No matter how many times a poker player estimates the percentages in their head and no matter how many times they make the correct decision based on those percentages, there is always going to be massive room for information that may not have anything to do with any of it that can affect their decision.
When a player uses information that requires thinking about variables other than the cards, betting patterns or stack sizes, they are dipping into their metagame. A player should always be thinking about these things because many times, they have better information than the math or percentages.
For example, assume you have a mediocre hand and you’re facing a huge bet on the river. The size of the bet is so big that it doesn’t make sense for you to call. You might have the best hand, but because you would be risking so much to win so little, the best course of action is to wait for another spot.
On the other hand, you have played with your opponent regularly, and you know they tend to make big bets like this with nothing. Because of that, you should be more likely to call that big bet. You still might lose, but if calling that bet is correct more often than it is incorrect, you will make money in the long run.
The metagame can be tricky, though, because your opponent might be able to use it against you. If they know that you know they make big bets with nothing, they may take advantage of that by making a big bet with a monster. It is up to you to get inside their head.
Because people can change their styles or motives from hand to hand, the metagame is always changing. It is used most often against players you know because if you don’t have any information on a new player, you have no frame of reference for what certain actions mean when the new player performs them.
You can use meta game to set up your opponents, too.
For example, let’s say you have nothing but you bluff the river and get called. Your opponents see you are capable of bluffing so they will be more likely to call you the next time you bet on the river. As long as you know that, you can bet for value when you have a big hand and be sure you will get called.
Knowing all of the math and percentages is a great foundation to have, but the more you play, the more information you’ll have and hopefully be able to beat your opponents by winning the metagame – the game within the game.