Monday, September 20, 2004

The Music of Chance

YTD: +$55394.38

David Young made some interesting points in response to my gripe about tournament play. So much so that I think I will break them into two separate posts. Here’s what he said in response to my complaining about the luck factor:

“It will even out if you play more tournaments. Make that a LOT more tournaments. Accept that or don't play.”

I think that this is a common fallacy. The difference between luck, or variance if you want to be more high-falutin, in tournaments and cash is that if you keep your stack at consistent levels, online buy-in maximums to one side, in a cash game, then when and how you have good and bad luck makes little difference. However, in a tournament, exactly when and how your bad luck strikes could be the difference between being a major success or going broke. Perhaps a slightly hypothetical example will make this clearer.

Imagine, in an alternate universe we have the power to see the destiny of a tournament player over the next two years. We know that despite excellent play, discipline and some recent success that Mr X will lose $1million in entry fees and expenses over the next two years. I don’t think that this is particularly an extreme example – see Sklansky for his look at tournament variance and the potential for “bad runs”. Certainly, Mr X, playing the circuit across the globe could easily rack up such expenses. Unfortunately for Mr X, his tank is exactly $0.9 million and this bad run will render him broke.

But Twilight Zone style we can stand with him at the cross roads of a major drama that may give him a chance to avoid his fate.

Mr X is down to the last few tables of the World Series, just before the albatross of long term doom is about to descend on him. Mr X is at the peak of his game. He has all his chips in the middle on the right side of a 6:4 shot. If he loses, he pockets $100,000, and like a Flying Dutchman, sails off to his doom and poker ignominy. If he wins, he will go on to get into the major money and pocket $2.5 million. The bad run will still come, but he will survive and go on to potential greater success. Unfortunately our glimpse into the Book of Destiny only extends for two years so we don’t know what the long term, whatever that means for a tournament player, actually holds. But at least now he has a shot. (I know that this is very much a similar situation to Harry D found himself and I am only using it because it struck me how it highlighted the importance of “particular” luck. All other resemblances to people and events living and dead, past or future, is purely coincidental.)

The whole of Mr X’s poker existence rests on a crooked coin flip.

Now I know I have grossly simplified rather complex issues around money management to make my point, but I think the point is still well made. In tournaments, the luck may never break even because some events are hugely distorted in value and these almost-never –to-be-repeated events just do not exist in cash games, assuming you are playing within a sensible bankroll.

Success or failure is just a coin flip away.


chaos said...

Just as the lottery winners will never live long enough to do the money back to it, tournament players won't necessarily live long enough to get a fair deal. That said the payout structures are less skewed on-line and you will probably be able to play several life times of a live player's tournaments on-line. Expenses are negigible, so all in all, it's lower risk playing tournies for a living these days on-line. I very rarely play tournies these days and have probably got pretty bad at them.

One advantage of cash over tournies is if a player plays to a high standard most of the time, but has an absolute howler once in a while, then it tournament play he may well do worse than a very good but consistent player. The reverse may be true with cash. This is analagous to your cash example.

Ignatious said...

can i steal this damn post? perfectly put. it drives me crazy to talk to people who say things like,
“It will even out if you play more tournaments. Make that a LOT more tournaments. Accept that or don't play.”

that's just flat out wrong, imho.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure that I understand your criticism of DY's point. If you have a finite bankroll, Sklansky (for one) has shown that it can take tournament players a very long time to get into the long run.
Are you suggesting that Sklansky is wrong? Because I don't see what else you can mean in your analysis. In other words DY is correct. Luck plays a large part in tournies - larger, it would seem than in cash games - assuming you are a winning player. The only way to overcome that greater luck element is to play more. It really doesn't matter when the bad luck occurs, as in your example. Your are creating a situation which is just one example out of thousands. What matters is taking all the examples that can occur together. If a torunament player doesn't have the right bankroll he will go bust. Yes, unique situations happen in tournies that don't apply to cash - but that doesn't obviate the role of the long run in tournament play. It is the very reason why, in Sklansky's essay, +ve EV tournie players are up against it far more so than a +ve ev cash player.

Big Dave D said...


I'm not sure if you've read the post clearly or I've communicated it well...I'm actually saying that the situation is much worse than Sklansky showed. And that DY is wrong because the long term may never arise. This is because situations of luck can be hugely out of proportion in terms of long term effect and this simply doesn't happen in cash. Like Chaos said, to some extent the analogy to a lottery winner is accurate...u don't live to see the long term. This point clarifies my view:

"In tournaments, the luck may never break even because some events are hugely distorted in value and these almost-never–to-be-repeated events just do not exist in cash games, assuming you are playing within a sensible bankroll."

Mr X may never get the chance to shoot for $2.5 million again, even if his future doom was not looming over him.



tammi said...

Hi Dave,
I was just surfing some blogs and ran across yours.I noticed that you are into alot of the internet games,and thought that maybe you could answer a question for me.
My Ex-neighbor(he moved) played a game on the net and I don't know what the name of it was....but it was like a guy walking(you could hear the footsteps) and he would shoot at people from behind buildings.The others were also hiding behind stuff and trying to shoot at you.Do you know what game this is? Could it be an online-type game?Or something that I have to buy in a store? Or is there such a thing as both.
If you could help me out with this question,I would really appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

OK OK. It's more complex than I put it. The 'even out' bit only applies if you play comps that don't have mega fields (over 1,000) and that are roughly the same size. Otherwise you run into the problem that the hands can break even but the circumstances don't.


hdouble said...

Great post. This "particular luck" is the reason why I prefer cash games to tourneys. I just can't accept the idea that my "poker existence" depends completely on a few flips of a weighted coin.

Big Dave D said...


I'm going to treasure this comment of yours. It's almost, nearly, close to admitting you may have possibly, may be, have been wrong :-)

BTW, I liked your non-answer to the Vic is a bad place to play on THM.



Anonymous said...

The reality is that I'm doing well at the Vic. I've made an average of £168 per day there on my last 14 visits. Heaven knows I need the money!

I just don't want to state on the most-read poker board in the UK that the games are so beatable. I am happy with things the way that they are and see no need to invite rocks in to spoil things. So I did my best to kill the thread dead. It seems to have worked. Phew!

chaos said...

On the tournie front, I the message really applies to the circuit. There are plenty who make a living out of the small buy in, small field local comps. Also I think that on-line there are so many tournies at such a fast rate, with low overheads, that I'd be surprised if an excellent player would have a losing year.

I've probably played no more than 10 live tournaments with a buy in of £200 or more. In which I've managed to find two of these negative high-impact low-probability events.

The first was at Southampton about 3years ago, 5 left, first prize 10k.

Scenario: UTG all in for 15k. The small blind and big blind were 5k. I have 32k and BB has 30k.
I'm dealt A-10o. I'm confident that I'm beating all-in guyr. I considered moving all-in, but the BB was a tight player and wasn't going to make a move at this stage without the goods, so I can, just about, get away from it. I'm sure she will either pass or move all-in -not waste chips on a call. She calls.

Now I'm not a believer in checking down dry pots, except perhaps at the thick end of the money stage.
This player, in my opinion, certainly played 'by the book'; I'd have put could money at poor odds on her checking it down.

Flop 7-8-9. She moves all in. I'm stunned. This was the biggest prize I had played for. What was going on? Now there are certain players that you know must have the goods to bet in this situation. For my money she was definitely one of them. The debate for me was whether or not I was getting value. My thinking was a bit naive, I was concerned naturally that I might be up against the nuts or trips. In hindsight I'm sure I didn't reason things out fully and my decision to pass was wrong. But her move was so unexpected that I was caught off guard and anyway I was pretty inexperienced outside of the local comps.

On their backs
All inner: AK

Turn: K
River: J

I was stunned. I went out fifth a little later, and she had a nice carve up with the last 3. It was clear that she had a brain storm: her boyfriend told me the next day (he was in the last five too). I was gutted but more so because I knew things wouldn't even out, the situation wouldn't arise again, and even if it did she wouldn't play the hand that way. It was perhaps a symptom of my aggression, perhaps she expected me to bet - I don't know - and wanted to committ herself to the pot. Regardless, this was an opportunity lost and I wasn't ever going to get 'compensated'.

The second was down the Vic 18 months ago in a £500 event. I was doing well, down to the last few tables with a healthy stack. The dealer thought I said 'call' and not 'all-in' after some bet the flop after my preflop raise and displayed the turn card. The reraise was insignificant (most of the players chips were in) but the exposed turn card - which I hadn't even noticed - was to be replaced. The well known player was on a flush draw, the burn card was a non-flush card and was replaced with a card making it. I lost perhaps 70% of my stack and was out half an hour later. The player, who was walking but for the misdeal, wound up with 30k.

There was an techical issue that grated me about the hand, and so I brought up on the mob a couple of months later. The attitude of the player on the forum was of a tone 'well these things can go for or against you' or perhaps 'they even out'.

I replied that I thought that that sentiment was similar to saying 'Another time you'd have saved yourself a quid' to a guy who forgot to do his lottery numbers the day they came in.

The player did nothing wrong and I made no comment to the table, I knew there was precious little I could do about it. However I was less than impressed with the player's behaviour: I know how I would have responded.
There was a positive, I saw it as a test of character and tried to change my 'reference point' and played ok. I didn't tilt. There was no doubt that the dealer made a mistake: I said 'all-in' (others heard) before I did anything. But the way I handled my chips lead to his confusion: for some reason I counted out the amount she had bet, so it appeared a call.

Anyway these things aren't going to even out. I'm sure there are 'never to be repeated' costs and benefits in cash too, but I suspect they are more prevalent in tournies.

I'm not sure that I'll ever play the circuit. I may some day go though a phase of playing them, but it's pretty hard to justify for many reasons. With the exception of the cruise I've not been too impressed with the many of the players I've met. But that said it is alluring. I suspect I'd either need to win a big one or get sponsored if I was to play a lot of them. For the former you need to buy a ticket and for the latter you need the former. Unless, perhaps, I can convince a site that they should sponsor me to write articles for them. Either way it ain't gonna happen soon. I'm spending less time playing and thinking about poker these days which doesn't help. I'm spending more time on the betting exchanges. At the moment the mix feels right, but these things change.


chaos said...

btw DY. I'm surprised you've gone back to playing live games: I thought you were committed to net poker.


Anonymous said...

Well, it's been going well for me so I will stick with it. I've got a good grip on whom I'm playing and how I want to play them. It's easier to make observations on players live than online and I find it easier to play tight live too. I've now played 15 times in the last three weeks and my average win is £191 per visit.

Lifestyle-wise, it's nice too. Once I decided to take a break from online play I discovered I had lots of free time during the day that I never seemed to have before. I can wake up, play computer games, pay last night's winnings into the bank, go online to see who's insulting me anonymously today, eat out and then pop down the Vic to pick up another £200 or so tax free. This life's not for everyone I know, but I'm getting by.

Big Dave D said...


Great post and some great examples. I'm not sure you could describe the low limit tourney guys as anything other than scraping by, as most have tiny nuts to meet and dont exactly live the high life.


chaos said...

It's true that they are likely to be scraping by, but thats what a lot of the poople do in life. Taking home £1000 a month is a relative success for many people; it's not the Holy Grail but it can be a measure of success.

I'm probably being a bit dense, but what does 'as most have tiny nuts to meet' mean?


chaos said...

Thanks Dave, but what does 'as most have tiny nuts to meet' mean?

chaos said...

Sorry to repeat the questiob but that first post seems to have been delayed by 24 hours.

Big Dave D said...

It's not rude :)

Nut is an Americanism...its a term for real world expenses you need to meet.



Anonymous said...

I agree with BDD regarding "situational" luck. So much of your results in tournaments depends on exactly when, and in which events, you happen to "get lucky" or catch some hands.

I frequently play in these 1800-players events on Party and Pokerstars. Earlier in the year I made the final table of one event, finishing 4th, and getting 73 times my buy-in. What happened? I got into the money with an average stack, then I went on a huge rush. I had AA several times, won some coin flips, and even "got lucky" once.

Since then, I have crept into the money several times, getting about 90th place, winning back 2X or 3x my buy-in - but never had a big win.

Unfortunately, I got the 4th place in a $5 buy-in event on Party, winning $365.

In the $215 buy-in events, I have only creeped into the money as described above. If I won 73 buy-ins in a $215 event, that would be about $14000.

Needless to say, the difference between betting lucky in the $5 tournament and the $215 tournament is pretty damn huge.