Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2012) in Poker Player newspaper.
We’re focusing on the word “predict.” Fine. But I’m not going to speculate about stuff. In fact, there will be no predictions whatsoever. Instead, this is a column about succeeding at playing poker, at practicing medicine, at influencing people, at running a business, at being the best you.
It’s about victory in just about everything. And it all filters down to throwing away your crystal ball and learning how to really predict. Let’s jump into today’s self-interview and you’ll see what I mean.
Question 1: If you aren’t going to predict anything, what’s the point of today’s word?
I already told you. Being able to predict accurately is important for anything you do. In many of life’s experiences, it’s more important than anything else.
My message is about the value of predicting correctly, not about my predictions themselves. High quality of predictions is essential to poker and everything else. Get it?
Question 2: Not really. What odds can you provide for who’s going to win the presidency?
Leave me alone. It’s 5-to-3 in Barack Obama’s favor right now, meaning he’s about 63 percent likely to retain the presidency. But those odds can (and probably will) change dramatically in either direction. It’s 8-to-1 against anyone except Mitt Romney being the Republican nominee, so he has an 89 percent chance. That, too, could change.
I’m using your idiotic question to make a point. I didn’t predict anything just then. I didn’t predict that President Obama would be reelected and I didn’t predict that Mitt Romney would win the Republican nomination. I told you what the odds were.
To win at poker and life, you need to understand the difference between calculation and prediction. Predictions are based on what’s probably going to happen. The likelihood of that probability (the “probably”) is left to analysis. So, if my calculations are accurate, then, whether Obama wins or losses, I’m still right.
Same in poker. If I’m watching a hold ’em tournament on television and a woman moves all-in with a pair of aces before the flop and is called by a kangaroo with a pair of sixes, I can predict that the woman will win. But wait!
I will only do that if you force me to make a choice, compel me to predict. I’d rather not do it. I’d rather resort to calculation and the resulting probabilities. That way, I can say with certainty that the kangaroo will lose about 80 percent of the time.
That means that it’s 4-to-1 against the kangaroo. But predictions are dangerous. Why dangerous? Because what I can predict with confidence is that the woman’s aces will win roughly four of five times if we deal out the board forever. What I can’t predict with confidence is what will happen next on the TV screen. I don’t really know the outcome, so predicting it is a bit silly.
Question 3: Just to break in here, why are you approximating the probability at 80 percent? Couldn’t you be more precise?
I could, but I won’t, because we didn’t state the exact suits of the aces and the sixes.
Question 4: I can see that now. If the suits are the same, then the aces will always win when four or five of a matching suit hit the board. So, it’s better if the sixes have different suits to win with, right?
Your interview skills need fine tuning. You’re wandering all over the map.
But, yes, the suits make a difference. And, no, it isn’t better to have different suits, if you hold sixes. That seems like the logical assumption at first glance, but it’s the other way around. If your suits are both different, that’s slightly worse than if one suit is duplicated. And one duplicated suit isn’t as good as two duplicated suits, from the perspective of a kangaroo with sixes.
Although it’s true that different suits means the sixes will win some hands with flushes that would have been impossible if the suits were the same, there’s a second factor. And the second factor overwhelms the first. When your sixes are of the same suit as the aces, the defensive power overwhelms the offensive power. You prevent the aces from making enough winning flushes that you can afford to sacrifice all potential winning flushes of your own.
So, 6♣ 6♦ does better against A♣ A♦ than 6♥ 6♠ does. While the difference is small, you can probably win some related bets.
Question 5: Anything else?
Anything else? Anything else!!! You completely subverted the interview by asking questions that weren’t related to my message.
What I wanted to explain was that you shouldn’t choose a medical specialist who isn’t an expert in probability. Nor an attorney. Nor a shrink. Probability skills aren’t just an important “extra” for researchers, psychologists, publishers, gamblers, doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, and every human targeting success. No! Probability is the most important skill. Period.
From probabilities come courses of action. Without accurate probability, any person advising you is blindfolded and guessing what the odds are.
You can’t make the best decisions without understanding risk. You can’t handle risk right without striving to nail down the probabilities. It doesn’t matter how much practical skill and experience is associated with your decision, it’s still a guess until analyzed.
Medical and legal advice is often harmful, simply because the probabilities were guessed when they should have been calculated by someone. Same for poker. You don’t need to do the math yourself, but you need to know your chances. Don’t guess when there’s a better way.
Anyway, that’s the point I wanted to make. It transcends poker. But I didn’t get a chance, because the interviewer wasted our time asking incompetent questions. — MC