The Fundamental Theorem Of Poker

The Fundamental Theorem of Poker is one of David Sklansky’s more famous tidbits of table wisdom that encapsulates the importance of information in poker. Read on and find out how to take his theory to heart, and make it pay out at the tables.

"Every time you play a hand differently from the way you would have played it if you could see all your opponents' cards, they gain; and every time you play your hand the same way you would have played it if you could see all their cards, they lose. Conversely, every time opponents play their hands differently from the way they would have if they could see all your cards, you gain; and every time they play their hands the same way they would have played if they could see all your cards, you lose.""
— The Theory of Poker, The Fundamental Theorem of Poker, David Sklansky

Author and poker pro David Sklansky is like the Godfather of Poker. His observations are astute, subtle, humble, wise and perfectly articulate. The Fundamental Theorem of Poker is one of Sklansky’s more famous tidbits of table wisdom that encapsulates all these qualities. Once you’ve read it and understood it, you’ll probably think to yourself, “Of course! That makes perfect sense!” On some level you may even think you knew it all along – and perhaps you did. Or maybe (and more likely) the brilliant clarity with which Sklansky’s articulates this sentiment belies the complexity of its wisdom.  

The Fundamental Theorem of Poker essentially boils down to talking about the great battle for the information advantage in a game of imperfect information. Information is the main advantage in poker; not lucky cards or a huge stack – information. More accurately, perceived information. In poker, it’s actually impossible to know for sure what any of your opponents are holding. This means most of your information is going to be speculative. 

Speculative, but not necessarily inaccurate. 

The Fundamental Theorem of Poker: The Practical Applications

Sklansky’s famous theorem is exemplified in almost every single interaction that takes place in the game. Consider the Fundamental Theorem of Poker in relation to something as simple as table position:  

Acting last on each street puts you at an information advantage, which as we’ve mentioned, gives you a massive edge when we’re playing a game of imperfect information. The more you know the more likely you are to make the best decision. The action flows through the player in position on each street, who has the final say on whether or not we see the next card for free, for the price offered, or if the price needs to go up. Being in position gives you much greater control of the betting and, subsequently, control over the size of the pot. When you control the action, you control the information. 

Of course, it’s not only position. Understanding the nuances of poker theory, strategy, psychology and how to practically implement these tools puts you at a huge information advantage.  You have to know about variables like table imagepot oddsequityvalue bettingc-betting and the seemingly never-ending ways to strategically and ecstatically bluff your way to a win. You have to know about all this (and more) - and you have to know how to implement this knowledge in practice. Theoretical knowledge alone won’t cut it. 

When it comes to poker, G.I Joe was only partially right; knowing isn’t half the battle – it’s the whole battle.

Sklansky’s Fundamental Theorem of Poker speaks to how arming yourself with information will lead to playing winning poker. You have to lead with this advantage every time. You have to play like you know more than your opponent – even if knowing more means admitting you don’t know jack, that you have jack, and that you just need to sit this one out.

Remember, poker is a game of imperfect information. We can’t expect ourselves to be perfect in it. We can only do our best – and recognizing and accepting the Fundamental Theorem of Poker in all its dazzlingly simplicity is definitely one the most crucial steps towards achieving this end.  

Photo Credit: Play Among Friends Paf | Flickr