What is the metagame in poker?

The metagame in poker is all between the ears. It refers to all the decisions that have nothing to do with the mathematics of poker strategies, which aim to have a psychological impact on an opponent. It could be referred to as “the game within the game”.

Another way to explain it is, every time you make a play that flies in the face of (or ignores) the mathematical foundations of poker strategy, it is likely that you are using the metagame.

The strategy of the metagame has nothing to do with the cards, with the size of the bet or the size of the stack. The metagame is “the thought of the poker players”. It is everything you as a player know about the other people at the table and vice versa.

Poker metagame example

For example, imagine you have just sat down at a table and we’re up against a player we don’t know much about. We get to the river with a mediocre hand and we have a bet in front of us of more than modest size and in any case we are sure that in the long term, based on our knowledge of poker strategy, to make a call or play is a non-profitable move.

However, it is always useful to think of the benefits to be gained from this “wrong” move. We can find at least two:

  • We see the cards of our opponent: This is always useful, because it makes us understand what type of player we are up against, and gives us the ability to use this knowledge in other hands.
  • We get a loose image as a player: Calling a river bet with a marginal hand can announce to the table that you may be a loose player. This can also be useful in future hands, when you have a strong hand and are trying to find someone to bet against.
  • In conclusion

    So, ultimately, we made a play on the mathematical plane that is harmful, but the table repercussions and the information we have collected with this play are going to compensate for the slight loss of chips.

    Let us remember, however, some fundamental points: the metagame should not be the excuse for bad plays, the metagame in poker is constantly changing and the game of metagame is mostly used against players who know what they are doing, or your subtle hints may be missed.

    For instance if you come up against a table of newbs it will be hard to metagame the table; it should only be used against select players, and even then it’s next to impossible to win all the mind games against other good players.