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“Dealing with the Hyena Pack” by Alan25main

June 17, 2020

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How does a pack of hyenas relate to poker? Alan25main shares some details about their behavior, and why you want to watch out for them at the tables. Read his thoughts below.

As a boy, I often watched a TV show called Wild Kingdom (or something pretty close to that; it’s been a long time). Presented every Saturday by Mutual of Omaha Insurance, the host was Marlin Perkins. They featured films of animals in the wild, mostly from Africa. One of the episodes I remember showed how 80-pound hyenas could – and did – steal the lunch of 300-pound lions.

How do you suppose that much smaller beast managed to eat the apex predator’s lunch? Because lions are solitary hunters, while hyenas are very fast and hunt in packs. Large packs. No single hyena could hope to survive against the lion, but no single lion can outlast the pack.

Here’s how it works: The lion makes a kill, and eats a little. While the lion is doing that, the pack surrounds it. The lion snarls, maybe swings a clawed paw a bit, and turns to eat some more. The hyena directly behind it dashes forward and bites it on the backside. Before the lion can do much, the hyena runs back to the circle.

Perhaps the lion gives chase. If so, the hyenas on the opposite side of the circle dash forward, each grab a bite of the kill, and quickly retreat back to the circle. No doubt, the lion has recovered and returned to guard its kill by this time. Again, the hyena directly behind the lion repeats the backside biting, with the same response and same result.

This process may be repeated five or ten times, but eventually, the lion gets tired of being bitten in the butt and walks away in disgust. You can almost see it shaking its head in bewilderment. The pack then feeds. It’s fascinating to watch, and it works almost every time. Rarely, the lion will catch a hyena, in which case it becomes part of “lunch,” but that seldom happens.

On occasion, the lion brings back reinforcements, but moving the whole pride takes time and the hyenas are both quick and nimble. By the time the pride shows up, they’ve already eaten and left the area. So, the pride may get some leavings, or they may not.

What does this have to do with poker? Suppose you sit down with a whole bunch of “bingo” players. Not just one or two, but six or eight of them. If everybody is all-in, all the time, who is disadvantaged? The bingo players or the guy trying to challenge the bingo players? I think the bingo players would have a huge advantage by sheer numbers.

When the game is nothing but a “lottery” situation, whichever group of players has the most entries in the lottery is likely to emerge as the winner. Could this be an example of “team play?” Yeah, it could, but probably isn’t. It’s most likely just a case of everybody gambling. Are there going too be a lot of strange outcomes? Oh, yeah. The element of skill has just been mooted. It may look like a poker game, but skill has little or nothing to do with the outcome.

The lesson is that table selection is really, really important. Note that this also applies to strategic thinking about alliances in wartime. You can be really strong, but you still don’t want to go it alone.