Saturday, July 03, 2010


I just finished watching the third week of PokerStars "Big Game" show. This post is just to say how much I came off admiring the week's "loose cannon," Nadya Magnus.

To understand the dynamics, you have to know the structure of the game. Each week there is an amateur player who has won an online qualifying tournament. That player is staked $100,000 cash to play against five pros. They play for 150 hands. At the end of that, the loose cannon gets to keep any profit above the starting 100K, but if he or she is below that mark, he or she must relinquish the remainder and walk away empty-handed. Additionally, at the end of the season, whichever loose cannon has shown the most profit gets five $10,000 NAPT tournament entries--a pretty nice bonus. The first week's loose cannon, Ernest Wiggins, had turned in a $50,000 profit, so any subsequent players know that they have to beat that to have any chance at the bonus.

So Nadya had built her stack nicely to something like $170,000 by Thursday's show. She could have coasted at that point, just fold, fold, fold without even looking. Doing so not only would have locked up a handsome profit, but allowed her to be certain to end the week ahead of Wiggins and in contention for the 50K bonus. She didn't do that. She kept her foot on the gas pedal and kept up the aggression as if she played these stakes every day and the money meant nothing to her.

Unfortunately, she took some hits and got down to $141,000 on Friday's show, when there were only 20 or so hands left to go. Again, she could have put a tourniquet on the bleeding wound, gone defensive, and ensured her profit, though it would mean giving up on the bonus. She did not. She picked up pocket queens and played them fearlessly, winning a nice pot that put her up to $154,000, I believe.

Once again, she was in a position from which she could fold her way to a profit. She had to survive only ten more hands, so she could still pay the blinds and antes without giving up her lead on Wiggins. Again, she choose otherwise, and kept playing to maximize profit on every hand. On the next hand after the queens, she picked up A-K in the small blind, with a raise before it got to her. Given how often we all know AK can go down in flames, it would be very tempting to let it go and sit tight, or maybe just call the raise and proceed cautiously. But no, she put in the reraise--a bet that was big enough that if she lost the pot she would be below Wiggins' benchmark, and maybe not get a chance to get ahead of him again. She got a caller, then bet again on the flop--even though it missed her and she was out of position--and took it down.

The remaining few hands she was dealt junk and had easy folds, and she ended up with a $63,200 profit for the week, a very impressive performance. In fact, she won more than any of the pros against whom she played, with the exception of Justin Bonomo, who was hitting on all cylinders and racked up over 200K profit. But my admiration for her play would be the same even if she had gotten coolered or bad beat on those last two big pots she played, because she resisted the temptation to go into lock-down mode and was totally fearless. She was the embodiment of Mike McDermott's aphorism: "You can't lose what you don't put in the middle--but you can't win much, either."

She did take a conservative line on her final decision of the week. She could either take her profit, or keep it on the table and play for another 150 hands. She chose to take the money and run. I don't blame her one bit. That's not being scared, it's being smart. She has to know that she has a -EV playing against the rosters that the producers put into the game. She was lucky to end up as far ahead as she did--winning 158 big blinds in 150 hands against that lineup is phenomenally good, and she couldn't realistically expect to repeat her good fortune. Her most likely outcome if she kept playing would be to experience what statisticians like to call regression to the mean, and what the rest of us call the ugly side of variance. It's much, much smarter to take the cash and keep building her bankroll by using it to play in games and stakes where she has the edge, which is most definitely not against Bonomo, Barry Greenstein, Jason Mercier, etc.

Well done, Nadya.


gadzooks64 said...

I, too, watched all of these shows. I agree that Nadya made the right decision in the end.

There is no way continuing to play another 150 hands would be +EV for her.

I think she earned a lot of respect at that table. It didn't take them long to figure out she wasn't as clueless as they might have wanted.

What I enjoyed seeing was how the pros played each other knowing that they were all trying to isolate her whenever she was in a pot. It sure didn't take Greenstein long to start re-raising whenever Bonomo was trying to isolate her.

Negreanu did the same thing when he had position on the Loose Canon.

So far very impressed with this show. The commentators are doing a good job as well.

astrobel said...

The concept behind the show has been well thought and put together. It is really entertaining.
I loved Nadya, this week's amateur, as much as I disliked E.W., from the first show.
The only thing that might be worth mentioning, Grump, is that the contestants are not in the show thanks to JUST winning an online tournament. From what I understood there is a huge selection / filtering process carried out by Pokerstars to ensure they have amateurs who will somehow appeal to the viewers. The online free-rolls only provide an entry to the "real" casting.

Andy said...

She played very well. She missed a couple of betting spots but other than that played a successful TAG game. It doesn't hurt that she's smoking hot, either. The guys all seemed smitten with her. I also didn't see any obvious tells from her. I think I picked one up on Barry Greenstein, tho, but I'm not telling, just in case I find myself at the table opposite him one day I'm going to look for it.

WindBreak247 said...

Although I wish I could watch this show, I can't because I don't have the channel.

Just one question, are we sure she's aware of what she has to win to be in the lead? If so that seems pretty unfair to the first, if not first few players, and quite an advantage for each subsequent player after the bar is set. Not only from the standpoint of having a feel for what they could/need to win, but also explicitly around what you were discussing with regard to how they'd play with that magic number in mind.

IMO, it would make the most sense to not tell anyone where the bar is set so as to ensure they're playing to win at any given time.

Rakewell said...

1. You can watch the episodes online here:

Or download them from your favorite torrent site.

2. I don't know for sure that each player knows the previous ones' scores, but the voiceover commentary certainly speaks as if they do. I doubt that they taped an entire season's worth before airing the first one, and if I'm right about that, it would be impossible to keep the information from the later players. Yes, obviously the later in the season you play, the more information you have. Position matters in poker!