Some Thoughts on Thinking, Part I

Posted on Feb 5 2013 by pomomojo in Board Games, Parlor Games, Poker


I have played many, many different games in the past few years, and even though I generally do fairly well when I play, I find that certain games are just more difficult for me than others. The ones I struggle with, confound me not because I don’t understand them or they are too complicated, but because they require mental skills that I am weaker in. This has led me to consider some of the different types of thinking that games can require of their players.

Today, I’d like to look at Memorization. You could argue that this isn’t a type of thinking, but certainly it is a mental skill that can be helpful when playing a game.

The most obvious example of the use of memorization is in a trivia game such as Trivial Pursuit. Here the game is mostly about how much information you have memorized about a certain topic. There is also a bit of strategy in how you move your piece, some luck in what questions you get, and perhaps some logical thinking as you try to make an educated guess about a topic you don’t know, but the main idea is to test the players’ knowledge.

It’s possible, though, for a game to not be about memorization at all, yet utilize memorization as an essential component. A good example can be found in most card games. Since the makeup of a deck of cards is known ahead of time, remembering what has already been played can help you make better decisions in the future. Certainly you need to pay attention to what gets played during a Bridge hand, but you also need to remember which bids were made that didn’t get accepted to give you some idea of the contents of the player’s hand. Similarly, remembering what tiles have been selected by your opponents will help you win at Mahjong.

Some games don’t require memorization to be played well, but serious players will nevertheless memorize important data to give them an edge. Expert Scrabble players memorize lists of two-letter words or words that use difficult letters, and they also know how many of each letter tile are in the game. A casual player can enjoy the game without this information, but it certainly can give you an edge.

Finally, there is a subtle form of memorization that isn’t really part of the game at all – remembering how your opponent has played before. If a Poker player notices that a particular opponent bets a certain way when he has a winning hand and another way when he has a losing hand, he can crack the code so to speak and be at an advantage. This is why Poker players don’t show their cards when an opponent folds – better not to reveal your own strategy.

I tend to steer away from games that put too much emphasis on memorization or I ignore the advantages I can gain by memorizing data from the game. It’s not that I am that bad at remembering information, but, rather, that I just don’t find that activity enjoyable. Obviously, I make note of what cards get played in Bridge or I’d be a terrible partner, but the advantage I might get out of tracking a Poker opponent’s habits isn’t worth it to me (though would be if I was playing for millions of dollars).

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