Friday, March 09, 2007

The Mathematics of Poker comes to life

I spent the past day reading "The Mathematics of Poker" by Bill Chen and Jerrod Ankenman. A really fascinating book. I think of myself as a math guy but there was plenty of stuff I had to peruse a few times to grasp what the hell they were talking about. You know how you can tell I'm a math guy? The fact that I tried to use the word peruse in the last sentence.

Lets just say it's one of those books that definitely needs to be reread a few times.

I try to read most of the poker books that come out. At this point it's obviously not me learning how to play. My literary journey has more to do with wanting to keep up with what different players are thinking. By reading these various authors I can understand and identify the new moves that people are trying to copy. I think a pretty good example of this was in Dan Harrington's book where he explained the squeeze play. Ever since Harrington's book came out I've seen someone make that move every level in every tournament I play. Before his book? Maybe just once or twice a night by a savvy shark.

For those of you unfamiliar with the squeeze play, here's how it works. Someone opens the pot for a raise, and a second guy calls. You look down and then push with any two cards. As long as the first guy doesn't have aces he'll usually fold. And you figure the second guy will fold too since if he had anything worth calling your all in with, he would have raised in the first place.

As I mentioned in a previous entry, I've actually started to try to pick off this squeeze play in early or middle position by smooth calling a raise when I have a big pair and then hope it gets popped behind me. If you try this at home my warning to you is that if it doesn't get reraised behind you and a bunch of people get to see the flop you gotta be willing to throw your pair away if there's alot of action.

Back to The Mathematics of Poker. These guys take topics such as game theory and actually apply them to poker. For years I've read various math experts imply that game theory is valuable at the poker table but there hasn't been too much textwise to explain it.

The best thing this book does though is back up theories with solid mathematical evidence. For example there's a whole section devoted to exploiting your opponents by betting your draw hands. This isn't at all a brand new concept. But again the wonderful part is all of their math formulas proving why it's correct. The sample hand they use is a straight flush draw taking on pocket aces. Then they illustrate how straight flush draws benefit from getting all the money into the pot on the flop. And how this exact same hand is played incorrectly if the money goes in on the turn (when your odds aren't as good to hit your draw).

While reading this section today I was sort of laughing to myself how this specific hand didn't seem like it would really matter that often since most of the time I either have a flush draw (9 outs) or a straight draw (8 outs) but not usually the two together (15 outs). And so everything they're saying about how to bet with 15 outs doesn't necessarily apply to situations where I have only 8 or 9 outs.

So of course what happens tonight? I get myself into a raised pot preflop with 9, 10 of diamonds and the flop comes out 7,8 diamonds with an ace. I have a straight flush draw. Weird.

We all check to the preflop raiser and he bets out on the flop. The other guy calls. It's up to me.

I can take it easy and smooth call. But that's not correct.

I can also put in a medium raise. That feels good too. But that's not correct. All I'd be doing is creating a larger pot with worse odds for the river if I miss on the turn. And if I hit my flush or straight I might not be able to get them to put the rest of their money in later on in the hand.

Nope. I know exactly what to do. Mr. Chen and Mr. Ankenman having been proving it to me all day in their book.

I need to push.

I can win a decent size pot right now if everyone folds. That's fine. But I'm not even sure I want them to fold. If they have an ace in their hand I'm ready to gamble.

I get one caller.

I miss on the turn when a 10 comes.

The irony here is that this 10 gives me at least two more outs. How amusing would it be to beat aces with three 10's on the hand that I held a straight flush draw? (We haven't turned over our cards yet so perhaps a 9 giving me two pair wins me the hand as well).

And back to strategy, despite how pretty the board looks if I had just called on the flop I'd now be getting worse odds to call a big bet on the turn. Pushing on the flop takes away having to make a bad call on the turn. Ahhh. The good things in life.

The river unfortunately is a blank. All I end up with is my pair of tens. His ace is good.

The gross part is that he was playing ace rag. He called the 3rd guy's preflop raise of 7x the big blind with ace rag. I was happy at the time that he called the raise cause it gave me 2:1 odds to call as well. Sometimes it's better to not get what you want.

Meanwhile, come on universe! Reward me for playing like that on the flop. Reinforce it. Don't be taking away my buy in.

Can we blame my further bad luck this evening on tilt? I'm still not sure.

A hand or two later I hit two pair on the flop and ran into a set.

I also hit two pair in another hand with ace king and a guy rivered a straight.

I'm so curious if somehow I may have laid down either of these hands if I hadn't just lost a big pot.

And why is it that I think that if I somehow hit my outs on my straight flush hand, those other two hands don't go wrong on me? Why is that?

(For the full effect of my blog reread that last sentence to yourself doing your best Jerry Seinfeld impersonation).

I've read that one of the reasons people consider Phil Ivey to be such a great player is that he never goes on tilt. They say he keeps playing correctly regardless of what might have occurred on the hand before.

So here I was NOT folding my two pair in either hand because I thought that I'd only be folding them because I had just lost a big hand.

And I'm sitting there at the table thinking to myself that everyone else must think I'm on tilt. They don't believe I've hit my hands. So I thought there might be added value to my hands since someone might call me down with top pair. Or even ace high.

Here's the question I gotta answer. If someone called me up on the phone and said "Hey I got two pair for you on a rainbow flop. You just lost a big pot. You wanna come down and play them?"

I think the answer was "yes."

Who knew I shouldn't have picked up the phone?


Oliver said...

I have no fucking idea what any of that meant... it was written well, though.

Christopher said...

Chalk it up to bad luck.

Personally, I wouldn't go all in on a draw unless I knew the other guy would fold 80% of the time.

I take it this isn't a cash game where it seems that calling a bet/raise with anything is considered sound play. hahahaha

Chas said...

The reason you believe that the result of a future action depends in some way on your previous actions is beacuse there are structures in your brain which were created for this very reason...they helped provide survival benefits on the plains of africa, but that kind of connection finding can be detrimental to great carding. come on cohen, you know the universe doesn't owe you anything, certainly not a reward for playing the cards "right"...or, if you get that reward, it will be over the long haul...that being said, great blog!

Christopher said...

Have you read the Kill Phil book?

I would be curious on seeing what your thoughts were if you did read it.

Christopher said...

Rob, have you ever read Kill Phil?

What are your thoughts on their theory of all in poker.

EskimoQuinn said...

Chas, for what it's worth, I've never been to Africa.

EskimoQuinn said...

Christopher I think all in poker makes sense if you're overmatched at the table since it's so hard for your opponents to find a hand that's playable against the strategy.

Or at least until they figure out that you're using the all in strategy. Then I believe their standards for calling would drop significantly.

I liked Sklansky's stuff in The Theory of Poker where he told the story of prepping someone with no poker experience to play in the main event. I might be leaving some of it out but basically from what I remember his strategy was for the player to simply go all in any time they held a pocket pair and no one had raised before them.

What I loved about strategy in terms of game theory is that you could tell your opponents exactly what you are doing and yet it's still incredibly difficult for them to exploit it.

Afterall, did you just push all in with pocket 5's or pocket jacks? Do I call you if I'm holding pocket 8's? It's basically 50/50.

carter said...

Your either extremely brilliant or insane. Perfect combo for a successful poker player. One thing i may add is when everything seems absolutely perfect its about to be shit and when everything seems horrible its about to be great... Learned that from pokers evil twin...WALL STREET.
War Bob winning the world poker tourney
War next yrs fantasy football 07-08


Check Raise Chin said...

Yeah Rob, I agree the all in play is a real good one if you can incorporate into your game.

I've just started reading "kill phil" and it makes a lot of sense. I would say that it's a hard style to master.

dave said...

Chin, you should have called my all in at Halley's. Right up kill phil's alley.

And I look forward to us whupping Carter's ass again next year in fantasy football.