Published On: Fri, Jun 9th, 2017

The Science Behind Competitive Card Games

A recent study, dubbed Your Brain on Poker, was conducted by online card room partypoker in order to differentiate the brain activity between card players in a competitive context.

The Setup

The study was conducted with two groups of three players, with each group having a beginner, amateur and expert player. One of the groups played for money while the other group only had the expert player playing for small stakes. Each player wore an electroencephalography (EEG) headset, which recorded their brainwaves during different parts of the game. The data collected was then visualised into brain maps in order to reveal the differences and similarities between players of varying abilities.  

The Findings

Indeed, these brain maps showed that during key points of the poker game, the brain maps of the beginner and amateur player were vastly different from the professional player.

For instance, when a player was bluffing – pretending to have a better hand than they actually held – there was a significant difference between the amateur and the professional in the areas of their brain that were engaged. The amateur player showed a high level of frontal lobe activity, which suggests that these players were not entirely in-charge of their emotions and would be more likely to be swayed by negative emotions such as fear or frustration. The professional players, however, showed very little frontal lobe activity, highlighting that these players were logical and would not let their emotions rule how they played – a sign of a more skilled player.

When it came to playing a ‘turn’ a similar brain map was shown between the amateurs and expert players. Most notably, the expert players were shown to have fairly equal activity on both their right and left-hand sides of the brain. This kind of activity is most commonly seen when people are calculating difficult mathematical problems, suggesting that the experts were using both intuition and logic to calculate the best move possible. Whereas the amateurs, with their frontal lobe activity, ruled their moves by emotion alone.

The amateur and beginner players continually showed frontal lobe activity highlighting that less experienced players find it much harder to control their emotions. In comparison, the experts were mainly led by logic, something that was further highlighted in their ability to make quick decisions on their next moves.


Overall the study provides an interesting insight into the brains of poker players, with many similarities to competitive sport. It can be said that in any competitive environment it is important to remain engaged, focused and logical even when the competition is going in your favour.