we are combining the best of both worlds and adding a facet to the game that we may not have used previously.

All tools make us better players. Exploring new ideas and adding a new approach to our game keeps us fresh and vibrant. Try never to allow yourself to become a player who only sees the game in one fashion.

— Antonio Pinzari is the former host of Poker Wars and has been playing poker professionally since the ’70s.