StarCraft vs. Poker - Incomplete Information

Imagine a game of StarCraft with no Fog of War or a game of Poker with all of the cards turned face up. Yep - that would be less entertaining than your great-auntie’s 93rd birthday party. At least the party would probably have cake.

In order to compete with the cake industry, an element of incomplete information is an important part of both Starcraft and Poker. When you start a StarCraft match, you usually know very little about your opponent - on most maps not even his starting positions.

Be your own informant

Collecting information is one of your primary goals over the course of a match. You scout with your workers, scatter your overlords across the map, build sentries and gradually gain a clearer picture of what your opponent is doing. You learn about his army composition, his expansion strategy and where he gathers his troops. Eventually this allows you to employ a strategy that crushes your opponent.

Poker is not much different. At the beginning of a hand, you only know that all players were dealt cards. Throughout the first betting round more and more information becomes available to you. Players fold, call, raise or re-raise, and each of these actions provides you with additional information about the hand strength of your opponents.

If you stay in the hand to see a flop, you have to re-evaluate the situation once the first three community cards are dealt. Your opponents check, bet or raise yet again and you have to process this information and narrow down what they might have. This continues throughout the hand - in every betting round you gain more information on which to base your strategy.

As you can see, over the course of either a hand of Poker or a game of StarCraft the amount of available information increases. You start out knowing close to nothing about your opponent, but you can acquire a great idea of insight into what he is trying to do. Hopefully you can then use this information to counter his strategy.

Sacrifice a goat! (or chips and Zerglings, for that matter)

Having an informational advantage over your opponent is an important part of being a winning Poker or StarCraft player. Unfortunately, players tend to be somewhat reluctant to give away their secrets. That’s why you have to force your opponents to give up as much information as you can get from them.

Since the Geneva Convention rules out torture for such purposes, you have to come up with alternative methods.

In StarCraft, this is easy in theory. Send out your scouting units, use scans as a Terran if you must and end up all the wiser. Unfortunately, this tactic often gets overlooked in the heat of the battle and you find yourself in a situation where you can no longer tell what your opponent is doing. Are you sure he didn’t set up an expansion somewhere that he didn’t switch his tech to air units? Scouting is tiresome and beginners frequently neglect it more often than they should.

Another viable approach is a series of small attacks to harass your opponent. A well-timed drop with a shuttle not only gives you insight into your opponent's base and his unit composition when he comes to defend his workers, but it can also deal substantial damage to his economy.

Similar logic applies in Poker. Frequently you find yourself in situations where your opponents check to you but you don’t have a strong hand yourself. Of course you can take a free card and hope to make a hand - but you can also lead out and make a bet. The latter approach allows you to either take down the pot right away or to at least gain valuable information when your opponent calls or raises.

Especially in live play it is not uncommon to make plays for the sole purpose of gaining information, even if they cost you money in the short run. If you plan on playing a live cash game for an entire night, gaining information on how your opponent responds to certain situations might cost you some money at first, but it may also pay off handsomely later on when you know how to adjust to his tendencies.

In StarCraft you sometimes see Zerg players sacrificing an Overlord or a bunch of Zerglings to get a glimpse at what the other player is doing, but they know it’s worth the cost. In the old days well-timed sacrifices were used exclusively to please the gods, but today they should also be a part of your arsenal if you want to win at strategy games.

Be unpredictable

In a game of incomplete information, it’s not only the information that you gather that counts, but also what you give away. This again applies both to StarCraft and to Poker. If you plan on getting a dozen Carriers to overwhelm your opponent with sheer firepower, you probably shouldn't build your Stargates and your Fleet Beacon right in his face. Place your buildings in a hidden corner, mass your fleet where it can’t be seen easily and waltz into your opponent’s base like a boss once you have enough carriers.

Poker is no different. If you hold pocket aces and flop a set on an A-9-3 board with no possible flush draws, getting a substantial payoff will probably be difficult if you bet too much. You might as well hold up a sign that says “look, I have the nuts!” if you keep the pressure too high. Taking a step back, checking behind your opponent and letting the villain lead out on the Turn can be just as profitable or more - especially if you get someone to try and bluff you off of your hand.

As you can see, in both cases it’s important to cloak your true intentions. Being upstanding and honest might be virtues in real life, but those attributes won’t get you far on the battlefields of StarCraft and Poker. Make sure to use that to your advantage!