What Is Meta-Game and Does It Really Matter?

What Is Meta-Game and Does It Really Matter?

Thursday, 9 September 2010

You may have heard the term ‘meta-game’ bandied around, but what is it? Generally speaking, it refers to strategies and actions that transcend the obvious dynamics of a game – in simple terms, it’s “thinking outside the box”.

In poker meta-game essentially describes the psychological state of play; play that is shaped by past events and influencing future events. The trick is in understanding the psychological dynamics between you and your opponents and how you might exploit these dynamics to predict and manipulate.
Meta-game encompasses concepts as simple as table image. Imagine it appears you have been playing crazy, betting and raising a lot. Regardless of whether you actually have been crazy or just had a good run of cards, then it could be a good idea to tighten up, widen your value range and be less inclined to bluff than you normally would. This is because your opponents may be getting frustrated with your unceasing aggression and be more inclined to call you down light.
Clearly the above case is a very simplistic example, but meta-game can be infinitely complex due to the countless variables and intangible factors involved. While there certainly are some straightforward strategies and generalised truths that are universally agreed upon in poker – e.g. “it’s better to play strong made-hands aggressively on coordinated boards”, meta-game considerations are never a constant; there is no set of rules for ‘meta-gaming’ correctly. Meta-game is very much about getting inside an opponent’s head, shaping his interpretation of your game and trying to understand and predict how and why he is going to act or react in any given situation.
People differing opinions on idea of meta-game. Some consider it a pompous over-complication, or little more than a theoretical term used as an excuse for a non-standard play that didn’t work out. Others would say that it’s what poker is all about. At MyPokerLab we would argue that there are three interrelated but different ways of looking at any given situation or decision you face:.
1. In pure isolation – aka “on paper”.
This is similar to looking at a friend's hand history with no additional information – only the cards, position and action. Your thinking here should always be along standard lines. This is almost always the best way to play and should be your starting point.

2. In context (this does involve some meta-game considerations)
You now take into consideration game-flow, reads, stats and “feel”. In order to do this effectively, you either have to have been at the table for some time or have played with these opponents before.

3. In terms of meta-game (specifically long-term dynamics)
When making a decision, you don't just think about how much you will win or lose in the hand you are currently playing. You consider how your actions will affect the dynamics between you and your opponent(s) and how this can affect your long term profitability.
So how much does meta-game matter?
Well, the answer is that it depends. If you’re playing against an unknown opponent or a player who is on auto-pilot across 20 tables, then meta-game really shouldn’t play much of a role in your decision making.
However, it can be argued that the longer you sit and play with a particular player, the more important meta-game becomes. It’s certainly the case that when playing an opponent who is very capable (in terms of all round play and understanding of the game), any edge gained against such a player it will often have to be on a psychological level. This involves understanding his tendencies, how he thinks about the game and what he thinks of your game and how he responds to it. It can even involve manipulating the state of play so as to take this opponent out of his comfort zone and break his confidence. All this falls under the heading of meta-game.
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Tags: My Poker Lab, Strategy