World Series of Poker: Attack of the Math Brats

The time we live in has been called The Information Age by some because of the mountains of data that have become available. Often, analyzing that data can end up revealing better ways to do things, or even completely overturn traditional wisdom in favor of new techniques, techniques that are actually backed up by data evidence. (Super Crunchers was a recent book about this very trend.) As this Time magazine article relates, this phenomenon is happening very quickly and very publicly in the high-stakes world of Texas hold’ em poker. The old guard, whose play is based in part on “reading” their opponents, is being overwhelmed by young players armed with probability-based strategies, strategies divined by analyzing reams of data obtained from the millions of online poker games played on the internet. The article leads off with a quote from old-guarder Phil Hellmuth, who’s won a record 11 World Series of Poker championship bracelets:

“The reason I won 11 bracelets is my ability to read opponents,” he explains. “These new guys are focused on the math. And they are changing everything.”

The old guard is not going out without a fight, of course. Many of them are picking up the new techniques and trying to meld them with their own expertise. But the new ‘math brats’ are setting the pace: 21-year-old Joe Cada won last year’s Poker Main event, netting $9 million and becoming its youngest winner ever. The previous youngest winner was 22-year-old Peter Eastgate, who won in 2008. The youngest winner before that was Hellmuth, and he’d held that record for nearly 20 years.

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