Having @thinkingpoker as a Twitter name — and tweeting lots of thoughtful stuff about poker — might be one way to tip off your opponents that you aren’t just over there “clicking buttons” (as they say).

I mean when that’s your handle and suddenly you check-raise the turn, players can rightly assume it’s hardly a random action. You’ve thought about it first.

That’s what Andrew Brokos does. He thinks about poker. He gives those who play against him a lot to think about as well. Just ask anyone whose played at any of his WSOP Main Event tables during the first four days, the last three of which Brokos has ended near the top of the chip counts.

After two days Brokos was third overall among the 2,880 players advancing, then at the end of Day 3 he was second of 1,286. Day 4 was another good one for Brokos, as he ended the night just inside the top 10 with 354 players left, having bagged just over 3.5 million or close to two-and-a-half times the average stack.

Mounting another Main Event run

Brokos has been in this position before. Multiple times, in fact. Prior to this year he’d cashed in five previous Main Events and has made the top 100 on three different occasions, his best showing coming in 2008 when he finished 35th.

It seems like having had that experience before might be valuable. What does Brokos think?

“I think we’re just now getting to the point where it really matters,” says Brokos. “I remember the first time that I was deep. I was jittery, I didn’t sleep well…. I think a lot of people this time around are going to be feeling that.”

“Not to say that I’m not nervous and excited also, but I think I’m going to be in a position to hold it together a little better.”

We can all relate to some extent. Experience matters a lot in poker, and having tried something before always adds to our resolve when trying it again. As Brokos well knows, coming back to play Day 5 of the Main Event presents a challenge that is altogether unique, even for experienced players.

“I’ve seen how people, including myself, have responded to that kind of pressure before. Even if you’ve been deep in other tournaments, there’s nothing like being deep in the Main Event. I think it’s really one of a kind.”

Andrew Brokos

Brokos lists increased tightness (“the hands that they’re willing to stack off with… the threshold is going to be much higher than it would in other tournaments”) and the potential for mistakes (“at some point the pressure can get to people and they’ll do something really boneheaded that they wouldn’t do in another tournament”) as possibilities at this juncture.

Interestingly, he also mentions how in a weird way some players making it this far might even welcome the moment when they fail to fade that last all-in.

“I think sometimes they’re eager for it to be over,” he laughs. “The stress will be off once they bust. Not that people will want to bust, exactly, but in some ways it is a relief… [after] doing this for four or five or six days straight.”

Explaining how to Play Optimal Poker

The “Thinking Poker” brand (so to speak) dates back even before Brokos joined Twitter. He started a blog back in 2006 with that title, where he has continued to write about strategy and other aspects of the game ever since. Then in 2012 he and Nate Meyvis began The Thinking Poker Podcast where the pair have had as guests some of the most interesting poker thinkers around approximately once a week ever since, including recently having David Sklansky on for their 300th episode.

In addition to coaching Brokos has published several books of poker strategy as well, including a multi-volume series called The Thinking Poker Diaries in which he analyzes hands from his previous WSOP Main Event runs.

“Play Optimal Poker” by Andrew Brokos

Just last month Brokos published what may prove to be his most influential strategy book, Play Optimal Poker. Much as Brokos has continued to occupy a spot high on the Main Event leaderboard so far, Play Optimal Poker has been a top selection in the “Poker” category rankings on Amazon from the moment it became available.

“Game theory, for all” is a tagline Brokos has used to describe the book. He was inspired to write it in part after witnessing what he believes to be an ever-widening gulf developing between players who understand game theory and those who do not.

“I think the main reason people who don’t understand game theory have been reluctant to engage with it is that it seems so intimidating, and I think there’s not a lot of good, entry-level resources,” says Brokos. “The software is difficult to use, and a lot of the instructional videos already presume you understand a lot of things. So this book is really meant to be like a ‘soup-to-nuts’ introduction to game theory.”

The books steers clear of too much “solver” talk (“It’s not a ‘how to use the solver’ book”), although it does show players how “to get started and to understand how the solver might be useful to you.” A larger goal for Brokos is to help poker players see the difference between theory and practice, and to appreciate how understanding theory can help in places where practice isn’t so perfect.

“I think most people, they learn just by experience, and the problem is, in this game experience can easily lead you wrong — you play well and lose, and play badly and win,” he explains.

“Many people learn in these communities where they’re all just bouncing the same bad ideas off of each other, and they are in a little echo chamber. So theory gives you something that you can fall back on. When a friend tells you should have done this and a video tells you you should have done that, theory can help you to sort that out.”

I know that you know that I know…

There’s a big difference, of course, between playing optimally and choosing a more exploitative style. As Brokos has already noted regarding how some players might react to coming back for Day 5 of the Main Event, there will likely arise spots where the latter is preferable.

Between his new book, the podcasts, the blog, and everything else Brokos has shared over the years, his opponents surely will know that he’s a thinking player. But is he at all concerned about them knowing what he’s thinking?

One who follows @thinkingpoker brought up that concern in a tweet to him this week. To him Brokos had a ready reply:

Read again how Brokos has completed that sentence. Think about it. His opponents probably should.

WSOP photography by pokerphotoarchive.com.

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