As you might imagine, intelligence is important in poker since it is more competitive than most activities because people aren’t just try‐ ing to win for the sake of winning – there is the additional element of money. Money is present in many mental activities, such as a prize in a chess tournament. However, the relationship is not as di‐ rect as in poker. In poker the sole purpose is to win money. The only tool to accomplish this is by using your brain – it’s against the rules to punch someone. And unlike many other activities there is no combination of mind and body, in poker it’s just your mind.
There is an analogy here with sporting activities if we replace the use of brain for body. Take racing for example. There is a little bit of intelligence used to run a good race, but it is primarily about having a good body. In poker the body is of little importance – instead hav‐ ing a good mind is paramount. Of course skill and experience are also necessary. There are also activities, such as bowling, where ex‐ perience is the key factor. Having a good body comes into play but compared to other sports not so much. “Technique” is what is im‐ portant.
It’s hard to say where exactly poker falls on this continuum but it is probably close to a game like soccer, since both skill and experience and a good mind are significant. In poker it is important to be con‐ stantly thinking and using your brain as much as you can. It is pos‐ sible to play by shutting the brain off and going mainly on instinct (although this is still based on past experience). However, your re‐ sults will be poor. Use your head as much as you can in a poker game.
So, if that means you need to exercise or meditate before playing then do so. Using instinct for generic situations is okay but in short‐ handed and HU play it will not be good enough because people quickly start adjusting to each other. For making adjustments to specific opponents and changes in the game that occur, conscious thinking through of the current situation is imperative.
However, this is not about mathematical intelligence, despite what many people think. The math element in poker is not how it is usu‐ ally perceived. It is deep and underlies all poker hands, but the math is not advanced – it is simple algebra and statistics. Clear thinking is needed for that but it is not just the math that is important as psy‐ chology is necessary also. You need to outwit your opponent and to understand what he is thinking. Experience plays a part here for sure but every opponent is different so, on each occasion, you will have to think things through and come to an understanding of what your opponent is thinking, or how he is playing.