The Poker Brain is the new Matt Matros book. It is the second poker book he has written and it sets out to be everyone‘s second poker book to read. As such, it fills the gap between books on basic strategy and higher level books, like Modern Poker Theory and Play Optimal Poker that are aimed at the experienced amateur or budding pro.
The Poker Brain approaches this intermediate zone by providing players with a set of more strategically complex poker thought processes. Each chapter presents a key idea, explains it, provides a handy list of summary bullet points, and then lays out a series of illustrative example hands with commentary.
The toolbox of thought processes that Matros has put together is largely guided by game theory and solver-based heuristics. However, the goal is not to create a Game Theory Optimal player. Matros is really looking to teach the ways in which looking at unexploitable play helps the reader to exploit the exploitable.
Matros started playing poker while still at school. He began taking the game more seriously when, at 21, he was old enough to cross the threshold of America’s cardrooms. He was semi-professional at 25, but cut back on his play time in 2017 when he had his first child.
In place of playing regularly, he turned to writing about the game. The result of this first effort was The Game Plan.
Writing a Matt Matros book
Matros spoke with me last week, video calling across the Atlantic just before his pell-mell rush to the airport.
When I asked Matros about where the idea for this follow up to The Game Plan came from, he explained that he “always felt as a poker player that there’s so much to think about. When we’re playing at the table, we don’t have enough space to consider everything we want to consider in real-time if we’re going to make the best decision we can.
“I wanted to write a book that helped us do better than that. It seemed that the best way to do it was to really drill some of the concepts. By learning a concept really thoroughly you can become a better and faster thinker at the table.”
Creating the poker brain
His background in teaching players to play certainly helped with the project. Each chapter has some of the feel of a lesson plan with clarity placed at a premium and practical examples reifying every abstract idea.
“I have private students and have done some coaching,” Matros says. “I wanted to make sure that you understand the concept in a general sense and then get to see how it is applied.
“That’s why the hand examples are some of my favorite parts of the book. As poker players, some of the terms we throw around and even some of the concepts themselves can seem kind of hazy when people are just tossing out the words. But when you actually look at the hand, all of a sudden it starts to click — you see that this is how you’re going to make money with this idea.“
That clarity is focused heavily on turning the concepts of GTO play into something practical.
The talk of GTO can be a little off-putting for new players. Partly this is because GTO seems difficult to learn, but there is also a perception that GTO serves to create a robotic player isolated by solipsism, reading off their moves from memorized charts.
The role of GTO for neophytes
Matros pushes back against this stereotype. Incorporating GTO-thinking into your game doesn’t preclude exploitative play, it informs exploitative play.
“The role of GTO is to know what other people are doing wrong,” Matros explains. “Shows you where you can find places to take advantage. I argue that you really can’t do exploitative play without knowing optimal play.
“For example, even a beginning player can understand a polarised range versus a non-polarised range, and knowing how to adjust to that doesn’t require that you be a GTO expert. You just need to understand the GTO concept and know how to apply it.“
The Poker Brain is certainly much more accessible than some of the other books handling game theory for poker players.
Tackling one of the great GTO poker books like Modern Poker Theory is tough. The dense theory and frequent mathematical equations can feel like being asked to translate The Aeneid from scratch. With The Poker Brain, Matros has written something akin to Wheelock’s Latin — a primer in the language of poker-thought, with plenty of explanatory exercises for the autodidact to ruminate on.
The Game Plan was his shot at writing everyone’s first poker book. A book in which, as he put it, he was “telling people what to do.” This is in contrast to The Poker Brain, which he views as a kind of follow-up. In this second book, Matros aims to teach players “how to think.“
In other words, The Game Plan gives a player a fish, The Poker Brain teaches them how not to be one.