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.


Craig Berger said...

I've always thought running the board was stupid, ever since I first saw it done in televised high stakes poker games. Poker has turned into a business, but there's a part of it that should still be sport, and running it multiple times hurts the integrity of the game. In fact, I can't believe that so many of these pros, these "high stakes gamblers" are willing to do it. Why only twice or three times? Why not 100 times? Frankly, if it's all math and business and you're so concerned about volatility, why not just figure out the equity in the pot once the money is all in and divide it according to equity. Skill factor or not, poker is still gambling, and if you're not willing to gamble, you're wasting EVERYBODY'S time.

As far as what people are thinking about, I guess what you mean by whim is how they feel at the time, but I'm sure it's situation dependent. They're thinking "How bad will I feel if I run it once and get sucked out on vs. How bad will I feel if I win the first one and then have to chop after the second one." I suspect if you're running really good you're less likely to want to run it multiple times.

Keith said...

I agree that the rule allowing players to run it multiple times hurts the integrity of the game. I think it would be better if it weren't allowed. Part of poker is supposed to be dealing with the ups and downs, and letting the cards speak. That said, I see no reason not to take advantage of making deals if it's available to me. The integrity has already been tarnished by allowing deals; taking advantage of it doesn't really make things any worse.

The reason I would only run it two or three times is that that is the maximum sanctioned by the casino. I saw on TV once where they ran the board 4 times, but I've never seen that in my games. I have, however, been offered an "equity chop" akin to what you described. I'm a big believer in not making deals that aren't sanctioned by the casino, so I turned this offer down. Allowing such a thing would further diminish the game's integrity.

I disagree that trying to reduce my volatility wastes "EVERYBODY'S time." People do not come to the casino to watch me gamble, so if I decline to gamble to the maximum extent allowed, I can't see how I'm wasting anyone's time.

Craig Berger said...

I agree that you should be able to take advantage of any rules that are available to the other players if you think you will benefit. I'm not sure that I wouldn't agree to run it twice if the potential loss represented a serious objective blow to me financially, despite my objection to the rule.

When I say not being willing to gamble is wasting everybody's time, I don't mean that your agreeing to a deal is wasting too much time. It's certainly nothing compared to say, asking for new setups or trying to get into a philosophical discussion with the dealer about why he keeps dealing you such bad rivers. What I meant was that if you're not in the game prepared to deal with risk, there are probably other things you can do to make money. However, you clearly are amenable to making deals sometimes. Why do you do it? Reason 1 is irrelevant. As someone with a positive win rate, Reason 3 would seem to favor you not making deals. You said you dont worry about Reason 4, so that seems to leave reducing volatility. But you play for hours every day! Is this really an issue for you?

Keith said...

Thanks for the questions.

I make deals for reason number 2: to reduce my volatility. I don't play poker primarily because I like to gamble. I do it mostly because I enjoy thinking about strategy, and I happen to be able to support myself financially while I do that. When I play, I focus only on maximizing my EV, ignoring my volatility. This is a choice I make to help simplify my decision-making, but I think that there is value in keeping volatility low. Gambling theory would suggest that I should actually be taking volatilty into consideration at every decision-point, but this is, frankly, too complicated for me. Partly to compensate, I take advantage of opportunities to reduce my volatility if they don't interfere with my ability to analyze the EV of a situation.

My volatility is not currently an issue for me, but if I were to go on a bad enough downswing, it could become one. I'd rather not have to consider adjusting my lifestyle due to a prolonged bad run of cards, and making deals is a step in the right direction.

pinkerton said...

Reducing volatility might be advantageous depending upon the opponent...

If I'm playing against a rock that has a single buy in, running it once will either double up the money in lock down mode, or bust the player which may open a spot for a looser player. In theory, I might opt for the opportunity to bust the rock if I'm ahead, alternatively I might want to lock up as much actual equity as I can if I'm behind due to the fact that that money will be difficult to get at later.

That's just playing the > 50% odds of the outcome. A loose player on deck might be worth a 20% chance to bust the rock.

Another example could be a player of random play style announces he is leaving next hand and gets involved in the pot. If you win, good for you =), but if you lose, all that money is out of play entirely. So maybe the pot is 3 way action, everyone is equal to win and you're a much better player than your opponents. It would be to your advantage to have that money on the table, so 1/3 chance to have 0 money on table, or 1/9 chance to have 0 money on table and 4/9 chance to have half the money on the table is an interesting decision to make.

I don't actually employ any of these thought processes, mostly I just say rip it, or if they really want to run it multiple times, I'll agree just to be amicable. If the pot's small, meh, rip it, it's annoying chopping it up for a $100 pot.

Another twist I found mildly interesting and spent way too much time thinking about was if there might be situations you'd want to do a modified run it twice.

I had to think of an example where I would have 2 cards to come, 12 outs to leave my opponent dead on the turn... so I came up with

board: 6h 7h 8s
me: Jh Th
him: 4c 5c

Any heart or 9 on the turn and my opponent has no outs.

Basically you give yourself (and your opponent) a better chance to scoop by agreeing to 1 turn and 2 rivers, while still partially lowering volatility.

With 45 cards unknown because we know both hands, my math (bad or not) came out to:
Run it once: 46.67% scoop.
Run it twice: 20.80% scoop.
1 turn 2 rivers: 30.75% scoop.

In the long run it doesn't matter as the actual equity is the same, but I felt like doing math stuff instead of work.

Anonymous said...

I like the logic of "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." That is hilarious.