You could claim that poker is a card game, played between multiple players, including cards and chips and positions etc. But we are able to delve deeper than that. How do you describe the subjective structure of poker? For instance, say you had to describe poker to a Martian. You’d need to explain this card game to someone that doesn’t know what cards are, or that of a table is-and after all, those activities are only symbols.

A naïve perception of poker is going to be fixated at first glance of the game: the numbers on the cards, the suits, the felt table, the round chips. But those activities are incidental to poker. A game can be the same as poker that uses pebbles, or perhaps markings written down on paper, provided that it has sufficient rules. What’s important isn’t the cards. We wish to explore the relationships beneath the cards.

Poker players tend to be fond of describing poker almost like it were like chess. There are some more common metaphors, such as a gunfight or possibly a battleground, but I’ve found a chess match is the most popular.

What does it mean to consider poker as a chess match?

Describing poker like this suggests that poker is mechanistic. It shows that despite all the apparent randomness and luck involved, deep down it behaves deterministically-a game of real skill.

To consider randomness out of poker is to consider the mysticism out of it. Poker is often assumed is the game of gamblers, risk-takers, the steel-hearted and intuitively-minded. However when we call poker a chess match, we turn those logic around. Rather, poker is supposed to be analyzed, theorized about, dissected into its tiniest possible chunks then reassembled like a machine. It will become the domain of rationalists, mathematicians, and also cold strategists.

Poker players are trained to think this way. EV is the lens whereby they’re meant to see the world. They’re taught in which everything can be optimized, exploited, and divided into frequencies. It’s reassuring to think that, isn’t it? That underneath all the chaos, the whizzing cards and splashing chips, under each of the downswings and bad beats, the tilt as well as the frustrations, that all the way down inside the boiling heart of the thing, there is an equation or two that describes it all. Isn’t that the idea?

That in case you had but the time and mathematical power, you could fire up some equation or execute some algorithm that may “solve” it all for you? Needless to say, it’s well known that there are ways in which poker can be explained by math. But let’s think deeply concerning this. Why is this the way we are inclined to determine poker at the deepest level? Do you actually believe that’s how things work? Is learning poker the unveiling of a pristine, logical machine? Is poker a chess match?

You’ll believe that, distilled to its essence, poker is simply a mathematical system. You wouldn’t be alone in believing this way. Nearly all serious students of poker have learned to believe this, although not one of these has probably been told this outright. It is a type of ideas that is embedded in how we discuss poker; it is unconsciously absorbed, just like an element in the air. You might not know how or by which, but somehow it’s identified its way into your mind, and yes it makes perfect sense. Poker is a distinct system. A chess match. A collection of equations and matrices acting themselves out, again and again again.