Your Brain On Poker

News, Science

Poker is one of the most mentally stimulating and challenging sports you can play. It’s a game that requires high levels of concentration, strategy and mental stamina in order to outfox competitors and reign victorious.


Amateur players can learn a great deal from studying professional players, but to get the greatest insight into how the pros go about playing a hand, you have to delve a little deeper.


Partypoker endeavoured to discover exactly how professionals play the game compared to amateurs, with the aptly named study Your Brain On Poker. The study looked at six players – two beginners, two amateurs and two professionals – playing Texas Hold’em over a 40 minute period. Each player wore an EEG headset in order to record brain activity, which was then converted into brain maps to highlight the differences in key attributes such as patience, concentration, engagement and managing emotion.


Upon being dealt their cards, amateur players recorded high levels of left frontal lobe activity – the area of the brain associated with logic. Professionals and beginners displayed much lower activity in this area of the brain, suggesting they made decisions on their cards a lot quicker, whereas the amateur player had a tendency to overthink their current situation.


After “the flop”, the activity in the left frontal lobe of professional players increased to levels surpassing both amateurs and beginners. This is likely to be where the pros start calculating possible hands whilst noting the body language and reactions of their opponents.


The appearance of “the turn” card sees the right side of the brain getting involved. For amateurs and beginners, the right side starts to override the left, showing they are relying on emotion to dictate their actions. However, for the professionals, the right side starts to work in tandem with the left. This cerebral combination is usually associated with mathematically processing, suggesting that the pros are computing their odds and winning percentages.


Beta brain activity reaches its peak when the final community card, “the river” is pulled from the pack. Beginners and amateurs are acting mostly on intuition at this stage, letting their emotions dictate their actions. In stark contrast, the professional’s brain activity switches almost solely back to the left hand side, showing that despite the pressure of the hand being at its highest possible level, logic is the deciding factor behind any of the pros decisive actions.


During highly emotive situations – like checking, raising or calling– the professionals show much lower levels of right frontal lobe activity, meaning they are in much better control over their emotions. All of the subjects recorded high front right lobe function when pushing all their chips into the middle of the table.


The Your Brain On Poker study provides a fascinating insight into the mind of the professional poker player as well as revealing the possibilities of brain studies available thanks to EEG technology.