Represent – The Tao of Texas Hold’em? – Game Theory



In his book, Phil Hellmuth’s Texas Hold’Em (published by Collins, and adapted from Play Poker Like the Pros“>Play Poker Like the Pros), Phil Hellmuth talks about the 5 animals that most poker players seem to fall into, in terms of playing behaviour. Being new to Texas Hold’em, I’m not sure yet if I fully subscribe to this theory, but it seems to make sense.


His five poker animal types, that he feels are the most common, are the eagle, mouse, elephant, jackal and lion. I won’t get into the nuances of each. Suffice it to say that each animal has its own playing (that is, betting) behaviour. Some are more predictible than others. The two that stand out for me are the mouse and the jackal. The mouse only raises on certain hands – fear the mouse’s raise. The jackal raises on everything, perpetually obscuring their hand, but becoming something like the class clown


The more I play Texas Hold’Em, and the more I read about it, it occurs to me that if you want to do really well, you not only have to learn to represent (targeted bluffing) certain hands, you also have to represent different animals in different games.


Novelist Stephen R. Donaldson wrote a series of books based on Wagner’s famous opera, The Rings of the Nibulungen, about a set of characters who unwittingly swap their roles during the course of the story. I’m putting forth the theory that you have to do something similar in Texas Hold’Em (maybe even all types of poker), and change your “animal”, but be in control of the change.


Using a similar analogy, consider the martial art of Kung Fu. There are several basic types, all of which are based on animals and their specific physical movements. For example, tiger, crane and snake. Each one moves differently. If you are sparring and you know that your opponent has been taught to follow the crane style of Kung Fu, you can predict their moves. But if they suddenly switch styles to, say, snake, and then to something else, they gain an advantage over you. A true master tries to learn several styles.


So, if everyone knows you’re a poker “jackal”, after a while, your perceptive opponents will know this and you won’t be as effective. On the other hand, if you switch up your role, say to a mouse, and then to some other animal, no one will know “who” you are. You’ve effectively cloaked your behaviour.


If you cannot be pegged as playing to a certain predictible behaviour, then it’s harder to beat you because you’ll be able to represent hands in different ways. Some animals never bluff. Of Phil Hellmuth’s five types, the few that do bluff, do so in different ways, at different times, and under different conditions.