Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2011) in Poker Player newspaper.
A long time ago, I was in a lounge near a poker room, waiting for a game. On a chair nearby a fellow player was reading a book.
Suddenly he noticed me, nodded, and half-whispered, “This is a great book.”
“What’s it about?” I wondered.
He shrugged. “This and that, I guess.” And it was all he had to say on the matter. He was reading again, and our conversation had apparently ended.
“This and that” is a phrase that covers a lot of nonspecific territory. It can mean anything. And today I’m in one of those moods to talk about anything that comes into my mind.
However, this isn’t a book. It’s a much shorter self-interview. As such, we don’t have the space to cover the topic of “this and that” in depth. So, I’ve decided to only discuss “this” and leave “that” for another day. Here’s the interview…
Question 1: Can successful poker-playing friends teach you how to win?
There are two main reasons for this. One is that the successful friend might not actually have a winning expectation; he or she might just be temporarily lucky. Two is that, even if friends are skillful and are winning, they might not be able to convey to you their secrets of success. Most of the time, successful players don’t really know why they win!
Here’s where it gets really crazy. Let’s imagine two relatively skillful poker players. They’re both good enough to break even in a casino environment.
Wait! I heard you gasp. You’re thinking, if they’re relatively skillful, why are they only going to break even? It’s because it takes significant skill to overcome the rakes, tips, and other expenses. In a home game, break even players are about average in skill; in a public poker room, break even players are significantly more skillful than average.
So, you’re imagining two good players who will overcome the rake and other costs and break even in the long run. Fine. What will happen in the course of a year? There is likely to be a large difference in outcomes, right?
Question 2: I don’t know if that’s right. Wouldn’t they make about the same over the course of a year? Wouldn’t they both come close to breaking even, maybe winning a bit more or losing a bit more?
No. That’s unlikely.
A year isn’t long enough for the distribution of cards to even out. Maybe if each player pursues poker eight hours a day, 300 days of the year, then that 2,400 hours is enough for the number of full houses and flushes to be about equal. But some of those will win or lose spectacular pots.
Worse, the good hands won’t happen in the same games. Some will occur in profitable games against weak opponents, some won’t. One player might be at the poker room at the right time and sit in a game where the limits have been raised and a billionaire is throwing one of those so-called poker parties.
There are many things, besides the cards, that constitute luck in poker. The result is that if you’re a break-even player in medium-limit game, you might expect 10 years like these: Won $38,403; Lost $11,444; Won $702; Won $25,007; Lost $35,901; Won $71,282; Lost $85,991; Lost $4,302; Lost $19,623; Won $24,142.
Okay, if that happens, the result isn’t mindboggling. It’s closer to yawn-worthy. You won $2,275, so you were a bit luckier than you expected. Such a close-to-even result would, in itself, be unusual. Often, you’d have much bigger wins or losses totaled over 10 years.
But that’s not the point. The point is that you could have easily lost $35,000 the same year a friend won $71,000. You’d be going to that friend for lessons. But you were both equally skillful.
Sound strange. I’ve seen that sort of thing happen!
Question 3: Poker room managers and many players like to spread games with $25, rather than $100 chips. Why?
The practice is based on an illusion. Imagine a $100/$200 limit hold ’em game. All bets are $100 before and on the flop and $200 thereafter.
Many people believe that pots look bigger when played with $25 chips, so there’s more action. The result is that the average pot size is larger.
Not only do I believe this is wrong, I’ve actually measured pots sizes. There is no significant difference. Observers are victims of the same illusion they’re describing. They only think the pots are bigger, because the smaller denomination chips suggest that reality.
In effect, they’re basing their presumption about how people will play on what they perceive. And their perception is wrong.
I recommend using $100 chips in $100/$200 games. It’s simply easier and faster to play poker that way.
Question 4: Anything else?
Plenty. But we don’t have time right now. There are actually 4,914 poker topics that can be categorized as “this” and only 4,203 that can be categorized as “that.” It’s something to think about. — MC