Essay #5: “I Should Have Known It!” Gilbert Ryle and Poker Knowledge
“I Should Have Known It!” is a discussion of the role of different kinds of knowledge in the card game called “Texas Hold ‘Em Poker.” The essay builds upon Gilbert Ryle’s distinction between “knowledge that” and “knowledge how”. The essay begins with a scenario involving a potential “bad beat” jackpot, which often involves substantial amount of money as a prize. Poker knowledge, in the first instance, presupposes mastery of the vocabulary of the game, such as flop, board, turn, river, etc. Next is knowledge of the nine distinct rankings of various hands, and of what cards they consist of, which constitutes an a priori knowledge, once the various concepts have been acquired.
The single most important kind of poker knowledge is a kind of trained perception in which the player knows automatically at each step of the game how many ways there are in which the player’s particular cards can be beat. This is called knowing the best possible hand at each stage of the flop, the turn and the river. The article exhibits five conditional principles the internalization of which allows the skilled player to know at a glance what the best possible winning hand is and what the probabilities are of the hand occurring. Knowing how to bet, check, or fold is the crucial kind of “knowledge how”, but that skill presupposes a considerable amount of “knowledge that”. The article draws upon Ryle’s view of the role of trained dispositions in the enlightened conduct of a Texas Hold ‘Em player. The point is made that much of poker knowledge is highly contextual, with very different strategies being played in games with different betting limits. The strategies of a 3–6 game are very different from those of a “no limit” game.
The role of luck is explored and the point is made that poker knowledge may or may not yield poker success, totally depending upon the luck of the draw. Drawing upon insights of Israel Scheffler a contrast is made between the horizontal activity of knowing that, versus the vertical spectrum of knowledge how. The spectrum here is one of competence, proficiency, and mastery. As with any kind of know how there is an open ended spectrum to poker know how, as there is with any advanced skill. The intelligence and sophistication in the application of poker skill are capable of unending continuous refinement.