GTO Poker Theories: Paradigm Shifts

Sometimes a revolution happens which changes the way we think about something forever, whether that's science or poker.

One of the real gifts poker has given me is that it has been a great jumping off point to learn things from other disciplines like economics, AI, psychology and Game Theory. So here is a series of articles where I bring some of the most interesting things I have learned from other subjects outside of poker which are applicable in this game we know and love.

Philosopher and Scientist Thomas Kuhn identified two types of scientific change, the first being small incremental developments over time and the second being revolutions that instantly change the way we think - paradigm shifts. A paradigm shift is a sudden change that happens which replaces an old way of thinking about something

Newtonian physics (which held that space and time is the same to all observers) giving way to Einsteinian physics (which claims space and time is relative) is perhaps the most widely cited example of a paradigm shift. They do not just occur in scientific theory, the term has been used more broadly to apply to any instance where there is a fundamental change in the way something is done. Just look at how something like stock trading is done now online compared to how it was done pre-internet on Wall Street, for one of a million recent technological examples.  

The Poker Boom

I picked this out to discuss today because poker has clearly had a number of paradigm shifts, most notably when online poker exploded in 2003. Online poker changed both the way poker was played and who played it. 

High stakes poker tended only to be the domain of the rich or at least people who lived in big cities. One of the reason the movie Rounders was so compelling was because it was a world most people had not even conceived of. Online poker changed that, suddenly people from all over the world were playing against each other, and then showing up at events like the World Series of Poker. 

If you want to see what that shift looked like, it's really fun to watch old episodes of the 2004 World Series of Poker, the year after Chris Moneymaker started the Poker Boom:

Online poker also changed the way the game was played. There were poker books prior to the poker boom, some iconic ones like SuperSystem and Theory of Poker, but not many people had access to them. Invariably the best players were still, therefore, the ones who were good readers of people and psychology. But widespread access to poker theory online turned poker into a much more complex mathematical game forever. 

The Solver Era

super high roller
Solvers are changing high stakes poker

You could even argue that certain books themselves caused paradigm shifts in the game once poker exploded. Harrington on Hold'em, for example, introduced players to a gameplan for playing with different stack sizes that was by no means widespread. It is now expected that everyone know that a 10 big blind stack requires a specific strategy in tournaments, but that wasn't entirely the case before the Boom. 

If there is a paradigm shift happening right now in poker, it has to be the advent of solvers like PioSolver. It is going to be very hard to thrive at the highest stakes without having a knowledge of the GTO strategies these tools help players understand. Almost everyone in the Super High Roller games use solvers and it is influencing how strategy is being taught and learned at all levels. 

The most valuable thing to know about paradigm shifts is perhaps just being aware that they are happening at all. To give a poker example, you do not want to be the seasoned old live pro who spent the early Boom years mocking the online players who also let the game pass them by because they couldn't see the shift when it happened. 

What theories from outside of poker have helped your game? Let us know in the comments.

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Comments (3)

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  • MyFloXyBabY


    Kuhn's book is very popular but really bad in my opinion, for example he belives in the incommensurability of pardigms : he argues that Newton and Einstein couldn't have understand each other and agreed Einstein was more right if they had met, which is awfully stupid for any scientist to imagine.
    A way better book is the one of Larry Laudan (Progress and its problems) which uses a somewhat different notion than paradigm to fit the same purpose, it's called "tradition of research" (there also is the "program of research" of Imre Lakatos)
  • Kazaa420


  • GospodinZ


    Never read Kuhn's book,sounds interesting thou ...