Thinking about Thinking about Thinking about Thinking (about Poker)

In E. Bronson (ed.), Poker and Philosophy. Open Court Press (2006)
Abstract
Remember that childhood game “Odds or Evens” you used to play in order to settle important disputes such as who gets the last slice of pizza? There was only one element of skill to that game: trying to figure out what the other person would throw. But that wasn’t easy. If your opponent was savvy, that meant trying to figure out what he thought you were going to throw. And that sometimes meant figuring out what he thought you thought he was going to throw. Philosophers call this “thought attribution,” and top poker players are remarkably good at it. The ability to attribute thoughts to other people is especially important in the No-Limit Texas Hold’em tournaments that have, through television and the Internet, swept the globe in recent years. What is required to succeed in this game is not merely attributing “first-order” thoughts to other players, but attributing to them thoughts about your thoughts about their thoughts. In fact, that’s the minimum. The kind of thinking done by the very best players (T. J. Cloutier, Howard Lederer, and Daniel Negreanu are especially good at it) is much more complex than that. In this paper, I explore the light that recent philosophical work on thought attribution sheds on the kind of thinking that goes on at the expert poker table. The paper should be revealing to poker experts and novices alike. And it should be of interest to philosophers interested in poker or thought attribution. The essay is published in Poker and Philosophy, a volume of Open Court's Popular Culture and Philosophy Series. The goal of the series is to introduce philosophical themes to non-philosophers by way of particular topics of interest (in this case poker).
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