Thursday, August 05, 2004

In Vino Veritas

YTD: +$27808.75

Wow, we are having some great threads again in the comments. Check out two poker minds discussing excellent tourney strategy. Most of what needs to be said there has already been said, but FWIW I think that Tommy Angelo, a great antidote to Sklanskyism on the 2+2 forums, gets it right when he says “the decisions that haunt us the most are the ones that matter the least.” I think Chaos’s hand is right on the cusp and could be essentially neutral as to the decision, with a slight tilt to the +EV side. And I would have gone allin too.

However, and this is a big HOWEVER, there is a meta-game situation to be considered. Chaos is normally great on these matters, but doesn’t reveal them here. (I'M EDITING HERE...CHAOS DID MENTION THEM, IN DETAIL...I WAS TOO DUMB TO NOTICE :) Basically do the table conditions, stage of tourney, quality of players etc, override the technical, mostly mathematic decision you have to make? Of course override is an inaccurate term – if you could reduce these intangibles to a mathematical % then of course they could be factored in. It’s just hard over the table :-) Perhaps an example would make things clearer.

I was recently in the US as part of a sales brainwashing for my new job. Smashed out of my face and jet lagged, I stumbled into a one table poker tourney amongst some of my new colleagues! Anyone who has been to the states recently would be amazed at how massive poker has become. The ESPN coverage of the WSOP was on every day, sometimes even pushing log rolling and dog jumping off the schedule (don’t ask.)

Soon my charade of clueless Englishman had fallen, and we were 4 handed with the top 3 spots paying 50-30-20. The sums were fairly small – I was too pissed to remember – but first was something like 240 bucks and the only sum really worth shooting for. A key hand came up as a battle of the blinds. The SB made a small raise and I called with suited nonsense in the BB. The flop came A high with two of my suit. After going through the whole repartee of Mike Caro’s Book of Tells, he did everything but burst into tears, he finally, reluctantly, begrudgingly moved allin. So clearly he had an Ace :-)

Incredibly, considering my very, very debilitated situation I went into deep thought. The maths was, or seemed close. Although I wasn’t getting quite 2 to 1, if I won this hand I would be a monster chip leader and a favourite for 1st. As Chaos would say, my utility value was skewed for 1st. :-) However, if I called and lost I would be very short stacked and have to win the next two or three showdowns to get back into contention. But. But. These guys weren’t Internet players. Although they played poorly, they were not bonkers aggressive and very much disliked calling and making big bets. So far I was the only person to have gone allin in the session. If I passed I would still have a playable stack and more than enough to make people pass their blinds. And these blinds were chunky and more than worth winning. So through a befuddled daze of alcohol, incredibly, I passed.

The meta game factors were very important in this case.

Now clearly you don’t want to go to Phil Hellmuth-like extremes, but sometimes stopping and thinking about bigger issues in the game, especially online, can pay dividends.

(I won the tourney of course.)


Anonymous said...

So when are they sacking you?


Rich. P

chaos said...

Good post Dave and good decision - or maybe it wasn't, did you include the 'I'm pissed' meta value (got a name for them now!)? Perhaps, it was a positive influence!

'Utility skewed towards the first prize?' So are you telling us you're a glory boy ?

“the decisions that haunt us the most are the ones that matter the least.” So true, my hypocrisy runs deep. I've commented only recently on Camels thread, how if a guy makes 10 bad plays an evening, myself included, he is likely to post about the most critical (w.r.t. cash) or marginal decision (w.r.t. EV). The other 9 hands were bad plays, but s/he knows that they were bad, but not so sure about the other one. The problem that the vast majority of poker players face is stopping the habit of playing hands bad. Smoking is a great example. We are now informed as previous generations weren't, yet the problem persists.

You've got me confused with your post Dave. I felt I considered the external factors in my write up and hopefully in my decision too. Perhaps I didn't mention the players skill or mine, but I didn't have a feel for either at the time! The strategic position was key in making my decision. The stage of the tournie, my inability to nick blinds due to the position of the big stacks, hopefully their belief that I didn't need to nick were factors that perhaps are not in all the decisions we make. The skill aspect was omitted, probably because I only moved to the table when the blinds were high and so I couldn't form an opinion of theirs easily, and I hadn't played many tournies to form an opinion of my own. I'd be interested to know if you feel there was something conspicuous by its absence from my reasoning.

The problem with performing this sort of analysis is that it is off-line and in a perfect environment - you develope skills to solve problems in that environemnt. One develops skills to solve academic problems over a long period of time with no emotions surfacing. It is a far cry from making sharp decisions in the heat of a moment.

I'm not likely to be posting for a couple of weeks, so I thought I'd comment on the question or claim I left on the end of the last thread. Should a good player take on negative equity at the stage of the tournament described, say AK against 10-10? One thing that has amazed me about Internet tournies is how big stacks seem to accelerate and simply keep growing. I’m sure it’s not an internet phenomenon – it’s just so clearly illustrated.

Essentially I think there are two attractors in a poker tournament. They are independent of skill, which naturally have their own attractors, and are soul dependent on stacks size. In the tournament I described I felt there was one very large floating attractor say at 80K (does this sound like garbage?) and naturally the other at 0. My feeling is that the neutral or equilibrium point was around my stack size, perhaps a couple of k higher. At a similar stage of a different tournament, my mate found that he was well below the chip average, but above half way in position. There is no doubt that the field was similarly skewed here. At this time I suspect that this attractor is at its strongest, as all the short stacks are shelling chips by the bucket load. Quite obviously they are being donated to the big stacks, but it certainly wasn’t to me, or any of the other small mediums. In this bubble stage, which could last for half and hour or an hour, imagine what would happen if the player with 10 or 11k doubles up? S/he is no longer neutral or attracted to zero, but pulled towards the large positive attractor. You don’t have to be a good player with a big stack – your blinds won’t be attacked often and there will be opportunities for the odd steal, or limp-bet etc. While the question might still be thought of as ‘Am I expected [mathematical expectation) to have more or less chips immediately after this hand?’, it should be ‘Am I expected to have more or less chips in, say, 50 hands’. Now, in that context, the decision has a positive expectation if, as I suggest, there is a huge growth when you reach above a certain level. Naturally there are good skilful players with big stacks, but this particular growth I feel applies to any player, even the timid and reckless.

Perhaps in these situations we act on what we feel the hand EV to be, too quickly. Negative EV doesn’t have to be the pill that only the short stack or poor player should take. Perhaps the good player with a comfortable stack should take it from time to time too.

Another way to think about it is to imagine if you were spread betting the stack size of an average player with a big stack one hour from the present during a cash am You would probably expect a slighty positive value, but in a tournament ?

I'll run out of ideas for my own articles at this rate, should the day ever arrive !


Big Dave D said... commenting on my own blog :)

I've editted the post to reflect my stupidity in saying you hadn't included meta game factors. I like your theory. I remember Keith saying you were a mathematician by profession in some way? I guess the only factor I would add is that the attractors (isnt that a chaos theory term :-) would have different strengths depedendent on the player. Some people don't know how to play a big stack, or a small one, for example. Personally in B&M I was a good big stack player, online I find I'm being looked up to much and I end up wanking off my chips. This is why I stopped playing the NL comps on Stars, for example.

chaos said...

Hi Dave

Strange Attractors - I did know something during Uni, but I've forgotten now. Yes I did study Maths at Uni and followed it with an MSC a couple of years later. But my maths feels pretty weak now. I would say that the area I worked in for a while, decision (support) science probably helped me with poker the most. I suspect it helped me consider and understand better the meta values you aptly described. Initially when I played poker I tried to find a mathematical solution. I think the role of mathemetics tends to be over or underestimated by most of us. It is ironic, though, that I scarsely know the probability of hitting 9 outs, or KK against A-10 etc. I feel that that sort of knowledge is the icing on the cake - it's fundamental to know the ball park figure, but to a couple of % ? Thats leads us back to your quote. There are undoubtedly more fundamental problems in 99% of our games than knowing the %ages.

On to your comment about the skill aspect. Yes I agree, and I did intimate there is inherently a skill attractor and combining them will have different effects on different players. I suppose what I'm getting at is that at this stage almost any strategy will result in some growth. There are certain benefits to all big stacks in this situation, the simplest being everyone folding to your BB. Raising with AJ and less likely to face a reraise or a call etc. If the player has some skill with the big stack then the two attractors combined will be very strong and, imo, definitly worth taking the -ve EV.


chaos said...

ps the 'chaos' handle, was chosen because of my fondness of the subject at uni, rather than anticiption of my style of play. Altough I do feel that order in apparent randomness (~ chaos) is the way I have tried to play in the past, and is probably still the way to go, imo. Controlled tilt, as I once described it and was rightfully ridiculed.