The Game of Intellectuals

Ask anyone on the street to name a game that requires both skill and intelligence, and nine times out of ten, you’ll hear the word chess. What you probably won’t hear is the word poker. Now, as poker players, we know only too well that there’s no small amount of skill involved in the game, but we also take for granted how much intelligence is required to play the game even at an average skill level.

So, with that in mind, we’re here today to show you how much of a thinking man’s game poker is.

Even Artificial Intelligence Finds Poker Difficult

We’re sure you’ve heard us tell of a little thing called artificial intelligence, or AI as it’s more commonly known. We’re also quite sure that you have heard how incredible it is for completing complex tasks that were once carried out only by humans.

But did you know that AI finds poker more difficult than chess or Go? That’s right, those games that are usually thought to require the most intelligence to play are as easy as pie for a programmed AI bot.

Image Credit: Wikimedia
Your brain works overtime on poker.

Image Credit: Wikimedia
It can’t be that hard, it’s not like it’s poker!

You see, chess and Go follow exact rules and strategies. There is a limited number of outcomes on the board depending on a player’s move. The same is said of poker with relation to the hands your opponent may hold. However, what AI finds hard to master is the art of recognizing a person’s deliberate attempts to mislead their opponent, or in other words, it can’t spot a bluff.

That’s why when a poker-playing AI beat some top pros last year it was huge news. The fact that developers could create a bot that was capable of mastering and recognizing the decidedly human art of deception was something of a masterstroke. We’re sure we’ll hear a lot more about that in the near future.

The Psychology of Poker

The subject of bluffing brings us to our next point: the psychology of poker. Now, we’re not going to get into too much detail here, but we will say that there’s no game where understanding the mind of your opponent is as critical as it is in poker.

From aggressive betting at the outset to hide a poor hand to remaining calm and reserved in your play when holding a decent hand, there are many ways that we use mind tricks (bluffs) to gain an advantage over our opponents. In fact, it’s such a fascinating topic in the world of psychology that some doctors take up the game so they might better understand how the mind works. Pretty impressive. Right?

It’s a Game of Skill

We know as well as you that poker is not a game of chance but one of skill so, to prove this beyond a shadow of a doubt, we’re going to list the necessary skills right here and now.


Playing poker takes time and winning takes even longer. Those movies where guys walk into casinos or poker rooms and win a stack of chips in a few minutes are the stuff of Hollywood dreams. It happens so rarely that we’d even go so far as to say it’s a myth. And so, most poker games need deep focus and the ability to pay attention for long periods of time.

Strategic Thinking

The ability to play strategically is often what separates the average players from the pros. Understanding what hands may be played and what your options are will allow you to form a strategy based on the potential outcomes. And let’s be honest, this is no mean feat.


Like we said earlier, poker can take a lot of time and effort and so, players need to be patient in their approach to the game. And despite what you may think, yes, this is a skill. Sitting at a table for hours waiting for the right opportunity to arise is a skill, whether it’s natural or learned, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.


If you have a budget, stick to it. If you have a strategy, follow it. These may seem like simple rules to follow, but when the chips are down (awful pun we know), it’s surprising how many players lose their discipline and start betting outside their bankroll or making rash decisions that don’t fall in line with their strategy.


So critical to the game that we gave it a section earlier, understanding the psychology of poker is paramount to success. In fact, we’d even go so far as to say that a player with a basic understanding of poker but who is an excellent reader of people could enjoy a lot of success at the table. Is it a skill? Of course, it is and possibly the greatest one of them all.

Math Skills

But one of the most underrated skills a poker player has is the ability to work out odds on the spot. It’s not talked about much outside of poker circles, but to play to the best of your ability, you need incredible poker math skills for calculating things like pot odds and equity. Ask a chess player to figure out the odds of their winning based on a single move, and they probably won’t be able to do it. But ask a poker player about pot odds, and they’ll have an answer for you in seconds.

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It’s a piece of cake for a poker player.

Did you know that the chances of flopping a flush in only 0.8 percent or 124/1? Probably not, but your poker pro will also know that playing two cards because they’re suited only improves your chances by 2.5 percent. We’d say that knowing odds and stats like that is a pretty impressive skill right there.

So, as you can see, poker isn’t a game of limited skill, it’s a game that requires a high level of intelligence. A game of chance? Not at all. There’s as much luck involved in poker as there is in Lionel Messi controlling a pass on his thigh before placing the ball to the right of the onrushing keeper. And yes, we did watch a little bit of the World Cup in between poker tournaments this summer. So, the next time someone asks you to name a thinking man (or woman’s) game, you tell them that poker is the one. And don’t forget to mention that it’s so hard to master that even the world’s most advanced AI had trouble with it.