MIT's Free Online Poker Class Shows You How to Win All Your Friends' Money

MIT is finally putting math to good use.

Jul 21 2015, 5:10pm

Image: Rob Watkins/Paf

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The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the premier engineering schools in the country, is finally putting math to good use: teaching students how to be better poker players.

MIT has opened up the course "Poker Theory and Analytics" for free to the public this summer, including videos of class lectures, the syllabus, and PDFs of course notes. This course is part of MIT's OpenCourseWare initiative, which seeks to make certain courses at the school available for free, even for non-MIT students.

The class is taught by Kevin Desmond, a graduate student in the school's finance department. As fitting his background, his lectures emphasize careful strategy and data analysis to get the best return on investment in a given game.

Desmond wants his beginner students to play "tight aggressive": betting and raising often, but rarely just calling others' bets. The focus of the class is two-fold: mastering the fundamentals while also tracking factors other players aren't. Students in the class use poker tracking software to do everything from analyzing optimal seating arrangements to tracking opponents' betting and raising patterns and inferring future behavior based on past hands dealt.

Desmond taught the class this past winter session, and was the one to actually push for it to be made available under the OpenCourseWare project this summer. As a lesson in risk analysis, poker is an excellent teacher, and MIT is no stranger to combining math concepts with card games. The unofficial MIT Blackjack Team gained notoriety for counting cards and winning big at casinos in the 90s, and then had a Kevin Spacey movie made about them. If some untapped poker prodigies come out of this class, maybe they can get a movie deal too.