Metagame and how to use it in poker


Metagame is a concept that can be applied to many forms of games. The basic idea is you use what you know about the general biases and ways to play in a certain group to adjust your strategy from the accepted “correct” strategy to something more effective.

For instance, if you notice most people in California throw rock in a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors, then you should be able to win a larger number of Rock, Paper, Scissors tournaments in that area by throwing a larger percentage of paper, though the correct strategy is to vary your plays randomly and equally between the three options. Here are a couple of examples that show how analyzing your metagame could change your strategy.

OPEN RAISE AMOUNTS IN TOURNAMENTS: General accepted strategy at most stages of a tournament is that raising two times or 2.5 times the big blind is the right amount. This should be enough to get the big blind to fold bad hands, while risking the least amount of chips in case someone has a significantly better hand than you.

This works because you want to be getting the chips with as little risk as possible. It’s conceivable players in your local nightly tournaments don’t fold enough to the minimum raise to make this an effective strategy and you need to adjust to be “sub-optimal” in theory, but raise to 3.5 times to steal the blinds the proper percentage of the time.

FINDING A PLAYER THAT WON’T FOLD PREFLOP: You probably have an amount you’ll raise after someone has open-limped ahead of you. Maybe in a $2-$5 game it’s $25. However, there are players you’ll run across that personify the sunken-cost fallacy (the idea that once you’ve invested something you need to chase that investment) and won’t fold once they’ve put money in the pot and haven’t seen the flop.

I’ve played in games where if one of these players limp, my open after their limp would be to $100 or $150 in that same scenario. This play would look awful to seasoned and novice players if they don’t understand the reason for the adjustment.

METAGAME ALWAYS EVOLVES: Make sure you evolve with the metagame. This is especially true if you’ve been identified as one of the better players in a room, or in a game.

If you start to win all of those Rock, Paper, Scissors tournaments by throwing paper a large percentage of the time, you’ll need to adjust to the Californians’ metagame evolving accordingly.

Remember: The obvious “correct” strategy can be improved upon, so always keep learning and adjusting your game when it’s appropriate.

— Brent Philbin is a poker pro who lives in South Florida. You can reach him at