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Everything You Need To Know About the Poker Game Tree

Home » Everything You Need To Know About the Poker Game Tree

Everything You Need To Know About the Poker Game Tree

A poker player looking at their hand consisting of four kings.

Poker is very popular across the world, but it’s undoubtedly a very complex game. As computers have become more advanced, steps have been taken to bring poker closer to being a “solved game.” This means players can learn how to react in any situation based on their current game environment. 

Whether you’re playing offline or online poker, you may find any useful tool devised to make poker a solved game. The poker game tree is one such tool. Read on to learn more about game trees, what they are, and how they apply to modern-day poker.

What Is a Game Tree?

A game tree is defined as a graph that presents all the possibilities within a sequential game (any game where players take turns) and is usually applied to games with complete information (a game where all variables are known to every player in the game). Whether you’re playing tic-tac-toe, checkers, or chess, a game tree can be used to plot all the possible outcomes of the game. 

At a glance, a game tree might appear visually similar to a flow chart — they both outline steps and actions to perform, depending on a particular set of circumstances. But, unlike a flow chart, a game tree does not direct you towards a specific outcome but provides information on all the actions and results possible within a game. While both are graphs, a game tree is used to thoroughly analyze a game, whereas a flow chart is used to devise instructions. 

That said, even though game trees are tools for analysis, you can still use the information they provide to achieve your desired outcome.

What Is the Poker Game Tree?

A poker game tree is like any other game tree but applied to poker. Despite poker being a game of incomplete information (not all the variables are known to every player), poker analysts still use it as a tool to evaluate the actions players can take in a particular situation to plot out all the possible actions and outcomes. 

Understanding the Poker Game Tree

A poker player with their hands around stacks of chips.

If you’re learning how to play poker and want to find out how to optimize your decision-making, understanding how a poker game tree works could be immensely useful. 

As mentioned, poker game trees are unlike regular game trees. While most other game trees are premised on complete information (for instance, in chess or checkers), poker game trees are premised on incomplete information. This means that most poker games (excluding one-on-one limit hold’em) can never be completely solved in the same way that games of complete information can. This is because there are simply too many variables — including the number of poker players, community cards dealt, and position at the table — to be able to say with certainty what the best decision will be.

But this doesn’t mean that a poker game tree is useless. Some players use highly advanced digital versions of game trees called “poker solvers” when they play poker. 

How Poker Game Trees Work With Poker Solvers

Even in a highly complex game like chess, it’s nonetheless possible to map out every possible move because it’s complete. So, how does a poker tree work when so many variables are unknown? It doesn’t. At least, not on its own. And this is where poker solvers come in.

A poker solver is a digital tool that poker players use to learn how to play game theory optimal (GTO) poker. To simplify a highly complex process, a poker solver essentially outputs results for particular poker scenarios, either by running thousands of simulations of various poker games or by drawing on results from a library of simulations that it’s run before. Each of these simulations is a poker tree, and these repeated analyses of different actions and results in various poker trees (either in real-time or beforehand) are what the solver uses to propose the final optimal result. 

That said, it’s crucial to bear in mind that this doesn’t mean the action a poker solver proposes will be 100% accurate. As mentioned, poker is a game with an incredible number of variables, which means that a single, small change in one variable could shift the result dramatically (think butterfly effect). However, it provides a theoretically optimal direction, which is why they’ve become such popular tools in online poker play.

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Poker game trees are an analytical tool that could improve your results at the poker table. Learn more about poker game trees and how they work here.