Saturday, March 06, 2010

Are slower tournaments better?

(Photo found here.)

In the March, 2010, issue of Bluff magazine, Mike Caro devotes his monthly column to a discussion of his "least popular poker opinions." Shamus discussed one of these--the four-color deck--in a recent post. On that point, I think Caro is unarguably correct that the only real reason people resist using it is that it's not what they're used to. I wish casinos would just implement the change and put up with the grumbling, because I think it would last only a few days, and then we'd all be less prone to making suit-identification errors.

But I was more intrigued by a completely different controversial opinion Caro expresses in this column:

Some players like long drawn-out tournaments that last for days. When I joined
with Foxwoods Casino to present the first World Poker Finals (which I named), I
guaranteed that all except the major events would be complete in four hours and
fifteen minutes. We held three, sometimes four, events every day! Those who say
longer events are more profitable for skillful players are wrong. There's more
profit in faster paced events, if you can play more of them, because the
increased luck factor in each short event is overwhelmed by skill when measured
over many events combined. It's an unpopular opinion, but true nonetheless.

I've read enough of Caro to know that he doesn't just pull opinions out of thin air. Unlike most of us, he tends to put a lot of thought and research into poker questions before spouting off, so I'm inclined not to brush off his assertion here lightly, even though it goes against the grain of everything I've ever heard and thought on the subject. I wish he would take a whole column to flesh out the reasoning, perhaps with some representative estimates of how a skilled player's overall EV (expected value) differs between a single long tournament and a series of shorter ones.

Suppose you were planning to devote a full day to live tournament poker, and you could choose either a single event that would last 12 hours if played all the way to the end, or three consecutive events, each of which would last four hours. Which would be a better choice, if your skill edge over the field is the same for either option? I'm not sure.

Sometimes the best way to approach a conceptual question like this is to consider the extremes. Here, for instance, we might consider a tournament in which the structure was so slow that the thing would take a year to complete, playing eight or ten hours every day. At the other extreme, we could consider a tournament that was structured so aggressively that it would be over in an hour. (You can't take this end of it too far, because when you reduce it to a single hand, it becomes purely luck. The only possible way to win is to move all in before the flop with whatever you're dealt and hope your hand improves to the best one.) Would the player doing eight or ten of these things a day for a year have a long-term EV that is higher or lower than the guy sitting all the way through the ultra-long event? Conventional wisdom seems to be that it's lower. Caro seems to be arguing that it's higher. I don't know that that's wrong, but it's not obvious to me that it's right, either.

Here's a consideration that seems to support Caro's point: There are a good number of people who make great money online playing nothing but single-table sit-and-go tournaments. Certainly the skill set for such things is somewhat different from that required for the slowest-structured multi-table tournaments, but I don't think there is any doubt that skilled players will win more money in the long run. If the pros in these games--who are no fools--knew that they would have a higher long-term EV by simply switching to longer tournament forms, it seems to me that they would.

Let me approach it another way. I'm going to bet a million dollars on roulette. I can either do it one dollar at a time a million times, or all one million in one shot. Which way has the higher EV? Well, the answer obviously is neither; they have exactly the same EV. What differs is the variance. Suppose every bet is going to be on 17. With the all-at-once method, I'll either leave down a million or up $36 million. That's pretty extreme variance. With a million separate bets, by far the most likely outcomes are those that are close to the statistically predicted loss rate, and the likelihood of deviations from that can be calculated by a binomial distribution. I.e., I'll probably finish with about 5% less than I started with. It would be virtually impossible that I would end up with the magnitude of win or loss that the one-shot approach will give me, and astronomically unlikely that I would come even close to either of those extremes. The only two variables that govern the overall EV are the total amount bet and the odds/payout (i.e., the EV) for each bet, which in this game remain constant.

My hunch is that the same is basically true for poker tournaments. That is, to go back to my first example, one's overall EV for the day is the same with three shorter tournaments as with one longer one, assuming the total amount invested is the same and one's edge over the field is the same for both. For my extreme cases, I would similarly venture a guess that the long-run EV is the same. (A caveat: I'm still not sure about this point, but it may be that if there is a considerable amount of down time between events after one busts out early then the EV drops somewhat, because when one isn't playing one isn't exploiting a skill advantage. So for theoretical purposes, one might need to assume that there is another event to go to immediately after being expelled from the shorter events. This is effectively available online, not so much in brick-and-mortar casinos.)

Interestingly, though the EV doesn't change (if I'm right), the variance does, but in a way opposite of what you might think. By the same logic that we used in the roulette example, the guy entering the shorter events will tend to end the year with a profit that closely reflects his skill advantage, while the guy playing the single, long event will probably end up with either nothing or a huge payday, neither outcome matching his edge. (I say that his payout, if he makes the money, will be huge because we have to assume that the buy-in for this event is equivalent to the sum of all the buy-ins that his hourly-event counterpart is investing in his tournaments all year long. That is, the year-long event has to be more expensive than any real-world tournament ever has been. Hence, the pay schedule will be unbelievably rich.) In other words, over the long run, the guy playing a bunch of short events will have greater predictability--lower variance--from one year to the next than the guy playing one long event every year.

My best guess, then, is that Caro isn't right to say that the EV of a bunch of shorter tournaments is higher. But I had been making an uncritical assumption that the EV would be lower, and on reflection I think that's not right, either. I think they are the same, given the constraints I've mentioned here. Still, I don't really know, and I'd be happy to hear cogent arguments for or against my tentative view.

Guess the casino, #438

To reveal the hidden answer, use your mouse to highlight the space immediately after the word "Answer" below.

Answer: Excalibur

Friday, March 05, 2010

My picks

OK, since everybody else is doing it, might as well jump on the bandwagon. Above is my set of predictions about the NBC Heads-Up Poker Championship, starting about two hours from now at Caesars Palace. I won't even try to explain or justify my picks; most of them are nothing more than random guesses. In the past my predictions have tended to be about 50% right, 50% wrong. Imagine that! I expect to do about the same this time around. But it's fun anyway.

On second thought, maybe I'll do better than I did last year, since today I'm filling in the bracket without being stoned on Ambien.

I won't be sitting in the audience today. Instead, I'm planning to join the Ironmen of Poker in a 2 pm tournament at Treasure Island.

Guess the casino, #437

To reveal the hidden answer, use your mouse to highlight the space immediately after the word "Answer" below.

Answer: Circus Circus

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Guess the casino, #436

To reveal the hidden answer, use your mouse to highlight the space immediately after the word "Answer" below.

Answer: Caesars Palace

More photos from my New Mexico trip

On Saturday, February 27, Cardgrrl's sister had arranged for us to see a play in Santa Fe, about an hour north of Albuquerque. Her husband suggested that we stop to see "Tent Rocks" on the way. I had never heard of it, but I was feeling game for just about anything.

I'm glad we went. It's a spectacular place. You can read all about it at either the Bureau of Land Management's official site or Wikipedia. The place is chock-full of some of the most strangely shaped rocks, cliffs, and hills you'll ever see. They look as if they were deliberately sculpted by an artist, but it's just combinations of natural forces at work.

As has become my usual practice, I've dumped all my photos onto Picasa Web here. It was heavily overcast the day we were there, so even after digitally tweaking up the brightness and contrast in most of the photos, they don't do justice to the range of colors you'd see on a bright day. Also, can you spot Cardgrrl sneaking into one of the shots?

I don't have any difficulty picking my favorite photo out of this batch. It's this one:

Then again, I have a peculiar fondness for the gnarly shapes of dead trees.

Although much less overwhelming than the rocks and mountains, I was quite taken by the complex masses of exposed tree roots seen frequently throughout the park:

A few other nice pics:

The only thing in Santa Fe that I took pictures of was a monument erected in 1868 in the middle of town, and I only thought that was interesting because of how it had been defaced:

We speculated that the word most likely to have been scratched out by an unhappy citizen was "savage." That seemed to get confirmed when we looked at the other side of the monument, to find this plaque (apparently put there before the defacing was done):

We left on Monday, March 1. I returned to Vegas and Cardgrrl to D.C. In front of the airport's car rental facility she spotted a bit of sculpture she liked and asked me to take a picture of her with it. I have titled the resulting composition "Cougar and lions." It's one of my finest artistic works to date:

The plane passed right over Hoover Dam and the new bypass highway being constructed near it, giving me the chance for the last photo of this trip:

One more installment of the trip report yet to come: An afternoon at Sandia Casino. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Why you shouldn't drink while you play

I was playing at the Palms tonight. The action was completely driven by two classic maniacs battling for dominance. In one hand, they got it all in on the turn--$500+ pot. After the river was dealt, neither one wanted to show. Maniac A told Maniac B (correctly), "I called you." Maniac B therefore dutifully showed his A-K, pairing the ace on the flop. As he exposed his cards, Maniac B said (unwisely), "You got a heart?" There were, you see, four hearts on the board, and Maniac B had none. Maniac A didn't answer--perhaps didn't hear. He held his cards up in his hand to show Maniac B: Js-9h. (Jack on the flop had given him second pair, which was consistently plenty for him to either shove or call an all-in, in proud maniac style.) He then tossed them back to the dealer. Face down.

Surprisingly, nobody at the table said a word until his cards had been quickly mixed into the muck by the alert dealer. In my experience, there is virtually always at least one person at the table who will pipe up (in violation of both rules and etiquette), and say something like, "You made a flush," or "You've got the winner," or "Don't muck--you win!" Nothing like that happened this time. Of course, once his cards were irretrievable, several voices chimed in simultaneously: "You just threw away the winner."

All he had to do to pocket an extra $500 for that session was turn his cards face up on the table rather than face down. Strangely, in this situation he wasn't even protecting any information, since he had flashed them to his opponent at the other end of the table so that nearly everyone had seen them. The final bit of irony is that he didn't show first at his own insistence, with that "I called you" comment.

Maniac A realized what he had done, accepted it gracefully, and announced the moral of the story himself: "That's why you shouldn't drink when you play poker."

How has my poker week been going?

Glad you asked.

If the picture above doesn't give you a sufficient clue, then let me put it this way, which is the most positive form I can think of: I've won a very nice sum of money--in Sklansky dollars.

Poker dreamin'

Just woke up from strange one.

I was playing heads-up with Todd Brunson. The game was $10-$20 limit hold'em--played with actual cash, not chips. I don't know where we were, but it wasn't in a casino. We were dealing ourselves. We played only one hand, because of how it went down. For some reason, my hole cards were up, but his were not. I made top and bottom pair on a flop of A-6-3, and improved to aces full on the turn. Surprisingly, he raised me when I bet! He could only beat me with A-6 in the hole for a bigger full house. Since he knew what I had, and knew that I knew that, he either had it or was bluffing (i.e., he couldn't mistakenly think he was ahead). He couldn't possibly think I would fold in that spot in a limit game, so bluffing seemed unlikely. I warily called his raise, then called again when he bet a river card that would seem to have been no help.

At that point he declared himself the winner, scooped up the cash, stuffed his down cards in his pocket, and started to walk away. I was not ready to just take his word for it, so I followed, trying to stop him. When it became clear that he wasn't going to be reasonable about it, I punched him in the nose.

It should probably be mentioned at this point that Todd Brunson is considerably bigger than me in any dimension you'd care to name. (Note to self: If you have to reach up to hit somebody in the nose, as I distinctly remember having to do, you may want to reconsider the action.)

It instantly became apparent that this choice for dealing with the situation had been a mistake. His face clouded with rage, and he stopped and glowered at me. I had that sinking "Uh-oh" feeling.

Alas, I cannot tell you how the conflict was resolved, because I woke up at that point. This may have been my subconscious's way of avoiding getting beaten up.

(Photo from here.)

Guess the casino, #435

To reveal the hidden answer, use your mouse to highlight the space immediately after the word "Answer" below.

Answer: Stratosphere

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Sandia Peak (no poker content)

I took a ton of pictures on my recent trip to New Mexico, and spent some time last night and today starting to go through them.

On our first full day there, Cardgrrl and I went to Sandia Peak. Apparently you can get there via automobile, but for heaven's sake, that's not what you should do. Take the tram. It's claimed to be the world's longest, and I have no reason to dispute that: 2.7 miles, rising more than 5000 feet to a final height of 10,378 feet. It takes you through and over gorgeous foothills and valleys. Most people seem to go up there for skiing, but we were just sightseeing--and it has plenty of beautiful views to be enjoyed. The fact sheet says that 11,000 square miles of terrain are visible from the top, and that seems about right. After coming back down to the tram station at the base, we wandered around the park area for a while, finding interesting things to photograph. I admit that I was nearly as captivated by the enormous--and, to me, quite beautiful--mechanics of the tram as by the vistas.

The photo album is here. If I had higher standards and/or more time and patience, I would sift through them and show you only the best 10% or so, instead of boring you with shot after shot of mountains and snow. But if I had to choose my favorite images from this batch, I'd pick these. (I'm trying image embedding from Picasa for the first time here. Click for full-size version.)

From Sandia peak

From Sandia peak

From Sandia peak

From Sandia peak

From Sandia peak

From Sandia peak

From Sandia peak

From Sandia peak

From Sandia peak

From Sandia peak

But for my money, the loveliest images I managed to make (leaving aside those of Cardgrrl, which aren't included here) are these two:

From Sandia peak

From Sandia peak

More on the trip to come over the next few days.

Guess the casino, #434

To reveal the hidden answer, use your mouse to highlight the space immediately after the word "Answer" below.

Answer: Orleans

Monday, March 01, 2010

That Dwan kid needs a lesson from the Grump

On last night's "High Stakes Poker," Tom Dwan showed us how to misplay the Deuce-Four. He flopped two pair. Nobody bet. He added a flush draw on the turn. Nobody bet. Antonio Esfandiari bluffed the river, Eli Elizra called. The little flip of the wrist you see going on in the screen shot above is Dwan throwing away the best hand. After he saw the winner, he said, "I play so bad."

Well, at least that time you did, Tom. But do not worry. I can coach you on how to play 2-4 for fun and profit.

While I'm on the subject, I did a little 2-4 evangelizing at Sandia casino in Albuquerque yesterday. A four on the turn gave me bottom pair, so I check-raised the original raiser when he bet (as I thought he would). He folded and I showed. Just a couple of hands later, he flopped two pair with his own 2-4 and won a nice pot. The gospel continues to spread everywhere I go.

Safe at home

I'm back at home after four days in Albuquerque with the lovely Cardgrrl. I did not avail myself of the computers of our hosts (Cardgrrl's sister and brother-in-law), which makes for what I think is the longest stretch I've gone without checking in on email, RSS feeds, or the web generally in the last several years. I used my phone to check Twitter a bit, but probably only about 10% of the posts from the last few days.

There is much catching up to do, many photos to look through, etc.

Guess the casino, #433

To reveal the hidden answer, use your mouse to highlight the space immediately after the word "Answer" below.

Answer: Excalibur

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Guess the casino, #432

To reveal the hidden answer, use your mouse to highlight the space immediately after the word "Answer" below.

Answer: Treasure Island