Saturday, May 22, 2010

Chairs, Dealers, Lawsuit, and the Full Tilt Book

I like the atmosphere at the Bike. I think it's very player-friendly, especially in the Plaza section, where the food is free. However, I have to say that the chairs are mostly terrible. There are a few that are very comfortable, but about 80% of them are broken. Whenever a new player shows up at the casino, he complains about the chairs. Today someone said he felt like he was on a boat and was getting seasick. Instead of getting new chairs, the Bike has reupholstered some of the old ones, seemingly unaware that most of them were already broken and needed to be replaced. I'm afraid this means they have no intention of replacing them anytime soon.

The Commerce is getting over some more serious issues. I heard that ten out of eleven of their Dealer Coordinators were fired last month, and over one hundred dealers were suspended. Supposedly, most of the dealers were bribing the DC's in order to be put at the best tables (presumably, the tables with the best tippers).

The lawsuit against the Los Angeles casinos for their Jackpots has been thrown out by the judge. My understanding is that the jackpots are required to be "No Purchase Necessary" like any other sweepstakes. The casino does take out $1 per pot to fund the jackpot, but they offer people the opportunity to play for free. I've never seen it, but a friend told me he tried this out one day at the Bike. He and a couple other players sat at a table and were given tournament chips. Nine hands were dealt out, including to seats without any players. The flop, turn, and river were dealt, and if the jackpot was hit, the casino would pay out 10% of the jackpot at the normal ratios. So 5% would go to the losing hand, 2.5% to the winning hand, and the rest would share the other 2.5%. This was repeated ten times, and then the table broke. Seems pretty ridiculous to me, but that suffices to cover the casino legally.

I bought The Full Tilt Poker Strategy Guide: Tournament Edition. I was told that Chris Ferguson had some interesting things to say in the book (specifically, that it is worth avoiding difficult decisions, which I contradicted in my NLHE: TAP analyses). I thought it would be good to try to read Ferguson's arguments before I go to the event I mentioned in my previous post. Besides, the book got good reviews.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Chris Ferguson at UCLA

A friend at UCLA just registered me for an event at UCLA with Chris Ferguson and several other people discussing "Math, Computer Science and Poker." Among the other panelists are Chris's father Tom Ferguson (one of Brigid's professors) and Bill Chen, author of The Mathematics of Poker.

I'm tempted to go back and look at my notes from Mathematics of Poker to try to come up with some intelligent questions. It might be more interesting to try to get opinions on more general poker theory, though. I don't really know if I'll get to ask any questions, but it should be pretty interesting.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Poker Future?

I've been thinking vaguely about quitting my job or taking on further-reduced hours, which would force me to forfeit my insurance benefits. The main argument for reducing my hours is that it would give me more time to help out with the baby, which would allow Brigid to put some more time into her studies. If I were to do that, I might be better off just quitting my job altogether, because I would lose my benefits anyway, and the Bike's $500NL game has gotten much tougher in the past few weeks. This is likely a temporary situation, but it got me thinking about whether I could stand to move up in stakes. There is a regular $60-120 limit game at Commerce and occasional $100-200 games. If I use careful game selection, only playing when I know the game is juicy, I think I could probably crush these games. On the other hand, I would have to be willing to absorb some nasty swings. My guess is that, in the end, my win rate would be barely better than what I'm making now, taking my salary into account. My volatility would probably be nearly three times higher per hour. Adding to "volatility" is the fact that I really don't know what I would be getting into, so my expected win rate could be pretty much anything, potentially even negative (I think I would realize this and give up after a day or two). So, financially, I'm inclined to say it probably would not be worth it in the short term.

Of course, there are many other considerations beyond my short term financial well-being. For one thing, I think playing different and bigger games has the potential to make me a much better player, possibly increasing my long-term prospects. This argument is tempered by the fact that I think my current position playing $500NL is also very challenging and giving me some valuable experience. Another question that I think deserves consideration is: which would be more enjoyable? Well, it would certainly be nice to have my freedom back. My job is not particularly oppressive, but I do have a boss and hours and responsibilities. On the other hand, table selection is one of the least exhilarating aspects of being a poker player, and, for better or for worse, having a job largely removes this aspect. If I quit and try to prey on weak $100-$200 games, table selection will become my main occupation. I will probably want to give my phone number to some regulars or a floorman and try to persuade them to call me when the game is particularly good. I think there is something especially unsavory about being so explicit about preying on specific players. I'm reconciled to the fact that I don't add much to society when I play poker for a living, but I'm still not particularly proud of it. Playing high stakes would certainly be a bit more exciting, at least for a little while, but it would also be accordingly stressful. I find it a bit hard, psychologically, to shake off $3k losses, and these would be commonplace in a game as big as $100-200. Finally, I just don't like being at Commerce that much. The quieter atmosphere at the Bike is much preferable to me.

At this point, I think I'd prefer to keep my job even if I reduce my hours and lose my benefits. In year or so, I'll have a bigger decision to make as far as my career goes; Brigid will be finishing her PhD, and we might be moving out of L.A.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Philosophies on "Running it Twice"

In the $500 NL game I play in, players are allowed to make a specific type of deal if they go all-in before the river: they can run the rest of the cards either two or three times and then split the pot in halves or thirds, respectively. The pieces of the pot are distributed according to who won each of the two or three iterations. (I gave an example in this post.)

It is strange and fascinating to listen to other players' philosophies on whether to make a deal and whether to run the board twice or three times. As far as I can see, there are only a few things that deserve any consideration:

1. What is my EV for each option? This can be answered mathematically: my EV is the same for all three options. This follows from the fact that EV(A+B) = EV(A)+EV(B), regardless of whether A and B are correlated. If we take A to be the first running of the cards, and B to be subsequent runnings of the cards, we can see that the EV does not depend on what type of deal we make.

2. What happens to my volatility for each option? This can also be answered mathematically: the volatility is lower if you run the board more times. This is the reason why running it more times might be worthwhile.

3. How much time is this going to take? If you are a winning player, you can lose money if too much time is wasted. Also, I would consider it bad table etiquette to needlessly waste the other players' time. Splitting the pot three ways can take a while. In fact, last week I won five-sixths of a pot because we ran the board three times and we chopped the last one, and this took a minute or two to sort out. Another thing that can waste time is the possibility that your opponent might take a while to decide whether to make a deal. I've seen such a decision take over five minutes.

4. How will this affect my table image? Being willing to run the board twice can change the way people play against me. The most significant difference is probably that some players may try to get all-in earlier in the hand in order to give themselves a chance to make a deal and chop the pot. They also may be more willing to call my all-in bets before the river. This is probably a good thing, since players are deviating away from trying to maximize their EV, but for certain players, it likely makes them play better (if they will now call with +EV hands that they would have otherwise folded).

Points 1 and 2 seem to me to be by far the most significant, but I also often consider point 3 and choose not to make a deal if the pot is small. I do this out of respect for the other players' time and because I figure it won't add too much volatility to my winnings. Point 4 is one I don't worry too much about, but it seems like it could be a reasonable consideration.

Most players know points 1 and 2 (minus the math), yet they often take longer than a minute to decide whether to make a deal. What could they be thinking about? Clearly it's not point 3 (time considerations), or they wouldn't waste everyone's time with their slow decisions. For most players, it's not point 4, either. The answer? Whim. This wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the fact that they clearly consider these decisions to be excruciatingly important, and once they form their opinions on which option is best, they smugly ridicule players who make a different decision. Listening to them argue about it is like trying to watch one of those shows where pundits discuss politics. Nobody has any evidence to support their claims, but they are all quite satisfied in their certitude. For example:

"If I call a big bet with a draw, I'm trying to win the whole pot. Why run it twice? To get back half the pot? It's better to just fold and save your money than call and make a deal."

"If you initiate the thing, it's three times," meaning that if you put in the bet and are called, you should always run it three times, rather than twice.

Maybe I'll try to document more of these, but the point is that the decisions are made on a whim, and then supported with whatever "evidence" seems to fit.