Thursday, March 23, 2006

Gambling Theory and Other Topics by Mason Malmuth

One of the books I thought I needed to read upon deciding to become a professional gambler was Gambling Theory and Other Topics by Mason Malmuth. After all, I wanted to become a serious gambler, and it says right on the cover that it is "Absolutely MUST Reading for All Serious Gamblers." With a title like "Gambling Theory," I was expecting the book to be a technical exposition aspects of game theory that are useful to gambling. As it turns out, the nebulous idea of "other topics" comprises about 90% of the text. To be fair, most of these "other topics" concern gambling and are reasonably insightful. Sometimes, even entertaining.

Several times in his 300+ page book, Malmuth mentions that the idea of "non-self-weighting strategies" is the over-arching theme that holds all topics in the book together. This is the idea that in order to overcome the negative expectation of a negative-sum game, one must be able weight his bets himself (that is, the game cannot be "self-weighting"). For instance, in order to overcome the rake in poker, you need to be able to choose which hands to put your money into. To this I say: no shit. You mean I can't expect to win by just calling down every hand, regardless of my cards? Malmuth is right to consider this idea central to a winning gambling strategy; that he considers this topic to be profound is somewhat ridiculous. Also troubling is that he applies this idea to situtations that can be seen as positive-sum games, such as investing in the stock market. He extends to many extreme lengths. For example, Malmuth says that in life, introverted people are living a self-weighting strategy by only speaking when they have something useful to say, and this is why most successful gamblers are introverts. Hmmmm.... if you say so. I would have guessed it's because we tend to be kind of nerdy, thinking a lot about numbers and probabilities.

There is a section on "tournament strategy" that suggests doing all you can to conserve your chips when you are short-stacked. He has a list of 18 concepts about tournament strategy that can help you follow this suggestion. Number 11 is "Don't go out with a bang..." He says that you should "try to make those few remaining chips last as long as possible." This goes along with concept number 15: "Steal less late in a tournament if low on chips." As far as I can tell, these two ideas fly in the face of the advice in Harrington on Holdem, Volume II, which suggests become more and more aggressive as your M gets low. (M is a measure of chip count compared to the blinds.) Both books are published by Malmuth's and Sklansky's 2+2 publishing. So which is it, 2+2? Aggressive or passive when short-stacked? I'll have to reread Harrington's and Malmuth's justification on this topic. As I recall, Harrington gives vague justification, saying "you don't have time to sit around and wait for a good hand," but Malmuth's justification is more mathemeatical.

I found the section on "Calculating your Standard Deviation" to be particularly useful and probably could be correctly billed as "must reading for all serious gamblers." Before reading this section, I wasn't sure how to calculate my standard deviation correctly, and I was thinking I would have to derive the formula myself. Anyway, if you gamble for a living, read this section at least. However, be aware that there is a typo in the formula: in the places where you see "N," replace it with "N-1" (thanks to my dad for pointing this out). If you play a lot, this fix does not make much difference.

That is a problem I have with the entire line of 2+2 publishing's publications. These books sell like hotcakes (even better, maybe), and new editions come out every year. Despite this, almost every page has either a typo or grammatical error of the sort I would be ashamed to have left in an 5-page essay that I wrote in two hours. I usually have a typo or two in my posts on this blog, but I go and change them when I realize it. How do the errors in 2+2 persist, edition after edition? This is an enigma that haunts me like the missing license plates in Las Vegas. Why are these glaringly obvious transgressions allowed to persist? Usually the typos and grammatical errors don't make a big difference, but come on, why not try to get it right? Even if they usually don't matter much, they do sometimes make a difference, like when numbers or formulas are involved.

Overall, I recommend skipping this book except for some of the sections in the first half of Part Two: Theory in Practice. The sections entitiled "How much do I need?" and "Calculating your standard deviation" are particularly useful. Some other sections convered topics I found painfully obvious, but maybe some professional gamblers could benefit. For instance, Part Three: Pseudo Theory Exposed. For more advanced analysis, you may want to check out The Theory of Gambling and Statistical Logic by Richard Epstein, although it is $50 on Amazon. I haven't read it yet, but it looks promising. Anybody have any other suggested reading?

Monday, March 13, 2006

14th place

After five and a half hours of play, I was knocked out in 14th place (top 10 were paid).

For lack of anything interesting to discuss (that is, I don't feel like putting in the effort at the moment), here is the hand I was knocked out on.

Blinds are 500-1000 with antes at 200. There are seven players, and I am in the big blind with about 8000 left. The pot contains 3900 pre-flop, so my M is a meager 2. The second player limps in for 1000, everyone folds except the small blind, who calls. The small blind is also short stacked, with about 10,000 left, and the limper has about 15,000. I have 96o. At this point, going all-in is an option, but I had been quite aggressive recently and I think I would have gotten called. Anyway, I just check.

Flop: 9s 7d 3h. A very good-looking flop for my hand, as I now have top pair. The small blind checks, I check, the limper bets 2000, and the small blind folds This is just about exactly what I wanted to happen when I checked on the flop. There is now 7400 in the pot, and I have 6000 left. I go all-in with my top pair. Unfortunately, the limper has a set of threes and calls immediately. No help from the turn or river means I am out of chips.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

WSOP Freeroll Tonight

The freeroll is at the Rio tonight at 7 PM, just a couple hours from now. There are 40 players, I think, and $17500 paid out to the top ten.

Oh, and by the way, Friday night I hit two "jackpot" hands (quads or better), after not hitting any in January or February. Each jackpot hand pays out from $40 to $599... My two hands totalled $110. Oh well. I'll take it. (The hands were quad 3's and quad 7's.)

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Venetian Poker Room

For several months now, rumors have been circulating about the Venetian opening a poker room. First, I heard it was supposed to open in December 2005. This date came and went without any new poker room at the Venetian (perhaps people got it confused with Caesars, which did open its poker room that month). Then I heard it would open in February. Still, no. Anyway, last night I had a chance encounter with a dealer I know from the Rio and then Caesars. I saw her in the parking lot last night outside a local grocery store, and she told me she took a job at the Venetian's new poker room- which opens April 2. I just checked their website, which confirms this date. Judging by the website (and the dealer's description), it should be nice. Maybe I'll stop by the Venetian this week and see if I can get a peek at the new room.

As a side note, I have heard that Caesars' poker room, which supposedly cost $13 million (not sure what cost so much), has not been doing so well. I still haven't been back there since making this post about why I didn't like playing there.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Rio WSOP Freeroll - I'm In!

Well, it's semi-official. I convinced one of the floormen at the Rio to tell me whether I had over 80 hours in February, and he looked at the computer and said I was well over 80, probably over 95 (by my count I only played there 84:15, but who's counting? Oh, right...)

As I understand it, the freeroll tournament is March 11 at 7 pm. Supposedly there will be about 40 players. First place gets a seat into the main event of the 2006 WSOP. Second through tenth places receive percentage payouts from a pool of about $7500. If this is accurate, the average player will win $17500/40 = $437.50.

The money for the freeroll tournament all comes directly from the players: $1 is taken from every pot. This money also funds the high-hand jackpots, which pay out from $40 to $599 if you get four-of-a-kind or a straight flush. ($599 because, at $600, more paperwork is required.) I don't particularly like the jackpots because it compromises the purity of the game, but it does encourage worse play from my opponents at times. For example, one woman twice stood up and looked at the front board in the middle of a hand, clearly checking the jackpot sizes... and both times she indeed had a high hand. She just couldn't wait for the hand to be over to see how much she had won! That's a pretty ridiculous tell. On the second of these two hands, this tell allowed me to just call on the river - instead of raising - with a full house (it was a limit game and I couldn't bring myself to fold it).

Over the course of the month, I think I saw at least 30 of these jackpot hands get paid out to people at my tables. Assuming an average of 8 players at my table at any given time, and assuming that I play the same number of potential jackpot hands as the average players, we can calculate the probability that none of these 30 jackpot hands were won by yours truly. It's simply (7/8)^30, which comes to .0182, according to Google's calculator. I bring this up, of course, because this is exactly what happened.