Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2007) in Poker Player newspaper.
If you’ve been following this recent series, you know what’s about to happen. I’m going to be interviewed. But I’m not going to be interviewed by a journalist or another poker expert. I’ve determined over the years that I seldom get the questions that are most meaningful that way.
When questions seem off-target, I politely answer briefly and then steer the response in a direction of my choosing. I’m good at that. But why waste time? I’ve engineered this series so that I get to ask the questions and then answer them. This works better for you and me both.
So far I’ve asked and answered eight questions, and now it’s time to move forward. The trouble is, when I looked at the questions I’d scribbled down this morning, they all seemed adversarial. I must have awakened in a bad mood. They seem more like part of an interrogation (today’s word) than an interview. Oh, well. I can handle it. Let’s get started…
Question #9: At the 2006 World Series of Poker main event, you publicly announced that it was 2,500-to-1 against you winning. Haven’t you bragged that you’re the best player alive? How can this be when some of the top players were less than 100-to-1 against winning? You’re really a fraud, aren’t you?
I wish you wouldn’t take that tone with me. There were about 8,773 entrants. If everyone were equal, then through all eternity, each player would win once in 8,773 attempts. (For any single main event, the odds against an individual player winning would be 8,772-to-1.) That’s what I call “fair share.”
Obviously, all players aren’t equally skilled. Some have much less than a fair-share chance of winning, and some have much more. Some a little less, some a little more. I estimate that the top players have about three times their fair-share chance of winning. If accurate — and there’s no way to be precise — that’s a very impressive statistic. It means that a $10,000 buy-in is worth $30,000 for them, on average.
It also means that — assuming everyone is going to play for the first-place bracelet and not hold back in order to just make it into the money — it’s about 2,923-to-1 against any single top player winning. You can figure that if you’re right up there in the top echelon of world-class players, you will win once in 3,000 years, on average.
So, by saying my odds were 2,500-to-1 against, I was subtlely boasting that I’m better than anyone else. Those odds that some quoted, like 85-to-1 against Phil Hellmuth or 100-to-1 against Daniel Negreanu are absurd. If you want to compare delusional odds to real odds, then, yes, I suffer. But what I’ve just described is the truth.
All the chips
There’s also an important side issue of who’s playing to win and who’s playing to survive into the money. Since proportional-payoff tournaments mean that the first-place winner must break every other player and corral all the chips, but doesn’t get to cash most of them in, there’s a penalty for winning.
First place has to pay tribute to all the close finishers. That means that there’s a reward for finishing close, and if you’re playing for profit, rather than pride, you should sacrifice significant chance of being first in order to survive and be paid. Whether the best players are targeting first place or trying to make profit is a factor to consider when determining what their odds of winning actually are.
Still, the concept holds. No player was 100-to-1 against, or even 1,000-to-1 against. About 2,500-to-1 against represented the best odds possible — and those turned out to be my odds. See?
Question #10: If you’re so smart, tell us — who’s the second-best player in the world?
Okay. The second-best player in the world is Felix Fortliman. You’ve never heard of Felix, because he never plays tournaments. He’s out there somewhere, never having made a big score publicly.
The point is Felix has never been motivated to test his skills and try his luck in the public arena. Most of the big-name poker players arrived by chance. First, they may never have entered the poker arena if fate had pulled them in other directions. Second, they may have been initially unlucky, rather than having fortune shine on them.
Maybe they would have acquired the same skills, but failed to hold good cards at the right times. They may have been lesser-known in the poker world, or totally unknown, if we reshuffled life’s deck and played it all over again.
The tournament trail is treacherous, which is why I avoid it. Stars are born mostly due to high-profile wins, always when they were unlikely to succeed in a particular event, but got lucky. Yes, the top players do have great skill. But great skill by itself isn’t enough to guarantee the spotlight. For that you need great luck, too.
Yes, I consider myself the top player. Hundreds of top players feel that way about themselves. So, your question about the second-best player helps me to be objective. If you look at poker stardom in the light of what I’m saying, you’ll understand why Felix Fortliman may very well be the second-best player alive. — MC