Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Poker Talk at Swarthmore

I've been invited by the Swarthmore College math department (from which I graduated) to give a talk about how mathematics is used in poker. The talk will be February 14th and should be added to this page in a few weeks. This colloquium series is open to the public, so feel free to show up if you like. Of course, this is my first attempt at giving such a talk, and in fact it is the first talk of any sort I've given since college, so it might not be very polished. That said, I'm working hard to make it interesting and engaging. I will be drawing inspriation mostly from The Mathematics of Poker by Chen and Ankenman and also Introduction to Probability with Texas Hold'em Examples by Frederic Paik Schoenberg.

*EDIT 5/3/12* Here is the ad for the talk.

I'm planning to argue for focusing on EV for strategic purposes and then do some analysis of abstract simple forms of poker like the [0,1] and AKQ games analyzed in The Mathematics of Poker. The audience will be mathematicians who are not necessarily familiar with poker, so I will discuss pot odds and equity using a [0,1] game example. I will introduce game theory and solve a simple no-fold [0,1] game and a full-street AKQ game that will yield the optimal bluffing to value betting ratio. I will then shift away from game theory and look at an example of using Bayes' rule to model an opponent's strategy. At the end I plan to list several other aspects of poker that can be interesting to analyze mathematically, but I won't do any of this analysis for the talk (unless I am underestimating my timing, which is unlikely... more likely, I'll have to cut out something like the no-fold [0,1] analysis). These other topics include bankroll strategy, game selection, tournament theory, online data mining, and the metagame. Also, I will allude to the sort of structured hand analysis and concept analysis that I have done here on the blog in past years. All this is supposed to fit into 45 minutes, so I will be doing a lot of rehearsing and tweaking in the next few weeks.


I am quoted in the Intro to Probability book by Schoenberg (a friend and commenter on this blog) criticizing Sklanksy's "Fundamental Theorem of Poker." Beyond that, the book's examples are much more interesting to me as a mathematically-inclined serious poker player than I expected. I would recommend the book to anyone who fits that description and also to statistics departments looking to attract more students to their introductory classes. (I can't imagine going through life without a basic understanding of statistical concepts - not the doing of statistics so much as the interpreting of statistics. "Statisteracy" is a term I recently learned and I think for the health of our society it needs to be an educational focus on par with numeracy... although a catchier word than "statisteracy" would be preferable.)


I said earlier that I planned to apply to some statistics Master's programs. Instead, I applied to the following PhD programs:

Johns Hopkins Biostatistics
UPenn Wharton Statistics
George Washington Statistics
UMBC Statistics
U Maryland-College Park Applied Math & Statistics and Scientific Computation
U Maryland-College Park Economics


I have been playing much less poker than I expected. This is largely due to my applications taking longer than expected, but also, the games are tougher than I expected and I've mostly been losing. Last year was my first losing year, but I played less all year than I used to in a normal month. I haven't played at all this year, although I have been invited to a low-stakes home game next month.