There are quite a few books that are a must-read for poker players and Malcolm Gladwell’s second book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, is one of them. I actually think it’s as important as game theory has been.
Gladwell presents, in easy to understand, a condensation of behavioral science’s discussion of rapid-fire mental processes.
It discusses being seeing patterns from small bits of information to big decisions under circumstances that are typically thought of as uncertain.
Given enough experience, practice and playing what seems like uncertainty becomes “thin slicing.”
It doesn’t condone stereotyping but it operationalizes what we call going with our gut.
Thin-slicing is the ability to find patterns based upon what seems to be limited information. It’s when we make quick inferences that seem to be done subconsciously but is the end product of grinding hours at the table, studying people at the table and learning the probabilities.
The book shows that often the expert can make quick judgments based on what seems like limited information and the outcomes are similar to judgments made on much more information.
We all know that poker is a game wherein we make decisions on incomplete information; it’s a game that moves fast and often is one of the best examples of making decisions under stress and uncertainty.
This thin-slicing idea, however, is deceptive. It doesn’t mean just playing hunches or on feel. It means working to understand patterns of play. Play of opponents and tables lets us see these patterns. Remember, I am saying, “seems to be limited information” because it’s the accumulated experience you have at poker.
Once you thin-slice, you take advantage of the situation, make your move and make an accurate decision with a little amount of money.
We talk about this in different ways. In tournaments, we know that some people are playing to make the next level; some people want to make it past the break; some people don’t want to lose all of their chips. For these people, good players have learned to strategically push.
There’s no time at the table to assess the situation so we have to thin-slice. I played a $350 WPT tournament a few years ago, was the short stack at the final table and wound up third. I did this not by getting the nuts or being a genius player. I thin-sliced.
I knew the big stacks would try to bust out the short stacks and when two medium stacks got all-in it was time for me to fold. I had decided I was too short-stacked to win, so I would move up as much as possible.
I didn’t have time to weigh all the factors, I had to thin-slice based on the players, my goals, my experience in tournaments and the like.
If you want to keep your head in the game, this is a must read.
— Dr. Stephen Bloomfield is a licensed psychologist and avid poker player. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.