Sunday, August 30, 2009

Analyzing NLHE:TAP Concept 7

It's my weekend again, so it's time to get back to analyzing Sklansky and Miller's No Limit Hold 'em: Theory and Practice concepts. I'll try to do one or two during the week, as well.

Concept No. 7: Don't telegraph that you have one pair unless you can profitably call big bets.

Sklansky and Miller say, "One pair can be a very tricky hand to play in deep stack no limit." I agree with this statement, but I do not agree with Concept 7 as stated. It suggests that except under certain circumstances, you need to play your pairs abnormally in order to throw off your opponents. This is terrible advice. You want your "normal" game to maximize EV. Thus, any advice to deviate from this is, by definition, going to lose some expected value. Losing EV=bad.

Certainly, we do not generally want our opponents to know what we are holding. So, the advice that we not telegraph that we have one pair seems sound. The problem with this advice is the implication that by playing a hand in our normal way, we "telegraph" our hand to our opponent. If this were the case, our entire poker strategy would need a complete overhaul. If we are playing a well-rounded game, we will never be telegraphing our hands (or if we do, it's not in a way that our opponents can exploit). Even if our strategy is not so well-rounded, it takes an extremely perceptive opponent to discern our hand precisely.

Let's consider for a moment S+M's suggestion that it's okay to let your opponents know what you have under certain circumstances. Specifically, they say, "If you welcome a big bet with one pair because you expect that bet to be a bluff, then it's ok to telegraph your hand by playing in a way that makes it obvious what you hold."

I don't really know what to make of this. If it's okay to "telegraph" my hand, should I just reveal my hand to my opponent in such a case? Surely not, although by the logic included in this concept it would seem that S+M would expect that this would accomplish the desired goal of inducing a bluff. This is plausible, but it still doesn't seem like the best way to play the hand.

Obviously, S+M are not advising that we telegraph our hands by simply revealing them to our opponent. What they mean by "telegraphing" is playing the hand in a normal, straightforward manner. However, as I said before, your normal strategy should not be telegraphing your hand, anyway.

I think Sklansky and Miller's advice is designed to protect the reader from developing a strategy that is too predictable. It's true that a NL player needs to disguise his paired hands, but it should not be done by playing them abnormally. Instead, just make sure that you play some drawing hands in the same way, as well as some stronger hands. I think conventional Sklansky-wisdom is overly concerned with playing hands in a way that avoids difficult decisions. It's good to avoid difficult decisions, but not if it means playing abnormally and thus losing EV.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


Yesterday, I was offered a new position and a $10/hr pay raise. My new responsibilities would be to help the $500+ buyin NL holdem game. That's about it. The floormen would no longer be able to move me from one game to another, and I would have some more flexibility about whether to stay in a game or get up for a player who is waiting. If no $500 NL game is running, I can play whatever game I want, but I would be required to help start new $500 NL games. My hours would be pushed back two hours from 9am-5pm to 11-7, which I think is somewhat better because the traffic should be lighter.

I told my supervisor I would have to think about it. Before I was hired by the Bike, I used to routinely play the $500 NL game at Hollywood Park, so working the $500 NL at the Bike might seem like an ideal situation for me. However, I've come to prefer the limit game over the past year. My results are better, and I feel more comfortable in limit. Also, the $500 NL players have extra intense egos, and I like to try to avoid getting too involved with such people. Since there are pretty much the same people at the $500 NL game every day, it will be difficult for me to escape their bullshit.

After thinking it over last night, though, I decided to take the job. I don't think it will take long for me to become comfortable with it. Hopefully only a day, and no more than a few weeks, I'd guess. As for dealing with the out-sized personalities in that game, I'm hoping it won't be too much of a problem. I already have to deal with plenty of BS in the holdem and hi-lo stud games I play every day, but somehow it seems that the variety of different people it comes from makes it more tolerable. Having to deal with the same people every day is going to be at least a little grating. I decided I could put up with it for the extra $10/hr.

Since I'm taking time off from Sept 11-27 for my honeymoon to Paris, my supervisor decided I should wait until October 1 to start in my new position. Anyway, this means I'll be playing way more no-limit pretty soon, so it's quite appropriate that I've been analyzing No Limit Hold 'em: Theory and Practice this past week. I hope to continue that tomorrow night.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Analyzing NLHE:TAP Concept 6

From No Limit Hold 'em: Theory and Practice by Sklansky and Miller.

Concept No. 6: It can be right to call with decent hands that have little chance of improving even if you plan to fold if there is a bet on the next round.

I like this one. It's not groundbreaking, and it should be pretty obvious, but it's common for experienced players to give the opposite advice: don't call a bet on the turn if you can't face another bet on the river.

Well, often enough, that river bet never materializes after you call on the turn. As S+M say, "there are plenty of reasons to bet the flop, but check the turn if called (or to bet the turn, but check the river if called). You'll do it, and so will your opponents." I agree.

Again, this seems pretty straightforward, but I'll go through the basic idea. Many players who bluff on the turn and get called will expect you to follow the conventional wisdom and call any river bet as well. Naturally, these players will often give up the bluff and just check on the river, since they figure any further bluffs will be called. This means that if they do bet again on the river, they will have a stronger range of hands. This necessitates a stronger calling range on your part. That is, you'll have to fold some of the decent hands that you called with on the turn.

Sometimes I find myself in a game where I get called a lot pre-flop, but then my opponents tend to give up easily on the flop. I think they often have decent hands on the flop, but they don't want to face another bet on the turn, so they figure they should fold right away. By folding too early, though, they make it far too easy for me to win these small pots.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Analyzing NLHE:TAP Concept 5

One by one, I'm analyzing the concepts at the end of No Limit Hold 'em: Theory and Practice by David Sklansky and Ed Miller.

Concept No. 5: When you first sit down, evaluate your game and decide whether your profit should come more from big pots or small pots.

I don't have a whole lot to say about this one. It's certainly a good idea to consider your situation when you sit down at the table, so I guess the only question here is whether deciding between big pots and small pots is really a top priority. Frankly, I don't know how to analyze this concept. I'll try comparing it to what I do when I first sit at a table.

If you were to ask me what the first thing you should do when you sit down in a NL holdem game is, I would tell you to first note your opponents' stack sizes. Then, listen to any table banter. This might give you an idea of who is winning and losing, who is aggressive, and who is passive. You'll need to take these impressions with a grain of salt, but they can give you hints as to how your opponents might behave or how they think about the game. Then you should watch the action closely, noting who plays lots of hands and who plays few. Ask yourself "is this table generally loose/aggressive, or are they more tight/passive? Do they tend to call too much preflop and fold too much on the flop? Generally, how can I exploit my opponents at this table?" This is a lot to think about, so maybe there is some value in simplifying things a little and just asking myself whether I should be trying to win big pots or small pots, as suggested by this concept.

Evaluating this concept further doesn't really fit my brand of analysis. The best approach probably depends on your personality. In any case, I like this concept because it encourages the reader to focus on his opponents, to assess his situation, and to think about how to exploit it.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Analyzing NLHE:TAP Concept 4

The third installment of my analysis of the Concepts in Sklansky and Miller's No Limit Hold 'em: Theory and Practice.

Concept No. 4: Sometimes you should bluff to stop a bluff.

This is a really interesting idea, but after giving it a lot of consideration, I'm confident that it is generally wrong.

There are, of course, plenty of situations where your hand has some showdown value but you'll fold if your opponent bets. Obviously, your opponent will gain a lot if he bluffs in these situations. What this concept says is that sometimes it's worth bluffing with these mediocre holdings yourself in order to avoid being put in a difficult situation. This is almost true in some extreme examples, but it's kind of a stupid way to think about it because the reason you bet isn't really that you want to stop a bluff. I remember a similar piece of advice, I think it is from Mike Caro, that is much more insightful: If your opponent bluffs either way too much or way too little, be more willing to check to him. This gives you a chance to exploit his extreme bluffing frequency. Call if he bluffs too much, fold if he never bluffs. Let me explain how Caro's advice is similar and superior to S+M's.

Against most opponents, it's not a bad idea to assume they play about as well after you bet as they do after you check. If you've noticed that a certain player does not fit this description, you can try to exploit it. As Caro points out, if they play terribly after you check (by not bluffing a reasonable amount), you should tend to check very often. This is especially true if your opponent plays reasonably well after you bet. On the the hand, if your opponent plays terribly after you bet (eg by folding way too much), you should tend to bet very often. This is especially true if your opponent plays reasonably well after you check.

In the example Sklansky and Miller use to illustrate their point, they describe an opponent who folds to a bet of 30% of the pot 50% of the time. This is way too much. (In this example, he should call/raise with over 75% of his hands.) Bluffing such an opponent is extremely lucrative, and should be done as often as possible. To make this point even stronger in the book's example, your opponent bluffs reasonably often if you check.

The thing is, Sklansky and Miller do not acknowledge that this opponent is folding way too much, which is the real lesson of their example. Instead, they frame the example around the fact that you are holding a hand that is difficult to play against a bluff. Thus, the reader is given the impression that players with mediocre hands should usually consider bluffing. This is only true against opponents who play terribly when facing a bet! Even in these cases, you are not really betting to avoid a bluff, as Sklansky and Miller put it; rather, you are betting to exploit a weakness in your opponent's play (ie, he folds way too much). Against most opponents, betting mediocre holdings is a big mistake! Note also that against the opponent in this example, you should be bluffing not only with mediocre holdings, but also with all weaker hands. The weaker the hand, the more profitable it is to bluff. This is a basic lesson from game theory. Assuming Sklansky and Miller know this, they obscure this point so badly that they make it seem like it is actually better to bluff with mediocre hands than with weaker ones.

Although I think this Concept's claim is sort of correct, it's very misleading and seems based on bad reasoning. I think that if readers were to take this concept's advice to heart, it would make them play worse! Instead, take Mike Caro's advice and try to exploit your opponents' weaknesses by putting them into situations where they don't play as well.

So far Sklansky and Miller are a surprisingly bad 1 for 4 in their Concept advice. Of course, you may think they are correct and I am the one who is a surprisingly bad 1 for 4 in my analysis! Anyway, I'm quite surprised to see how little I agree with them after only four concepts. When I started this project, I knew there were a few points I disagreed with, but I thought I was mostly going to be integrating their advice into my poker consciousness. I had no intention to be quite so contrarian. I am hoping things are less contentious from here on out, but I guess disagreement probably makes for more interesting blogging!

Back to Work

I went back to work at the Bike this week. Yesterday was the first day of the main event of the Legends tournament, and there were quite a lot of people milling about. Men "The Master" and David Pham were the only TV stars I'm sure were there. I think I saw Amir Vehedi, too. Not the most impressive list. The Bike's new tournament room is quite nice, though. I took a peak yesterday after the tournament started. There weren't as many players as I expected, but then again, there are at least two start days. In the corner were a bunch of people on laptops set up in official-looking rows. I guess this was the "press box."

There is more action than usual at the Bike, but not like last August, when we had tons of games going round the clock. This week, we haven't had any big games going when I got to the casino at 9 am. Even on a normal day in June there were overnight 20-40 limit holdem games going at least twice a week. On the other hand, the place was pretty packed by about 2 pm.

I have the next two days off, so I'm hoping to be able to get through Concept 6 of my NLHE:TAP analysis by Tuesday.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Analyzing NLHE:TAP Concept 3

This is the second installment of my analysis of Sklansky and Miller's No Limit Holdem: Theory and Practice.

Concept No. 3: Most of your actions should include an inherent randomness against perceptive opponents.

"Avoid making virtually any play 100 percent of the time against good players." A few years ago, I was a big believer in this one, but now I just don't buy it. The idea, of course, is that you want to be unpredictable and thus difficult to read. If you never play 62, you are vulnerable if the flop is 662 or 345. Also, if you always raise with AA, your opponent can be sure his QQ are best with a AQ7 flop after you limp in. So, according to this idea, you need to limp at least rarely with AA.

I disagree. As an extremely example, I'm quite confident you should never raise 62o against good opponents when you are five off the button in limit holdem. This holds true for just about any hand worse than about 97o, and sometimes even for hands as good as ATo if your opponents are very tough.

So, why don't you need to worry about flops like 662 or 345 if you never raise with 62o? Three reasons:
1. Even the most perceptive opponents won't be able to figure out exactly what you are raising with anyway. Even if you do raise with 62o sometimes, your opponents are still pretty safe assuming you don't have this hand when 662 flops.
2. There are other, stronger hands that you can play that will make your opponents think twice on flops like this. Instead of playing 62o, play 67s, A6s, and/or 66. These hands do well enough on 662 and 345 flops, and they connect with plenty of other flops as well.
3. Even if you never play 67s, A6s, 66 and always fold when the flop is 662 or 345, this is probably okay! You will still win plenty of other times because the overwhelming majority of flops a card higher than a 6. Even if your opponents know you will always fold when the flop is all under 7, they can't really capitalize on this because those flops rarely show up! This is a very interesting point that I can't remember seeing anywhere else: it's okay for your raising range to include NO hands that connect with certain flops, even if your opponents knew exactly what your range is (which they don't).
**EDIT** 4. This relates to point 2 below. There may be situations where you actually will raise 62o. Who knows, maybe you actually think you opponents are so bad that you think you have +EV in this situation. The point is that your situation encompasses more than just your cards and your position at the table. So, even if your opponents know you never play 62o in the situation they perceive you to be in, you still might have 62o, because you will have perceived the situation at least somewhat differently. Note that this does not mean you should randomize your play like Concept 3 suggests. If you were to play 62o, it would be because the situation seemed to be profitable (+EV).

Another thing Sklansky and Miller say in this concept is "You might sacrifice a little bit of profit in this hand, but by doing so you make all your future hands more profitable." According to game theory, as I understand it, this is just plain bad advice. While it can sometimes be optimal to mix up your game by occasionally playing some hands, these hands need to be profitable in and of themselves... or, at least, not unprofitable.

I also don't really think you need to worry much about randomizing your actions when you have a good hand like AA. If you think raising AA preflop is the best play in a given situation, then it's probably worth doing every time. If you raise with plenty of other hands in similar situations, it's impossible to tell you have AA. You may be worried that you then give up too much information when you limp, since you are essentially announcing "I don't have AA because I always raise AA in this situation!" I have two things to say to this:
1. As in point 3 above, this is probably okay! Just as there are not many flops with three cards under 7, there aren't that many situations where your opponents can exploit you here. For example, even if they know you will always fold to an all-in raise, your opponent cannot exploit this by raising you out, because there are usually several other players for your opponent to worry about.
2. Even if your opponents somehow knew exactly how you play AA in a given situation (and again, they don't), they can never know exactly how you have perceived the situation at hand. For example, I might have noticed a tell that the player to my left is planning to raise, so I might limp in with AA. The player to my right might not have noticed this, and thus he will perceive the situation differently. If he perceives the situation as one in which I would never limp with AA, he would be liable to make a big mistake if everyone folds to him and he tries to bluff me out of the pot. Even more simply, maybe I am in a situation where I always raise with AA, but I misread the situation and call instead. This sort of thing happens all the time.

Some of my conviction on these points comes from studying some game theoretic examples from The Mathematics of Poker by Chen and Ankenman. There actually are situations in poker where you need mix up you play in a given situation (in game theory this is called a "mixed strategy"), but this always happens at the margins of your decisions. For example, if you've somehow determined that you should always raise with K8o on the button but always fold with K6o on the button, there is probably some rate between 0% and 100% at which it is optimal to raise with K7o. Clearly, whether you choose 20% or 80% is not going to make much difference in your results, and you'll be fine at either 0% or 100% as well. Notice, however, that with all other hands, including K8o and K6o, you should not be randomizing your play whatsoever according to game theory. K8 is a raise, K6 is a fold, period. Admittedly, mixed strategies can also be optimal at the extremes, like with AA, but, as I said above, I think you can safely play a fixed strategy, since nobody else really knows what you are thinking, anyway!

This took longer than expected, so I'll save "Concept 4: Sometimes you should bluff to stop a bluff" for next time. Preview: I am not convinced!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Analyzing NLHE:TAP Concepts 1-2

This is the first in what I'm hoping will be a series of discussions of the "Concepts" section of No Limit Holdem by Sklansky and Miller. There are 60 concepts total. Today I'll look at the first two.

Concept No. 1: When in doubt, bet more.

Right off the bat, I have to say I'm not a big fan of this one. My main problem is that it's not really clear what this means, although the discussion in the book gives some clues.

Taken literally, this concept suggests that it is always best to just push all-in: since there is doubt inherent in every poker situation (even with the nuts, it's not clear how much is best to bet), we should always be betting more than any given amount X, unless X is all-in. I know this is not what they are trying to say, so I guess we should not be taking this concept so literally.

Taken more figuratively, I can see two reasonable interpretations. One is that players are generally inclined to bet less than they should, especially when they are in a lot of doubt as to how much to bet. I think this is good advice, actually. Beginners, especially, tend to bet far too little (compared to what would maximize EV), and one reason for this is probably that they doubt themselves. However, in my experience, lots of intermediate players tend to bet too much when they are in doubt, trying to end the hand immediately. In any case, I don't think this is the interpretation that Sklansky and Miller were thinking of, either.

Judging by the discussion in the text, I think the authors are saying that the EV lost when betting too little is worse than the EV lost when betting too much. "Try to err on the big side," they say. "In general, you're better off betting a bit too much than you are betting a bit too little." These comments suggest that there is a bet size that maximizes EV, and I whole-heartedly agree with this. I also agree that it can be difficult to determine this bet size (usually, it's impossible). However, I do not agree that a player should stray from the bet size that he thinks will yield the greatest EV. They say: "try to err on the big side." I say: "try not err." If trying to decide between betting $X or $X+1, the authors suggest you bet $X+1. I suggest you choose whichever seems better!

There actually are situations where there rules might not allow you to bet the amount you think is optimal. For example, you might want to bet $17.50 in a game where you are required to bet in increments of $5. So what is better? Betting $15 or $20? Honestly, I don't know, but this concept suggests you should bet $20. Let's come up a sample situation. I doubt this will be very fruitful, but sometimes this can help to get a better idea of what's going on.

Suppose I'm bluffing into a $30 pot, and would like to bet $17.50 because I think I would win the pot 50% of the time with this bet (EV = $30*.5 - $17.50*.5 = $6.25). However, the rules require $5 increments, so I'll bet either $15 or $20.

Suppose betting $20 will win the pot 52% of the time. Then EV = $30*.52 - $20*.48 = $6.
Suppose betting $15 will win the pot 48% of the time. Then EV = $30*.48 - $15*.52 = $6.60.

Oops! my example broke because betting less than my supposed "optimal" amount was actually better than "optimal." Of course, these numbers are entirely dependent on my approximations of folding rates, but it doesn't look too good for the "bet more" philosophy!

Now let's try those same numbers again, except now I have a hand that I think beats my opponent 90% of the time.

My supposed "optimal" amount is still $17.50.
50%: my opponent folds and I win the $30 pot.
40%: my opponent calls and I win $47.50.
10%: I lose $17.50.
EV = $30*.5 + $47.50*.4 - $17.50*.1 = $32.25.

Betting $20: EV= $30*.52 + $50*.38 - $20*.1 = $34.60.
Betting $15: EV = $30*.48 + $45*.42 - $15*.1 = $31.80.

Once again, my example broke, but this time betting more had a higher EV than my supposed "optimal" bet size of $17.50. I have to admit that if these numbers were correct, I would do better betting $20 than $15 in general, but I think the real issue here is that I should have made my opponent more responsive to changes in bet sizes so that my examples actually made sense (maybe I should have used 55% and 45% instead of 52% and 48%). In any case, I think it's still an open question whether it's better to "err on the big side," but I still say it's better not to err at all if you don't need to!

Concept No. 2: Don't give action to tight and trapping players. Know who not to play big pots against.

I think we can all agree with this very straightforward advice. Tight players tend to have better cards, so you must be careful! I'm not sure why this was worthy of it's own "concept" on the list, but I suppose it is a common mistake people make.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Hitting the Books

As I mentioned last time, I'm taking some time off from work, and I wanted to use some of my free time to analyze poker. As planned, I did absolutely nothing poker-related for my first week off, but now I've started to hit the books. I reread a few sections of The Mathematics of Poker (probably my favorite poker book despite typos and other flaws), and I'm almost done with Gus Hansen's book, Every Hand Revealed. The only thing really earth-shattering about Hansen's book is his humility, which is very uncharacteristic of poker players. He unabashedly admits that he often doesn't know what the best play is, but describes his thinking of the pros and cons of each option. It's a good book, as it gives the reader a taste for how to play a super-aggressive style and what it's like to play in one of these big televised poker tournaments, but I don't feel that I've taken much away from it strategically except that I may be playing too tight in the blinds and with suited connectors.

In addition to The Mathematics of Poker and Every Hand Revealed, I'm also revisiting No Limit Hold 'Em: Theory and Practice by David Sklansky and Ed Miller. I never got around to writing a review for this book, but I thought it was mostly quite good. There are already lots of reviews online. (The book is three years old now, but one extensive review was just published yesterday.) However, I remember thinking that there was a lot of questionable advice, and, as always with "2+2" publications, astonishingly feeble editing. Anyway, the last part of the book, called "Concepts and Weapons," is simply a list of 60 NLHE concepts, and I've always thought this would be fertile ground for some poker discussion. I think it might be interesting to go through them all and give my impression of them. No promises, but I think I'll start that tomorrow. I go back to work at the Bike the next day, but hopefully I'll eventually work my way through the whole list.

The other thing I thought I might do before I go back to work was play in the $1070 tournament in the Bike's Legends of Poker. However, my plans for being staked by other players fell through, and I opted not to pay for it myself.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Summer Vacation and Being Staked

Starting last Saturday (Aug 1), I'm taking two and a half weeks off and going back to work on August 20. This should give me time to run errands, make appointments, do some reading, plan a honeymoon, think about my future, and maybe start an online course. (Did you know MIT puts all their courses online?) I'm also going to Cleveland for a few days (after Hawaii airfare almost doubled). All the props at the Bike were encouraged to take time off this month because the big Legends tournament attracts plenty of action to the Bike. Of course, the action would probably have been profitable for me if I stayed and played, but they offered unlimited time off in August without penalty- but without pay, either.

For the first week or so I'm not doing anything poker-related (other than this blog post). I think it may be beneficial for me to take a step back from poker for at least a few days. I've been having more difficulty concentrating at the table, and it's interfering with the quality of my play. Also, I've been doing almost no analysis of my game when I'm not at the casino. Analyzing poker theory, strategy, and tactics not only keeps my game sharp, it also is what keeps the game fun for me. When I don't study, I don't have as much fun playing, I don't concentrate as well, and I have almost no chance of getting any better. If I'm not getting better and I'm not having a lot of fun, what's the point of playing poker? Well, there's the money, of course, but I don't make enough for that alone to justify it. I haven't completely lost interest yet, but if I can't get myself to refocus on studying the game, I think I'd be making a mistake if I kept on playing just for the money and job benefits.

In the second week of my break, after my poker hiatus, I want to re-immerse myself in poker analysis. Discovering new theories and strategies has always been the driving force that has made poker fun for me and made me want to get back to the tables. I'm hoping this will reignite my excitement in playing poker. I think there's a good chance that it will. The real challenge will be to maintain this interest for more than a few months.

At the end of July, I had several people offer to put me into various tournaments during Legends. I haven't played any tournaments in quite a long time. There are lots of reasons. Essentially, I just think I can make more money in cash games, and for the past year I've been paid a salary by the Bike when I play in cash games. Tournaments have lots of hidden fees that make them tough to beat: they often take 20% up front, plus sometimes another 2% for "bonus chips", plus often 3% goes back to tournament staff and dealers, and then they will certainly ask for a tip at the end, expected to be another 2-5%. I don't like having to prepare myself to play for 14 hours when I might be done after 1 hour. I also don't like the culture of tournaments. For one thing, there is a lot of pressure to chop the winnings at the final table, and I find the negotiations for the chop to be an unwelcome distraction from the game. I could just refuse to chop, as I've done in the past, but this actually incentivizes the other players to try to knock me out as soon as possible. In a cash game it is profitable to have people gunning for me, but in tournaments it is very unprofitable. Another problem with tournaments is that people routinely work together. For example, players might sell 50% of their winnings to other players in the tournaments for 50% of the entry fee. The problem here is that these players have incentive to let each other stick around, which is unfair to all players who are not involved in such deals because it makes it more difficult to outlast those who have made deals. Of course, people push chips to each other and soft play in cash games a lot, too. I just don't think the effect is nearly as deleterious as in tournaments.

Anyway, I have had several people offer to stake me for the Legends of Poker tournaments. I have almost never made any deals in poker. The exceptions include a few intances involving close friends when I first started playing casino poker and one chop I agreed to at a final table in a tournament. My general philosophy regarding such things is that even if I were willing to trust other players, such deals often have insidious effects on the integrity of the game. However, as long as the person staking me has no other "horses" in the tournament and does not enter himself, I don't see how there could be any conflict of interest. I suppose I have to take my backer's word that he is not backing anyone else, but as long as I don't know of anyone else, there shouldn't be any problem (unless that person is aiding me unfairly without my knowledge, but this idea is pretty far-fetched). The deal, by the way, would be that my backer would pay my entire entry fee and we would split any winnings 50/50. According to one of my prospective backers, I can even ask the tournament director to cut me two checks, each with the taxes taken out, to make it a little more official. I've had one person offer to back me for as many of the tournaments as I am willing to play. Frankly, though, only the bigger ones are worth my time, even playing for free. Most of the tournaments are only $300, which is too small. I'm considering playing in the $1070 NL holdem tournament on Aug 17. As a rough guess, I'd say my EV for this tournament is around $1400. This means that buying myself into the tournament, I'd expect to net about $330, but by getting backed for it, it's worth about $700 to me. Also, my volatility is obviously much lower if I pay no entry fee and only get half the winnings.

Frankly, I think my backers are overly optimistic about my chances: my EV would have to be at least $2140 after taxes for them to make a profit on me. Then again, I may be shortchanging myself; I have very little idea of what the level of competition will be. Another reason it seems like a bad idea to stake someone to a tournament is that it would be so easy for the "horse" to screw you over. For instance, if I took five people up on their offer for one tournament, I could take the $5350 and then intentionally dump off my chips before reaching the money, ensuring that I wouldn't have to pay anyone off! Of course, this would require quite a bit of subterfuge on my part, which has never been my strong suit.