Andrew Lichtenberger: Intuition and the mysteries of poker’s intangibles

Andrew Lichtenberger at the WPT World Championships
Andrew Lichtenberger
Andrew Lichtenberger
Posted on: April 04, 2024 03:00 PDT

Andrew ‘LuckyChewy’ Lichtenberger is considered one of the best high-stakes MTT pros in the game, with career earnings of more than $20,000,000. In an ongoing series for PokerOrg, he outlines his approach to some of the strategic and mental aspects of poker.

Poker solvers are only half the battle

In this feature, we’ll dive deeply into the power of intuition and beyond. We’ll discuss the intangibles of poker, beyond solvers and poker tech, that almost every winning player takes advantage of, to one extent or another.

But first, let’s step back and acknowledge that how the broader poker community is focused on improving their games is justifiably high on modern poker tech and solvers. Our training and community site at Octopi Poker is no different. We focus on player development and the benefits of understanding game theory, as all who want to improve should.

As with anything, over-reliance on game theory can be just as damaging as under-reliance as the sole approach to learning the game’s subtleties.

From my perspective and experience, a deep dive into game theory is only half the battle to developing a winning strategy. This is because it takes soft skills to be able to execute on this knowledge for most people!

Logic, rational thinking, and analytical problem-solving are critical for our development toward becoming winning players. However, these more tangible intellectual concepts also bridge the gap between the powerful tools of the intangible: intuition, energetics, and execution.

My first experience with intuition

I don’t think I was always particularly aware of intuition in poker until I had a unique experience playing online one day. I can distinctly remember the first time I had a powerful feeling of intuition and acted on it.

I remember I had AQ on an A94 board and felt this dread coming over me. I don’t recall the exact sequences of the hand, but I remember putting less money into the pot than I could have. It turned out my opponent had a set. I was like, ‘Well, that’s interesting. What exactly was going on there?’

Since that moment, it opened my eyes to see that there’s more to life and poker than purely rational thinking. As Einstein put it, “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

Albert Einstein and his wife Elsa smiling aboard a ship Many of the greatest scientists, such as Albert Einstein, have valued intuition alongside reason

The poker world is not quite this starkly contrasted in its disposition towards acknowledging intuition because it’s such a critical part of the game, and I think most people who have played any decent amount of poker would agree just by virtue of experience.

Instead of making drastic changes after this first experience, I decided to play with it when it occurred, mostly becoming aware of it, and to use discernment. Over the years, I would say that my ability to trust my intuition in big moments has been very crucial for my overall success.

Learn to discern

The biggest challenge with using intuition in poker is that it’s easy for an existing bias to feel like intuition when in reality it may just be a fear response, such as a fight-or-flight mechanism. Both impulses are not born from rational thinking, so they have a commonality despite their differences.

Intuition is challenging to quantify. I think of it as a sudden, ‘a-ha’ or ‘light-bulb’ moment, which directs our attention towards the most critical aspects of a hand or a subtle (or overt but overlooked) aspect of decision making.

Pattern recognition

Intuition is almost like muscle memory; in a way, it is a deeper, subconscious pattern recognition of sorts. In high-level poker, intuition is strengthened by having the logical/rational framework (the baseline we’ve articulated in the previous three articles) which it can ‘work through’.

It seems to me that intuition latches onto or is part of the unique disposition of energy in each moment. Intuition has been most beneficial for me as the game theory frameworks begin to have less impact due to the decision points being more and more unique. This is why solvers tend to offer much better advice in common decision points (pre-flop and flop) and offer more useful ‘ideas’ on turn and river.

To me this is because on rivers you are ultimately going to be facing another person who is either bluffing or value-betting, and the desires they have about the outcome of that hand are not always trivial to conceal. As I often like to say, ‘If it were easy, everyone would do it.’

Phil Hellmuth smiles at the table during the 2023 WSOP Some, such as Phil Hellmuth, might call it ‘white magic’ Jamie Thomson

Trust your gut, you’ve got nothing to lose

In poker, there’s a timeless GTO versus exploitative discussion. Which is better, one or the other, or both intermingled? Whenever there’s a ‘this or that’ discussion it’s very often the case that both are ideal.

The technical side of poker can seem more dry because it doesn’t appear to have as much mystery. The creativity and artistry within poker mastery are still present in theory, should we choose to see it this way. The overwhelming takeaway should be that theory and intuition have a natural cohesion between one another. Creative poker is assisted by knowing theory and made even more potent by trusting intuition.

As I mentioned earlier, if you’ve played enough poker, you’ve gotten these intuitive impulses. I recently heard Ike Haxton, known for his mastery of game theory, on a chess podcast refer to these feelings as ‘hunches’. If you sit across from other humans long enough and begin to pick up on all kinds of subtleties, naturally you will begin to develop an understanding of what those subtleties might mean in any given moment.

Isaac Haxton peers over his glasses at an opponent at the poker table Isaac Haxton: combining GTO strategies with ‘hunches’ to often devastating effect Joe Giron

Will you take that journey?

The most significant part of learning to develop your intuition is to decide whether you’re willing to embrace something which stands firmly outside the realm of easily provable and quantifiable metrics. If this exploration isn’t for you, and you’re not interested, you will shut it out, and it’ll go away. But if you decide, ‘OK, this is interesting, I’m curious to see what happens here’ then you give it life, and you’ll see that your intuition will stick around.

Looking back, this was one of the most important decisions early in my career. I thought these explorations were and are still fascinating. I wanted to see what I could learn from this other aspect of the human psyche once I became aware of it.

Awareness of your innate intuition is the first step in it becoming a native part of your decision-making process. I think about it like a certain type of inbuilt bodily technology. Allowing yourself to go with the flow at the tables and see where it takes you. So far, for me it’s been an eye-opening and a fantastic journey, both in poker and my life.

Next: Building the tools of intuition

Andrew Lichtenberger co-founded the poker community and training site  Octopi Poker with Nick Schulman and Victoria Livschitz. Octopi Poker uses GTO tools, drills, coaching, and streamed hand histories for an all-in-one integrated platform for collaborative poker study. Follow Andrew on  Twitter/X.