Gambling That Pays Off – In More Ways Than One

Photo of cards and poker chips laid out on table, with a ace high straight flush in a player's hand.

A Texas Hold’em game from a player’s point of view. (Courtesy of Peter Hopper on Flickr. License CC BY-NC.)

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

What kind of career requires:

  • high-pressure decision making with incomplete information
  • the ability to accurately read the actions of others
  • a capacity for honest self-assessment

Political leader? Police detective? Labor negotiator?

Perhaps all of these. But the career that most fully meets these criteria? Poker player!

And now you can become one—or certainly a better one—thanks to 15.S50 Poker Theory and Analytics, just published on OCW.

The course combines an overview of poker theory with lots of practice and analytics. Taught during January 2015’s IAP period by Kevin Desmond, a graduate student at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, the course has video lectures, lecture notes, assignments and solutions, and links to a variety of poker software programs.

Desmond spent several years playing poker professionally as an undergraduate, and the experience of taking calculated risks and making high-pressure decisions provided him with a strong background for a career in finance at Morgan Stanley. After coming to the Sloan School, Desmond decided to share what he knows about pot odds, fold equity, and semi-bluffing with others. He also got some of his most accomplished poker buddies to share what they know in guest lectures.

“The class serves as an opportunity for students interested in trading and other careers to enjoy some of the benefits of learning and mastering poker without the need to risk money,” Desmond explains in one of his Instructor Insights from 15.S50’s This Course at MIT Page.

Desmond faced the challenge of teaching 150 students at all levels of ability from raw beginner to advanced, but he structured the course to allow everyone to succeed, including review sessions for the least experienced players and ensuring that students competed against others with a similar skill level.

Students were offered different modes of assessment: they could demonstrate their ability by winning play money, or they could play in 10 class tournaments, thereby gaining loads of practice. Even the best students played poker for 15 to 20 hours a week, with an average student playing 5,000 hands by class end.

All play was online. This enabled abundant practice and allowed that practice to be analyzed in depth using tracking software that gathered data from hand histories. Students could also visualize their past play using an animator. Maverick never had it so good!

So if you want to know more about big blinds, deep stacks, pre-flop decisions, flop play, when to fold ‘em and when to hold ‘em, check out this course!

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