Tuesday 12 March 2013

Poker: Luck vs Skill

For as long as I've been playing poker, I've obviously been on the side of the game being skill based. However, after thinking about it over the past week, I think it's much more cut and dried than simply being based on skill or being majority skill. It's 100% skill. Exactly like chess. There is no luck involved. Here's why:

You'll often find poker players that try to attribute arbitrary ratios of skill and luck to games as if they are on the same gradient scale. Poker being 70/30 for example, blackjack being 40/60 etc.
  • LuckSuccess or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one's own actions.
  • SkillThe ability to do something well; expertise.

People will generally try to play semantic gymnastics in trying to quantify a balance of opposing definitions. I find it to be a contradiction of each definition for something to involve both skill and luck, especially when the "luck" disappears in large samples. Perhaps a more apt definition would be the term "chance" already used in the definition of luck.
  • Chanceby accident or without design.

We've all heard the term "games of chance" and are quick to rightly interchange it with the term "luck." When it comes to games seemingly involving both, this term clearly does not allow for that to happen. In games of skill, every action you and your opponents make has a direct effect on everyone's expected value.

In games of chance, no action that you or your opponent can make has any effect on anyone's expected value. Skill and chance can not occupy a gradient balance with one another.In theory then, every single decision at the poker table is 100% skill based. In theory, there is only EV, there are no results. Now you're probably thinking "a ha! It doesn't work that way in practice!" and you'd be correct. In practice, our results deviate from our expected value. That deviation is called "variance."
  • VarianceThe fact or quality of being different, divergent, or inconsistent.

Variance is not luck.

The terms are, by definition, not interchangeable. Variance is simply the measured, quantifiable difference between EV and results. It has nothing to do with your ability or inability to affect the outcome. You shove $100 with AA and get called by KK for 80% equity and an EV of about $60. You are either going to be +$40 or -$60 on expectation for any given hand due to not luck, but rather variance. 

  • Poker is 100% skill with variance in the results.

Now take the opposite type of game, lets say slots. You put $1 in and pull the lever, with absolutely no skill on your part affecting the outcome. Your EV on any given pull is -$0.05 on this particular machine. You are most definitely not going to receive exactly $0.95 back on your dollar with every pull. The difference from your EV is, again, variance. 

  • Slots are 100% luck with variance in the results.
Therefore, all things where a calculable EV is available are either all skill or all luck with a measurable amount of deviation that can be used to statistically compute how much fortune appears to play a part.

  • Fortune: Chance or luck as an external, arbitrary force.
Fortune is the word and concept people are looking for when they are trying to mistakenly apply a luck:skill ratio by virtue of interchanging false definitions of luck and variance in a game of skill that has deviation in the results.

The idea of fortune is the mirage that keeps recreational players entertained despite their inevitable losses. Which brings us full circle to a point where poker is indeed 100% skill, with the veneer of luck, ie. fortune, entering the equation and creating a non-existent luck:skill ratio draped over the game due to the psychological effects of variance.

Sunday 3 March 2013

February Review

February continued to work out very well for me. I'm not entirely sure anymore if it was just the super soft site I was/am playing on or something I changed in my game while simultaneously switching sites. I've put in some hours at Stars and FTP again when my fishy Euro site was down or low on traffic without any difference in winrate.

Granted I've played all of 54k hands this year due to 6 tabling the Euro site for most of it, so it's not much of a sample for winrate, but I may just start putting some more hours and hands in for FTP Rush so we'll see how it pans out. I'm definitely liking how fast I can jump back up the FTP rakeback ladder so quickly. With a few inexpensive mods, I've found I really don't mind the software at all.

Back to results, I find myself being much more appropriately aggressive after putting in some fundamental work on the math behind my actions and my opponents' ranges. For the past 2 months I've felt like I've been "in the zone" when it comes to making good decisions and hand reading like a fiend.

I've had moments of clarity like that in the past, but they'd always been fleeting, eventually leading me back to my breakeven play style. Two weeks here, three days there. I don't know if this will continue, but every few days I find myself thinking back to that basic off the table study I did at the beginning of January, sometimes running scenarios through my spreadsheets, and it continues to work for me. I think I'm a much tougher opponent to play against for it.

What I'm definitely most proud of so far this year is my play from the blinds. It's easy to win on the button, but I think the loss rate from the blinds really shows who feels on top of their hand reading game. Having loss rates of -2 in the SB and -26 in the BB is a huge factor in my overall winrate so far. I have historically run at about -20 and -45, respectively.

It's taken me a very long time and I've done similar work before, but I'm finally fully accepting that the math does not lie, no matter how counter-intuitive it may be at times. For me, the battle between ego and theoretical strategy is a big one at the table. I need to keep that in check. All of your study amounts to nothing if you're going to be making spite calls and spewy shoves.

March has started where February left off. I'm going to have a conservative goal of 40k hands. The game plan for site selection is going to be FTP/Stars and primarily Rush/Zoom due to the increased traffic while my winrate sustains.

Jan.  34 buyins |  16k hands   |    21 bb/100*
Feb.  44 buyins |  32k hands   |   14 bb/100
* modified from last review, forgot to include Stars results.

Monday 18 February 2013

HH Review: Min 3-Bet Pot Mistake

February continues to go fairly well after 18k hands. I had a mini implosion weekend before last and ended up trying to force a lot of plays that were just not going to work and getting crushed by weird 2 pair after weird backdoor gutshot. That was an 18 buyin downswing over 4k hands. I've since recovered that and then some. I'm sitting at an overall winrate of 17.5 bb/100 on the month,  a third of that small stakes and the rest micros.

Something I never did on Stars was mix stakes. I just found it too confusing. With the lack of traffic on my new site, I'm finding it's much better for my winrate if I do mix in three or even four stakes for the highest fish ratio. It's interesting how I've started thinking more in terms of SPR than in $ or even in bb.


Villain in this hand is 32/14 with a 6% 3bet over 180 hands. All of his 3bets have been from the blinds.

$0.10/$0.25 No Limit Hold'em - 5 players

BTN: $15.66
Hero (SB): $25.16
BB: $15.16
UTG: $40.07
CO: $20.30

Pre Flop: ($0.35) Hero is SB with 7 of spades J of clubs
3 folds, Hero raises to $0.50, BB raises to $1.10, Hero calls $0.60

My min-steal is a bit marginal with J7o as he's a bit more aggressive than average postflop, but he does fold to 50% of flop cbets and 40% on the turn. He's also shown himself to be a bit spazzy a significant portion of the time. I spite call the near min-raise, but I think the math generally has me covered at potentially $16 profit for a $0.60 call giving me 27:1 stack odds. I'm going to hit 2 pair or better about 6% of the time and draws add a few points as well.

Flop: ($2.55) 7 of clubs 7 of hearts 4 of spades (2 players)
Hero checks, BB bets $1.65, Hero raises to $3.90, BB raises to $6.15, Hero raises to $17.85, BB folds

Jackpot flop. My concern now is how to best get my money in. He's a bit fishy so 6% is probably going to be top heavy with a range like 88+, AQ+. That means I have 95% equity trying to dodge the fullhouse spike. 55% of his range is overpairs, 45% is Ace high.

I was torn between getting all the money in on the flop fearing that calling could bring an action killing overcard like an Ace or King and would shut down 88-JJ. But at the same time, I'd prefer to let him spazz or hit with his Ace high hands. I picked a size slightly larger than a min-raise to give him room to play back with $12+ effective and an $8 pot to get me to fold a hand like 33 or 55 with his unpaired hands, with his overpairs obviously raising as well.

Once he clicks it back, he has almost $8 left. He has 71 combos, so lets break down each group of hands in his range:

  • 88-JJ (21): These likely shut down if an Ace or King hits the turn. They maybe shut down half the time if a Queen hits. Given that weighting and the likelihood of those cards hitting, I miss $8 on 20% of turn cards. There is a small chance he checks back a hand like 88 or 99, so lets say a conservative 25% when an Ace rolls off by the river.
  • QQ-AA (18): These will probably not shut down at all given a $15 pot with $8 left.
  • AQ-AK (32): These will generally fold to the flop shove. I'd say there's a 20% chance he spazzes out with them if checked to on the turn. He's going to hit a pair and stack off 24% of the time by either hitting the turn and shoving or checking back and hitting the river.

So my dilemma then is making the correct decision between:

  • Winning $8 that I would not have won 25% of the time x 30% of range (88-JJ). EV difference = +$0.60.
  • Winning $8 that I would not have won 38% of the time x 45% of range (AQ-AK). EV difference = +$1.37.

Clearly then, shoving the flop is a mistake.

Monday 4 February 2013

HH Review: Folding Out Equity

As promised, I'd like to review an interesting hand every week or two. This was one of the more interesting hands of today. Note that I'm using Flopzilla to compute hand range values and weightings.


  • UTG:  44/27 - cbetting every hand and barreling a good deal, too. Not positionally aware at all and raising 45% of unopened pots.
  • CO: 24/18 - likes to cold call a ton to nut peddle post-flop, folds to most cbets.
  • Hero (BB): 30/25 and running hot on this table - raising cbets 25% and calling cbets 30%.

$0.50/$1 No Limit Hold'em - 6 players

UTG: $101.50
MP: $127.52
CO: $172.08
BTN: $187.20
SB: $46.69
Hero (BB): $333.37

Pre Flop: ($1.50) Hero is BB with 9 of hearts T of diamonds
UTG raises to $2.62, 1 fold, CO calls $2.62, 2 folds, Hero calls $1.62

Not an ideal hand to call out of position, I'd have a lot more postflop playability if it was suited. However I am getting 4.2:1 and UTG flops a lot of nothing. My plan is to let him hang himself if I hit and steal it when I miss given that CO doesn't get too involved past most flops.

Flop: ($8.36) 6 of spades T of clubs Q of clubs (3 players)
Hero checks, UTG bets $6.27, CO folds, Hero raises to $24.17, UTG calls $17.90

I flop 2nd pair. The plan is to check/raise if CO folds to the auto-cbet and check/fold if CO continues. The reason I want to go for a raise here is because there are tons of hands that I am currently ahead of that have equity and I either want them to fold or get value from them. These would include hands like AK, AJ, KJ, J9, 98, 87, 99, 88 and 77. Only 15% of his range consists of top pair or better, while 28% consists of Ace-High and 30% of pure nothing.

Either having villain fold or call with worse is fine with me given my mid strength hand that can't stand much heat on most turn cards without initiative, which means my options are to either give up now or try to steal like in my preflop plan. I also have a few backdoor straight draws as backup for future aggression opportunities.

Flopzilla tells me that I have 62% equity against his cbet range and 35% equity against his continuance range. I'm expecting a fold about 65% of the time. My Excel equity calculator tells me with 35% equity, I need a fold only 14% of the time to breakeven.

This is precisely the scenario that Baluga Whale talks about in the newest edition of Easy Game where he kills off collection of dead money as a reason to bet, simply combining it with a new definition of bluffing where getting your opponent to incorrectly fold their equity and/or preventing them from making the bluff they should make go hand in hand. ie. Fundamental Theorem of Poker: if he knew I had 2nd pair, he would shove his entire range and therefore he makes the mistake of not re-bluffing.

Turn: ($56.70) 9 of diamonds (2 players)
Hero bets $306.58, UTG calls $74.71 all in

At this point his range consists of 40% top pair or overpairs which I now beat, and 25% 2pair or better that beat me. The remaining 35% consists of draws. I have 57% equity against this range, so while I am ahead 75% of the time, it's by a slim margin. I'm flipping with his range if he folds all of his draws.

Given the amount of money in the pot compensating for my thinness in equity, folding is not an option. My choices are to either bet/call and pray for a blank river if he just calls, or shove right now.

I'd prefer not to flip for it if possible if he decides to shove over a smaller bet or call and show me one of 20 gross river cards. Therefore I'm using the same reason for overbet shoving here as I did for raising on the flop in trying to get him to fold significant chunks of equity rather than giving him the opportunity to try to bluff or thin valuetown himself with that equity.

River: ($206.12) Q of spades (2 players - 1 is all in)

Final Pot: $206.12
UTG shows J of spades 9 of clubs
Hero shows 9 of hearts T of diamonds
Hero wins $203.12

Wednesday 30 January 2013

January Review

I'd like to do monthly reviews this year to try to boost my content on this blog back up a little bit. I'm hoping I can possibly do a few Hand History reviews throughout the month as well.

I think some of my lack of strategy and results posting had to do with playing on Stars and some of the regs knowing who I was. However, about a week ago I decided to try out a new site given how tough and reg infested the games are on Stars and my lack of volume for a decent rakeback percentage between Stars or FTP. Not that my new site's rakeback is anything decent either, but I just want to go back to the days of soft games and steamrolling people -- although this time instead of being the standard nut-peddler, I'm quite enjoying valuebetting light at every turn.

The biggest issue I've found with most other sites has been having terrible software and customer support. I've since realized that "terrible software" to me means cards that are not easy on the eyes and unworkable button layouts. If I can't lean back in my chair and enjoy myself rather than get a headache from squinting at my cards and figuring out which buttons are which on a 24" monitor, you have bad software.

The site I'm on now (and no I won't reveal it for the sake of what I stated above) has a great waffle style deck and decent layout, along with the action being easy to follow. I typically played on Stars with Table Ninja with my sound muted, but I have found adding sound to sites with less than stellar software helps a lot for following action.

Without further ado...


Yes this is a brag. Yes this is only 7500 hands. Yes that is 30 buyins. And yes that comes out to 40 bb/100.

I have actually put in a lot more hourly volume than I was on Stars, but I am only playing 4-6 tables for about 450 hands/hour on an 6max MT-ratio of 4.2 given the reduced traffic on this site. I think that's mostly to do with having this huge amount of confidence that every time I sit down, I feel like a 15 bb/100 session is running bad.

I'll keep this running monthly tally in big blinds rather than dollars as per usual. It is all about the decisions and learning after all. I'll be pretty happy with 25k-30k hands per month at this rate.

Jan. - Micros | 34 buyins | 8200 hands | 41 bb/100

Friday 18 January 2013

Guess Who? Beginnger Strategy Analysis

My daughter has recently taken a liking to hauling out all of my old board games. The favourite so far is Guess Who? Due to my consistently being demolished the majority of the time and having victory snatched away from me with one remaining piece by 1/8 Hail Mary chances many more than 1 out of 8 times, I decided to look at the numbers to try to gain an edge.

I'm choosing to ignore all of the potential meta-game, question combining and deceptive game play strategies available. She is not yet 5 years old after all. But I thought there must be some statistical edge to gain through the simple, common questions.

The Setup

  • 24 Characters.
  • 9 Common traits: Bald, Bearded, Eye Colour, Gender, Glasses, Hair Colour ,Hats, Moustachioed, and Nose Size.
  • Traits are split relatively evenly at 19:5: 5 with glasses, 19 without glasses, 5 females, 19 males, 5 with large noses, 19 with small noses.
  • There are two exceptions: Only 4 bearded characters and 4 with brown hair.
  • Traits are split unevenly between characters, ranging from 1 to 4 uncommon traits each.
  • Each player chooses one character at random out of a deck of cards.
  • *Note I am also ignoring the fact that, according to 4 year olds "Oh, I/you already had this one! That's silly! [draws a new card]." Also, some hair is distinctly yellow, not blonde.
  • The game proceeds by a process of elimination.

The result of inputting all of this data into a spreadsheet cross-referenced by character quickly shows that there is a sum of 63 uncommon traits among the group: (5 each among 7 of the non-hair groups (35), 4 of one (4), 4 hair colours of 5 each (20) and one hair colour of 4(4). Thus we can already determine that the first guess (assuming we always get a 'no') will yield 5 eliminations for every guess except questions about beards and brown hair which will result in 4 eliminations.

Keep in mind that your character will skew the results, essentially acting as blockers. Therefore we should avoid guessing character traits that our character possesses. For example, if our character has black hair and we ask if our opponent has black hair, we are only eliminating 4 characters in practice (again, ignoring the meta-game of optimal elimination vs bluffing strategies employed by experienced players).

However -- and this is where the true genius of Milton Bradley's board game creation ability shines by balancing luck and skill -- there are small, yet distinct statistical advantages to gain in the combination of your first two guesses.

Top 10 Ranked Questions:

Worst 10 Ranked Questions:

It becomes immediately obvious that it's not a good idea to ask first questions about beards or brown hair or the traits our character has blocked as they are all under represented, as well as second questions where the first eliminated some of those traits already, such as gender and hats, as a 'no' to female already eliminates two hats (Maria and Claire).

For the sake of being meticulous, lets look at an in practice example. You draw George with uncommon traits of white hair and a hat. Theoretically, if all cards were in the deck, asking about hats and white hair would yield a 24/9 result. However, in practice you have already eliminated 2 traits and 1 character from the group as blockers and have a true result of 22/8. This makes asking other 24/9 questions such as glasses and black hair superior to the question involving traits you own. Likewise, this drops starting questions about baldness and hats off the top of the starting list.

Understanding the best starting questions is a little more difficult as it's hard to know at a glance which combination of traits applies to the largest group of characters, especially as the game progresses into the 3rd and 4th turns. Therefore the best thought process seems to be thinking through and eliminating your worst options while memorizing the top five or ten theoretical guesses until you have a better understanding of the top starting guesses versus your character blockers.

I'm hoping this analysis will give me and all of the readers out there with unscrupulous pre-school opponents the edge we need to win. Good luck.

Thursday 17 January 2013

My take on the gun control debate

I infrequently dive into the political spectrum, and I know a lot of Americans still read my blog when I do post. Given this debate is so extreme and has even taken over the national news in Canada, I thought I'd offer up my thoughts.

In the latter half of last year, with the increased mass violence in the US, especially with the Sandy Hook shooting, I found myself thinking more and more "What the hell is going on down there?"

Since then, and despite being fed copious amounts of gun control debate, I've come to a conclusion. And surprisingly, my conclusion doesn't let me pick one side of the fence or the other.

That's because this entire debate is absolutely pointless.

As of right now, the debate is focusing on mass shootings and assault weapons and 100 round clips as a direct, knee jerk result of the spike in rampages in 2012. This is expected as the media and politicians thrive on shock value. Despite the tragedy that they are, preventing mass murders is nothing more than a drop in the bucket.

With 14,000 homicides annually and 10 - 12,000 of those estimated to be gun related, you could have a 30 victim rampage every month and it would only amount to 2.5% of all murders. If you could then wave a magic wand and remove every last assault weapon and all 30+ round clips from the country and prevent 100% of mass shootings, you would still have 13,640 people dead by the end of the year. And there isn't even a rampage every month now. Dollar for dollar, you're by far better off ignoring the mass shooting problem and throwing tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars more at trying to prevent drunk driving and diabetes.

The narrative in the US is way off mark. 14,000 homicides per year is 38 people violently killed every single day. That's the equivalent of 3 Aurora incidents. Every day. But everyday news doesn't make the news. The narrative would be on the right track if the major news networks had a "Homicides Today: ___" ticker fed by affiliate updates running in the bottom corner of the screen 24 hours per day.

There's something very wrong when a Western, developed nation is a huge outlier at 3-4 times the homicide rate of other Western, developed nations. I'm not entirely convinced it's the guns alone. There are stark socio-economic differences between the US and Europe that may cause this statistical rift, but Canada should be a much closer comparison by a significant degree:
  • 80%+ of Canadians live within a few hundred miles of the American border.
  • We consume massive amounts of American media.
  • I assume obtaining guns illegally isn't that much more difficult for people that want to commit crimes.
  • Even with the recent increase in minimum sentences for violent crime, we have extremely lax punishment for all types of felonies compared to the US.
So we're basically America-light of the North without the big prison stick, yet have a homicide rate 1/3 that of the United States. Granted, US rates have dropped by 50% since the ludicrously high rates in the 70s, 80s and 90s. There are only three obvious, significant differences I can think of between our countries:
  • Adequate access to mental healthcare.
  • A ridiculous difference in the number of legal guns.
  • The 2nd Amendment.
There may be some additional cultural factors that come into play that I can't really speak to living on the outside. Perpetually being at war, the alleged gun culture, the laughable "video games / music made me do it" arguments... I find there's a big missing link between any of those or other social dynamics and the willingness to actually pull the trigger on someone. I also think the US Constitution is one of the best social contracts ever written, and would never want changes made to it lightly or as the result of knee jerk, emotional responses if I were American.

But as long as everyone's focused on this smallest, niche part of the overall problem instead of honestly figuring out what that missing link is between factor and action, Americans are never going to solve this issue.

Monday 3 December 2012

Back to Stars and Stars 2013 Changes

Quick Update.

I managed to clear out about 1/3 of my Deal Me In bonus on Full Tilt before it expired. I took another week off during that promotion to work on some other things I'm enjoying like my self-paced programming courses. The old me would have played 24/7 to get that free money. The new me still couldn't care less about anything volume related

As much as I like FTP's VIP/rakeback program for the amount of volume I'm playing now, I just can't stand the software. Plus my current strategy doesn't seem to want to work out for me as well there. I can't figure out if games are just reg-infested or what, but the winrate took a nosedive into the slightly negative over 15k hands there.

So I'm back to Stars now and continuing with the run-good and play-good, tilt-free sessions I enjoyed before FTP re-opened. Graph since the day I 'quit.'

Stars Graph
 I'm pretty comfortable at 25NL right now with some 50NL mixed in, so I'll have to wait and see what kind of requirements there are for January's promotion on 100k VPPs (see VIP below). If I can do it comfortably (see volume related above) and it's a significant amount of money, I might consider opting in for that.

2013 VIP Changes

The 2013 changes were announced recently, live at the Amsterdam VIP Party by Steve Day (aka Steve D). Overall I think they're pretty small, yet decent and there were no downgrades which is always a good thing.

They started a Hall of Fame that will include a handful of players. The group of 5 million lifetime VPPs is obviously small, but I think they're headed in the right direction if this is going to lead into making Pokerstars more social. Looking around at all of the free and for-pay social gaming sites out there, it seems like a no-brainer direction to take regarding casual players.

They've also added a ChromeStar level at 100 monthly VPPs. There is no real benefit to it over Bronze except for being entered into the new weekly $5k freerolls with Silver+, but I think it's a good stepping stone to get those Bronze players to play a bit more to get to the now reduced requirement of 500 VPPs from 750 VPPs for Silver.

The other potentially big thing is the 2013 VIP goals. Specific announcements on this are not yet available, but it is supposed to be some sort of system where you can risk FPPs in January and be rewarded later for staying on pace for your 100k, 200k or 300k VPP goals.

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Updated: Nate Silver and the Election

Update - Nov 7: Results posted below.

I've been following Nate Silver's numbers on the 2012 US presidential election. Simply fascinating. If he's right, and I'm led to believe his predictions are scary-accurate, this is not a race at all despite how badly the news wants to portray it as one.

They have all the predictions posted on FiveThirtyEight.

Not being American but still wanting to play along, I compiled his state by state predictions into a spreadsheet I'll be using later tonight. I'm actually much more interested in how close Silver's estimates will be to results than I am in the actual election at this point. You can download my spreadsheet below if you want to play at home, too.

Just enter the results in the Obama and Romney "Actual" columns as they roll in and you'll be able to see the difference between results and Silver's numbers.


With 90%+ of results in now, I am both amazed, yet not surprised, at the results of Nate Silver's predictions. I've learned previously to take poker players proficient in statistic's predictions seriously, especially when they come out with a 91% confidence rate.

Florida still hasn't been given to Obama, but assuming he retains his slight, predicted lead there, Nate will have picked every single state correctly.

I changed my spreadsheet a bit to give me a Vote Share Accuracy (100% - absolute value of the % difference) column instead of just the % Difference from predicted. Not only did Nate pick every state correctly, his Accuracy with respect to vote share by state averages out to 96.8% with the biggest outlier being West Virginia where Obama received 14% less support than expected. He had 17 states where his predictions were 99%+ accurate.

You can download a completed version of this spreadsheet below.

Sunday 4 November 2012

FTP Relaunch VIP Preview

Full Tilt Poker will be relaunched on November 6th. They have recently released more information regarding their new VIP program "Edge." I am contemplating a move to FTP, given my current Silver/Gold volume on Stars.

This is my comprehensive breakdown and comparison of the FTP program. Stars has a comprehensive breakdown of their VIP and Milestone tier levels complete with effective rakeback percentages here.


Similar to Stars, there will be a VIP tier system based on how much you rake called Edge. Whereas Stars uses monthly and annual measures of VPP accumulation, FTP will use 7, 30 and 100 day rolling averages of FT-Point accumulation. FT-Points will be earned at a rate of 10 points per dollar raked under the Weighted Contributed model.

There are varying tiers where you will be paid back at different rates/100 points on a weekly basis, with the top tier being $2.50/100 points for 25%. These weekly payments do not affect your FT-Points at all, and you retain all FTPs to be used in the store on Ring or Tourney tickets, and cash bonuses for Diamond tier players.

I've put together a spreadsheet encompassing the Edge program which I've posted below.

  • At the top you will find a duplication of the Edge Status Requirements along with the equivalent daily rake paid averages.
  • Beside that is a breakdown of the Ring Game and Tourney tickets currently available in the store. The ticket values used in the rest of the spreadsheet are an average between the cash and tourney values that players with those annual volumes would typically buy (this is a marginal, less than 0.5% difference no matter how you put it together). I have not included any unknown freerolls in this.
  • The bottom three sections provide breakdowns of the tier based rake requirements for each set of rolling averages, the effective rakeback percentages, and a comparison to the approximate correlating tier on PokerStars with my estimates on average new vs. continuing effective rakeback percentages from the Stars VIP breakdown sheet.

As you can see, the FTP tiers and their rakeback percentages correspond fairly well with the Stars tiers based on the same rake paid for the most part.

There are however a few differences to note:
  • New or returning players can get up to speed much more quickly, being able to reach an intermediate tier within 7 days compared to 1 month on Stars, and to the top tier within 30 days as opposed to up to 1 year on Stars.
  • Over a longer period of time, it requires fewer and fewer FT-Points to maintain your tier status as opposed to Stars fixed tier system.
  • Using the rolling averages instead of monthly or especially annual calendar programs allows players to jump in and start receiving their maximum benefits right away, any day of the week or year instead of waiting until the first of the month or January 1st.
  • While the top tier is certainly easier to attain than the top Stars tiers (Elite and Supernova), keep in mind that Diamond is still the equivalent of somewhere between Stars's Gold and Platinum when you take rake and rakeback into account. If you are a Supernova+ volume player, there is no equivalent FTP tier at this time and you will max out at 29.9% fairly easily.
Based on my current volume of play and my inability to regain Supernova status by the end of this year, I will be giving FTP a shot and re-evaluate both programs for January 1st, given that FTP is not completely reg infested due to fear and misunderstanding of recreationals. I'm hopeful that the rolling average requirements and weekly cash payments should help to smooth things out for people that prefer the rakeback system.

Sunday 21 October 2012

I'm back

I almost threw in the towel.

People seem to blog less when they are losing. I'm no exception. Over the summer I had a couple of my best months this year followed by my two worst months ever.

There were two main problems with my game.

My daily struggle just to tread water on the reduced Supernova pace was the first, and somewhat the cause of the second -- the tilt spiral between some run bad, a lot of playing bad, and letting that seep into my offline life.

It's tough to sit down after 6 weeks of nothing but losing fistfuls of cash every day, never mind trying to put in the volume to maintain Supernova, minimal as it is. I dreaded it every day, often finding myself sitting down, firing up HM2, and then closing everything down before I even got started. This of course led to more Supernova stress, playing higher to earn more VPPs, losing more, more tilt, and more general unhappiness.

I wasn't even worried about losing the rakeback percentage. It was simply the thought of losing something that takes so much work to achieve. I was tired of it all and sincerely ready to quit.

And I did quit. At least, for two weeks at the end of July, I was finished. I withdrew 95% of my bankroll and gave up on the VPP chase. It was the first time in 4 years where I didn't even think about logging in for an extended period of time.

Oddly enough I already have the requisite 65k VPP on the reduced 2012 plan, but unfortunately they're not spread out over 10 months. My volume took a beating at the beginning of the year when the Weighted Contributed shit hit the fan. I became so heavily involved in the discussion that I missed my January target and missed March as well due to all the travel associated with my IOM invite plus the hours spent at home crunching numbers instead of putting in volume. I don't regret the trip or the work I did, it's just a factor in what transpired.

I was happy again. No stress. The weight of Supernova off my shoulders. I could do whatever I wanted instead of being chained to my desk. But after two weeks, I started to miss the game. I didn't miss the money (or rather losing money). I missed the competition and the puzzle.

It's funny how you sometimes need to be done with whatever you're doing before you can see it objectively. And then it seems so obvious. And it's likely something you already knew, but couldn't accept because you just couldn't give up the ghost.

What did I want out of this game? Not the stress. Not the tilt. Not my offline emotions riding the rollercoaster of my online graph. The money was a nice bonus, but I obviously didn't care about it as much as I thought I did.

The answer was simple: as a naturally competitive, analytical person, poker was my creative outlet.

That's where my passion for the game originated, and that's what became lost in the stress and the tilt. I hated poker and the person I was becoming because of it. Or rather, because of these things that had tainted it for me.

I decided that if I were going to play this game again, I needed to stay focussed on the passion and find a way to take control of the things I didn't like.

The Supernova volume part was already taken care of as it lapsed at the end of July; a huge weight taken off my shoulders. I have reduced my volume stress to zero. I simply do not care how many VPPs I have. I will play when I want and for how long I want. The monetary value of the lost rakeback is worth far less than my sanity.

The tilt problem. I've read countless books about the mental game and even listened to some of Tommy Angelo's Eightfold Path over the past number of years. But none of it really stuck with me in the past. My mindset was that these books had good reviews, the authors know what they're talking about, and I found them to be good, interesting reading material, and that's all they were to me.

I went back to Angelo's Eightfold Path, but this time I was really listening because I knew if I couldn't conquer the tilt demon, I was going to give this up for good. And so far, the mindset and techniques have been working really well

I've really tried to embrace lopping off my C-game, mindfulness, and right-view, which in turn brings me back to what I really want out of this game:

Competition -- Trying to play my best at all times.

Creative, Analytical Thinking -- Finding ways to outplay my opponents using factual information.

I don't ignore the beats to avoid the tilt. Sticking my head in the sand would be no better than stumbling through the fog of tilt induced insanity I was in before. I now acknowledge that my opponent played XX a certain way, had Y% equity, and happened to hit his hand. That's it. I just plug it back into the analytical process and think about ways to exploit this in the future. Next hand.

I'm certainly not tilt free yet and I don't think it's completely possible. We are human after all. But I've reduced the most destructive versions of it drastically, and I leave it all at the table. When I log off, I am logged off.

To date, I've had three sessions since mid September where I could feel the bankroll busting anger coming back. In the first two, I recognized it quickly, but wasn't able to get away from it in the next 5 minutes and decided to shut it down, likely saving myself a number of buyins. In the third, I recognized it quickly, was able to process what I was thinking, and bring myself back.

Also note that these three sessions were at relatively nano stakes considering I haven't put anything back online. Given that I was still able to feel the monkey tilt coming on, I have to say that I've realized it's not the loss of $X that bothered me at higher stakes. It was the frustration of doing everything "right" and still losing, and probably a good measure of embarrassment that a clearly inferior opponent was taking stacks off me.

During my time off I also picked up a couple of hobbies. I didn't really plan this as part of my get back to poker plan, but it worked out really well anyway. I'm finding it very helpful to have other outlets to occupy myself with when I don't feel like playing poker.

At first I was planning to get back into digital art and got myself a subscription to TutsPlus. There's a ton of great stuff there from photoshop to illustrator to mobile and web design. I thought about doing some of that again commercially in my spare time, but reconsidered when I looked at the market flooded with freelancers willing to do anything for nearly free just to get noticed.

I've also discovered a plethora of free online classes and started re-learning programming. This is essentially what I wanted to do out of high school but I found some of the required college math ridiculously difficult and unfortunately gave up on that before I found out I just had a shitty professor. Screw degrees. I just want to have a tool and the skill to be able to implement my ideas instead of perpetually leaving them on the drawing board.

I've started studying poker a lot more as well, coming up with my own game strategies based on analysis of tons of different situations. This is something I would always skip in favour of putting in volume before. It's easy to coast for a long time when you're winning. The lack of tilted sessions and some nice self-discovered nuggets in my study have produced some nice results. I don't mean that in the traditional way of I won a bunch of money and ran at expectation. It's just really satisfying to come up with a hypothesis, test it out, and have the results reflect your work.

Small sample so far. I've probably put in 50% play, 50% study instead of 90/10, and I'm actually enjoying the study part as much as the playing part. I started from the bottom of the ladder again but nonetheless I'm ecstatic with my attitude and how I've played controlled poker for the past month.

At least now I know that I can play poker and be happy. If I happen to improve enough, I'll have Supernova again. And if I don't, that's fine. But then it will be on my terms and my de facto tier once I'm again playing stakes where it doesn't matter how much you play and minimal volume gives you the required VPPs. There's nothing wrong with being an FPP Pro either since you won the rake in the first place, but personally, I find myself much more motivated and having fun when I'm not grinding for the next bonus instalment.

It's good to be back!

Thursday 26 July 2012

Google set to win the Internet

I just saw this and the implications seem exciting! Google Fibre, starting in Kansas City, is going to be offering 1gb speeds for TV and/or Internet with no data caps, or 5mb for free after a $300 set up ($25x12).

Coming from the land of $35/month 100mb, no data caps and no contracts, even I am impressed.

Edit: 1 gigabit. Not 1 gigabyte. That's 0.125 gigabytes. Not as awesome but still way better (below).

On my last trip to the US, I was absolutely amazed at some of the offerings that the most advanced nation on the planet had for their tech-savvy population, proudly posted on interstate billboards. 24mb 1 year contracts for $50/month with ridiculously low data caps and outrageous price gouging on extra data as the best plan available. It boggles my mind how a country with 10x the population and the ability to scale services to a far greater degree is living in a technological stone age.

If Google comes through on this in the next few years it's going to change all that. The free option is basically the same as a lot of the shitty $25/month options available to Americans right now, sans caps. So good luck to everyone living down there currently being ripped off by their ISP providers and make sure you get yourself and your neighbours pre-registered to get the infrastructure put into your area asap.

Wednesday 11 July 2012

Micro Millions Schedule

I'm planning on playing a few Micro Millions events on Stars over the next couple of weeks with my time off. The schedule looks fairly intense at 100 events over 10 days so I put together a bit of a spreadsheet to keep track of it.

You can download a copy here: http://dropcanvas.com/s0lq4

All you have to do is use the colour coding to find the formats you like, then put an "X" in the Play column to highlight that event on your list. The Event # column will also update itself to follow the date so you will know which events are being played that day.

Edit: I've added a new version (1.1) available at the same download link above, after a request that adds columns for rebuys/addons and $ won. Simply enter the number of rebuys and it will automatically add it to your total series buyin at the top of the sheet.

The sheet is protected so you won't mess up formulas by accident, but there's no password to unlock it if you'd like to make changes or additions.


Saturday 30 June 2012

Poker Rust -- Possibly Burnout

I haven't updated in a while until my previous post today regarding the WSOP Ladies Event (see below). I've had this nasty cold/flu that's been lingering for the past 6 weeks. I've been completely exhausted, although I am actually starting to feel much better this week.

It kind of put a damper on my poker volume this month. I believe there was a 6 day stretch in there where I didn't even sit at my computer at all nevermind log in to Stars. I probably haven't spanned more than 36 hours between log ins at any point in the last 5 years until this month. I just didn't have the will power to put in any sessions.

My break was somewhat mentally refreshing, but now that I'm back at it I'm feeling either a bit of rust, or perhaps it's cash game burnout. Either way my tilt meter has been off the charts and I haven't been able to get back in the zone I was in the past two months and decided I needed a change of scenery.

As per usual when I feel like this, I somehow immediately think PLO is the interesting choice only to be quickly reminded that this is not a game for someone looking for stability. So I've been dabling in SnG's again. I think what I like about them is that it negates the waiting game that you usually experience in cash games with rising blinds forcing the action. I like MTTs for the same reason but the time committment with usually nothing to show for it is a game breaker for me. I also seem much more capable of compartmentalizing a beat in an SnG as well and not letting it affect my other games.

I started with the $7 turbo 9-mans and ran like absolute death. I don't know how accurate or to what degree to trust the HM2 Luck Adjusted Winnings, but over my first 50 games (lol sample size) I was at +3% EV while at -65% reality.

I then decided to drop down to the $3.50 turbo 6-mans. I always did reasonably well converting FPPs into T$ in the 235 FPP Sunday Million satellites before Stars made the cash bonuses much more managable (yay result of my March IOM meeting presentation! toot toot!) and these are the closest thing I could find without playing the actual hyper-turbos as I wanted something with a bit more depth and ability to multi-table. I instantly flipped the switch and ran like god. My EV line is matching my results but I started getting dealt premiums left and right and getting them AIPF and holding a lot. Currently running at 26% ROI in those games over about 100 so far. I think I'm going to stick it out there for 1000 games and then move back up.

In that short time span the one thing I've learned so far is to really get a feel for how the final three is going to play out on top of the standard push fold strategy. With the $7's I think I was much too happy to push a tiny edge against wide range donks and maniacs only to end a ton of them in 3rd place on a 55/45. I've realized for this level I can abuse the weak tights to no end, but can sit back and outlast the shove calling fest of the people donking around and then outplay HU and tailor my three handed play accordingly.

I've created a spreadsheet with every 6+ man NLHE SnG variant which I'll add later tonight. Super handy if you're trying to figure out where to start by filtering for game formats, speeds or buyins to see what's available in that stream as you move up.

I'm sure I'll inevitably go back to cash games assuming the VPP fever catches up to me again. It just seems like right now games are super nitty and there's not much running between the European segregation and Zoom splitting the pool. So I'm not finding cash all that enjoyable which inexplicably makes me want to force action against nits -- a bad idea leading to tilt and punting more stacks.

Ideally I would like to put in a solid 5k games a step or two up the ladder before deciding which way I want to go.

Thoughts on the Existence of the WSOP Ladies Event

I'm definitely on the "equal" should mean equal side of the fence when it comes to racial and gender issues such as affirmative action and the like. From a principal based stance the men have every right to play in the WSOP Ladies Event. In my experience, poker tends to attract one notable mindset in particular: the true capitalist stemming from an equal rights and equal responsibility worldview provided by reason and logic.

So it's entirely expected that a gender specific annual event is going to draw the ire of part of the poker community -- it's hard to consolidate emotion and principal with reason in this case.

However, unlike the vast majority of social engineering programs, those being descriminated against in this event are not being harmed -- and no, enduring someone freely speaking their mind about your presence does not constitute harm, which I would define as being purposefully disadvantaged based on your gender or race or some other non-merit based factor.

To the contrary, this event is helping everyone in the community, including the people it is discriminating against. There is 49.5% of the population out there that could very well help this game grow by leaps and bounds and my impression is that there is a very real perceived barrier to entry preventing them from doing so, even though I think it has already been breached more than most realize due to the younger, more open minded internet generation taking over.

Gender equality, while still not yet perfect, has been well on it's way in the Western world for the last two decades. Yet poker, the supposed perfect meritocracy, has severely lagged behind in terms of population representation despite being clearly shown that women can compete at the top levels of the game. Events like this one help to break those barriers down, letting women feel comfortable by avoiding some of those old preconceived notions of how poker is "supposed to be" and get their feet wet.

Lets take a look at three discriminatory analogies:

1) The harm one to benefit another discrimination

You live on the even house number side of the street. One day you hear a knock at the door. It's the House Number Registrar, Steve.

Steve: I'm here to collect the Even Number House Tax. That'll be $500.

You: What are you going to do with it?

Steve: Well there's not many odd number houses across the street due to a previous mayor with numerophobia several generations back, so we're giving it to the home owners across the street and anyone that wants to build a house in the empty lots over there.

You: That's %$*!ed up. I had nothing to do with that, why should I be penalized?

Steve: $500, cash or check.

2) The benefit one with no additional effect discrimination

You look out your window the next day and see Successful Greg walking up to houses across the street and handing everyone that opens their door $500. You run out to ask him what's going on.

You: Greg what's with the free cash?

Greg: I decided I want to use my money to help out those odd numbered home owners.

You: But what about me? You're discriminating against me!

Greg: Tough luck, I like helping odd numbers. Whether I ever came down this street or not has no bearing on your life positively or negatively. Why are you upset that your neighbour benefits when I'm not doing anything to hurt you?

3) The benefit everyone discrimination

A week later you see Greg's business partner, Sam going to houses across the street and handing out notifications. Still upset about the incident the week before, you storm out the door hoping to talk some sense into Sam.

You: This is enough already! First I shell out $500 for a discriminatory tax that's been given to the people across the street, then you and Greg hand them another $500 and some sort of deal!

Sam: My proposition is a little different than Greg's. I like his idea about encouraging odd numbered development. But I want to take a more proactive approach. I'm giving everyone across the street $100 annually multiplied by how many houses are on that side with the stipulation that their equity is whatever percentage of people were home to accept the money, minus 10% of that total for their neighbour directly across from them, and $100 for anyone that refers someone to building on an empty lot in the next 6 months.

As you can see, everyone on your street has a vested interest in making sure that everyone around them is home to collect the money and to help build their community. Your neighbour was home, there are 6 houses on that side, and if 50% of people on your street are home, I will come back tomorrow and give them $300. They will then come over and give you $30. I hope you can see that while I am being discriminatory, you benefit along with everyone else.

While it may not benefit you very much right now, nor as much as your neighbours, it is in your best interest to get on the phone and help build your community. Of course there's nothing stopping you from setting up a lemonade stand in an empty lot across the street and claiming your $100 for personal gain, but it is against the spirit of the community development plan.

In summary with cookie math breakdowns:

1) Harm one to benefit another represents the majority of government and institutional discrimination in my opinion. I believe this amounts to two wrongs and should be done away with. You make your own cookie and someone takes it and gives it to someone else based on nothing other than which straw you drew in the birth lottery. You have every reason to be outraged.

2) Benefit one and do not affect anyone else represents most philanthropic endeavors. Most people don't have a problem with this because it's voluntary and doesn't affect their lives in any way. The irrational person will be upset that their neighbour has a cookie and they don't. The rational person will choose to be happy or indifferent towards their neighbour since no one had any cookies in the first place. No harm, no foul at worst, good for them at best.

3) Benefit everyone, sometimes unequally or not immediately, represents the rare situation that I think the Ladies Event at the WSOP occupies. The irrational person would rather no one have any cookies than to receive one while their neighbour receives two in some twisted sense of fairness. The rational person is again happy or indifferent to their neighbour's cookies and happy about their own because they now have one where there was none with possible future implications for more.

The guys playing in this event are either letting their emotional worldview of perceived rights and equality override their logic or are doing it for personal gain. Either way they are essentially trying to sneak a bite off the extra cookie the women received to make a point or make a buck while actively working against the community's chance at 10 new cookies down the road.

Of course Greg and Sam's alterior motive is to grow their customer base, the same as the WSOP's. But as poker players we need to remember that our goals are aligned in that regard because we have the same customer base and if no one is harmed, or better yet everyone benefits, I think the end justifies the means.

Wednesday 25 April 2012

Stars 'Monopoly'

I just wanted to address some of the 'monopoly' talk going on since the jaw dropping news came out about a potential Stars purchase of FTP. There's a lot of worry out there about what Stars would do with an outright monopoly on the online poker industry. After thinking about this for a while here's some of my thoughts.

Stars basically already had the market share post-FTP-shutdown that they will have with a FTP2 acquisition. So whatever you're worried about now, you should have already been worried about when FTP switched to server upgrade mode and went silent. I say this because, while some of the ROW players have of course gone to iPoker or Party, by scale of sites it stands to reason that the vast majority moved to Stars. I also don't recall another site seeing a massive boost in traffic when FTP closed their doors, which leads me to conclude that they were quietly merged into the Stars player pool where the effect would not be as pronounced. Based on this line of reasoning, it would seem to me that, while there might be a few people coming back from the networks, by and large FTP2's customers are going to be coming directly out of the Stars player pool.

There's also an issue with how you define monopoly. Stars does have the lions share of the market, but if you look at cash game traffic, they don't even make up 50%. The perception, I think, comes from the fact that if you take any of the other market slices and compare them with Stars one on one, it's David and Goliath every time. When we use the term industry standard, Stars is the industry, but what does that mean in terms of how far they can push the envelope?

I've put together a couple quick charts here. The first is based off of peak time cash players for all sites listed on Pokerscout. The second is if there were magically 15% more cash players out of nowhere on FTP2 to illustrate what I think would be the far upper bounds of Stars total market share with the new company. It's much more likely that the Stars slice from the first image decreases somewhat to make room for the FTP2 slice and the larger mini slices get a bit of a shave.

Stars 46% (Current traffic)

Stars 40% / FTP 12% (Max future traffic)
So I don't really think the comments about runaway rake increases, degradation to customer service and software innovation due to lack of competition really have any merit. If that's what they want to do, it's going to happen whether they own FTP2 or not. It's a massive shock to the online community right now because it is the most outlandish thing plausible, but that's really all it is. Nothing's changing that much in terms of industry share or control.

Contrary, assuming FTP2 retains somewhat of a resemblance to their former self, the players that liked playing there and plan on going back are going to be extremely happy, never mind recouping their bankrolls, considering that they will know their money is safe with a company that has proven it handles player funds appropriately and, by virtue of economies of scale, should be able to see a huge boost in the level of customer service.

The angle I can see here, besides having their legal problems reportedly cleared up with the DOJ, is that Stars/FTP can now work towards that monopoly from two separate approaches. They can run abc type of promotions, VIP structure and player experience on Stars to attract a certain type of player while simultaneously running xyz type of promotions, VIP/rakeback structure and player experience on FTP2 to attract a different type of player. It's much easier to make everyone happy when you have two products.

The only way that Stars/FTP2 is going to end up with a true monopoly, though, is by continuing down the path that got them where they are: keeping customers happy.