Haseeb Qureshi

The Two Things About Poker

I was in a coffeeshop a few weeks ago browsing the internet, when I came across this article by Glen Whitman called “The Two Things.” In it, he recounts the story of the Two Things.

A few years ago, I was chatting with a stranger in a bar. When I told him I was an economist, he said, “Ah. So… what are the Two Things about economics?”

“Huh?” I cleverly replied.

“You know, the Two Things. For every subject, there are really only two things you really need to know. Everything else is the application of those two things, or just not important.”

“Oh,” I said. “Okay, here are the Two Things about economics. One: Incentives matter. Two: There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

Ever since that evening, I’ve been playing the Two Things game. Whenever I meet someone who belongs to a different profession (i.e., a profession I haven’t played this game with), or who knows something about a subject I’m unfamiliar with, I pose the Two Things question.

He then goes on to compile some interesting “Two Things” that people have come up with about their respective fields. Many of them were poignant, insightful, and a few of them were quite amusing.

The Two Things about English Literature:
1. The text is really about writing.
2. Writing is really about sex.

The Two Things about World Conquest:
1. Divide and Conquer.
2. Never invade Russia in the winter.
-Tim Lee

So I thought to myself—well, I’m supposed to be an expert on poker. What are its Two Things? To work well, they’re supposed to be two principles of thought from which you could potentially derive all of poker theory. Every piece of strategy should boil down to these two principles. I thought about it for some time, and decided, if I were to try to simplify all of poker play and theory into two principles, it’d be these:

The Two Things about Poker:

1. Every piece of information narrows down handranges

2. People are bad at being random

You could surely invent other “Two Things” about more specific subjects such as live poker, tournaments, heads up, variance etc. This was just my first take on it. If any of you guys have ideas as to what you think are the Two Things about poker, leave a comment—I’d love to read them.

Until next time,


[Note: this is adapted from an article I originally wrote in 2010, but I liked it enough that I wanted to clean it up and post it on here. Hope you dig it.]

  • Adil

    Your book is just awesome it give me huge insight.

    I like your philosophical approach too.

  • Shane Ching

    Everything is about edge , not EV

    The different between players is the ability and switchable of their levels in their thought process

    • Interesting. What do you think is the difference between edge and EV?

  • Shane Ching

    Sorry for the delay in answer this question , I just saw it now.

    Thinking about it more, I have changed my first statement to
    “Everything is about the Edge and a Process that involves Planning , not the Monetary Result and EV.”

    The statement has 2 parts.

    (1) Everything is about edge.

    Edge is the poker factors of different between you the hero vs the villain(s) abilities.

    Poker Factors covers these subjects.

    knowledge , moves , range defining , tilt control , villain profiling , self profiling , stamina , courage , wisdom , confidence , humbleness , empathy , bank-roll/monetary resources , game selection , self forgiveness , the physicals (the act of betting ect), non-monetary results , feed-back loop,
    tells, bluffing , hero-calling , mistrust + others I should include.

    This lists of factors list grows and creates a dynamic changing formula on which you based your poker decisions.

    (2) not EV.

    This was add to show my dismissal of current concept of the dogma of EV which can be dis-proven.

  • chp

    I recently held a talk about the two things in startup software architecture and why do things take the long.

    My two things in software are abstraction and context. In a nutshell, you plan to do the next facebook or google, choose a framework (doesn’t really matter which one) and start at the outer-possible abstraction level possible. After all, a framework is an application with the context abstracted away. You add a page model because you are building a cms or whatever, hence adding context to it, and that comes with a price. The more context, the more useful your application is, but the less abstracted it is, the less flexible it becomes (that’s basically what happened in the early days of twitter, when they found out they are not a micro-cms but a message service).

    I think that the basic drive in IT teams comes from the tension between a CTO who wants to keep the abstraction level high and the CPO who wants to push context in asap.

    I write this, because I made an analogy to poker, when it comes to software startup architecture. The early-days challenge in startups is that u need to come up with a MVP very fast, but the business model is still in a transitioning phase and can shift so often, hence, as a software architect you need to prepare for the unknown (that was the main topic of my talk).

    The analogy: Poker is a game with the main tension between skill and randomness and pros overcome randomness by abstracting it away. The context of a poker game – what hands does hero or villain hold, a pot we are fighting for, even winning or loosing is abstracted away into ranges, equity we have in the long run and win rates over sample sizes seeking infinity.

    Hence, my two things in poker would be as in software architecture: Context and Abstraction; everything derives from there and everything can rooted back to these two fighting, yet connecting forces.

    • chp

      Haha, i forgot my main point: Everything that can be therorized into something that is dealing with the unknown can be described with abstraction and context.