Wednesday, 1 April 2009

About luck

Luck in poker is not unitary. When players are running badly in STTs, they tend to look at all-ins. Juk's analyser, a commonly used programme, compares your received value with your EV. I don't know why, but for most regular players, it shows unluckiness. Or perhaps that's just a reporting bias. People who are running hot but still losing don't tell forums about it.

I think that what makes downswings feel unbearable is that we find some forms of luck acceptable and others unacceptable.

STTs have a flow to them. Sometimes it's all upstream. You pick up no cards, and finally you're at push/fold, shove in your stack and are snapped off by a dominating hand or a higher pair. But the thing is, this tourney has been very unlucky for us but we accept it. We know it is the price of our tight-early strategy. We don't mind that a game, a turbo at least, can be fold fold fold fold fold push you're gone. So long as when we push AJ, we are called by AK and don't help, and not by AT and a T comes, we don't feel hard done by.

But we have been. We play 10 percent of our hands, or thereabouts. So we should be picking up a playable hand once every 10 hands. But we often go 30, 40 hands without a spot we can play in. Sometimes we don't even see a hand; sometimes we have to fold AQ to a raise early, or have AJs UTG and prudently fold, or have a small pair in early position and don't want to risk it. Whatever the reason, par is that we should pick something up and be able to accumulate some chips, but sometimes, often, that doesn't happen.

On top of that, if you pick up all your big hands early, and only trash late, the STT's flow is all wrong: you're active early and quiet late. Our game relies on being able to find good spots late in the game. We want ideally to be able to make people fold and give us chips. If we never have the hand in the spot, we cannot even pursue our strategy.

Luck can be subtler. You call a raise with 44, hoping to stack the raiser when you hit your set. The flop comes A43, you get the money in with AK and double up; the flop comes Q43 and you're lucky if he even cbets. Making set value depends on luck: that your villain will hit a hand, or have a hand, he too is willing to stack off with. If that doesn't happen, you do not make your value, and all those limps do not pay off. You are luckier if the raiser is a tighty, because his range will have more big pairs, less lucky if he or she is a fishy who is chancing a raise with AK and won't put a cent in if it misses.

But we accept this. And I think the reason is that it is unlucky but it is the computer's fault. The random number generator picks the cards and if you get lucky, well, it's an outcome of maths.

But if someone calls your AK shove with with A3 and hits their 3, the universe is knocked off its axis. Now a human has messed with you. You were just pursuing your strategy, riding the flow, and some tard broke into the stream and made you unlucky.

How could he make that call? is our cry, even though we want him to make that call. But that 'want' is an ideal. We should want A3 to call us when we shove AK, and we do want it the seven out of 10 times it holds up. But the other three...

And the worst of it, the most painful luck, is this. We'll lose a 70/30 seven out of 10 times. We accept that rationally but try using reason when you lose six in a row. There's nothing hugely statistically improbable about that, but if it's six buyins in a set, it's a cause for misery. Tilt off a couple more (because, believe me, if we didn't tilt, we would soon become poker legends -- tilt is not just steaming when something doesn't go to plan; it's also being too lazy to study, refusing to consider advice, trying to "loosen up" because LAG is sexier, ignoring ICM because you just know he won't call) and boom, you are kicking the dog once more.

But why would any of it hurt us? We understand the maths; we are smart enough to know that the bad is more salient than the good, that we will catch up a few and win a buyin here and there, that the same luck affects all our rivals. We get all that, but still, a downswing is not something we accept as a normal part of our game, something that just represents the flow of the bigger set of games. We are all close to the margin, so we know, or should know, that our ups will have downs. We would know it even if it wasn't something we could figure out, because all our peers talk about them. Yet we struggle with downswings.

It is all justice. The impersonal choosings of the RNG affect everyone equally. Skill cannot protect you against them. But you can choose your spots and when you've chosen carefully and well, when you've displayed the real skill of an STT -- which the fish don't know, believing as they do that the game is about outplaying your opponents in a battle of wits, rather than cold maths and who knows it -- you feel you have earned your reward.

Which is not to look on in horror as the ace comes on the flop, is it?

12 comments:

nobody said...

There is no luck, there is only harmony with the river.

nobody said...

Zen wrote,

"It is all justice. The impersonal choosings of the RNG affect everyone equally. Skill cannot protect you against them. But you can choose your spots and when you've chosen carefully and well, when you've displayed the real skill of an STT -- which the fish don't know, believing as they do that the game is about outplaying your opponents in a battle of wits, rather than cold maths and who knows it -- you feel you have earned your reward."

I just read that paragraph again.

You've almost got it.

The bit started out well, the part about justice and impersonal choosings and skill being no protection, those seem dead-on.

Even the bit about fish thinking it's about outwitting wasn't far off.

It's when you start on about it being "cold maths and who knows it" and "earned your reward" that it seems a bit off.

The best of it is the first sentence, I think. "It is all justice."

And the part about "you can choose your spots and when you've chosen carefully and well" isn't so far off, except the "carefully and well" part indicates, as does "the real skill of an STT", that skill is involved in the choosing.

When you think skill is involved you're near as far off as the fish who think it's a battle of wits.

"It is all justice."

Dr Zen said...

It seems to me that choosing carefully involves skill. What else would you call it?

nobody said...

The closest I can come to answering that is "timing".

Dr Zen said...

It seems to me that knowing the right time would involve skill. How else would I know it?

I can measure success. I don't really care whether I achieve success by the application of skill or the application of conjuring or simply because Jeebus favours me. If there's a method for knowing when I should shove and when I should fold that beats learning the ICM and applying it, I'll do that method. But I need a method. "Just trust your gut" doesn't help because you know the fish do that, and they are paying for the privilege.

nobody said...

Zen wrote,

"It seems to me that knowing the right time would involve skill. How else would I know it?"

If you are choosing the right time to win a pot, it might involve the same skill the fish have in their battles of wits. It seems like a matter of goals. As you wrote, "It is all justice."

"I can measure success. ... But I need a method."

It seems that I understand what you're saying there. I wish I could just hand you an answer you could plug-and-crank, but you know I have difficulty in expressing this bit, perhaps that means that for me it's more intuitive than logical and that's why it's hard to express.

And as with the stock market, if there was a perfect mechanical formula everyone would be rich and none of it would mean anything.

How many games have you played now, several thousand isn't it? If you'd been tossing pennies into a cup, or trying to hammer nails without bending them, after several thousand times I'd expect you to find a method. Identify the similarities in technique and correlate with results, that kind of thing?

But with poker it appears you haven't found that "doing it right" feeling that correlates with success.

I think we might be agreed that the RNG is impersonal and it is all justice. The answer seems to be in that pair of concepts but I'm not sure how to point it out.

Impersonal justice. Isn't that the crux of it?

At the times when you've been "in the zone" so to speak, when a hand went just perfectly and you somehow knew it would from the outset, have you been that to which perfect justice would hand a pot?

Dr Zen said...

Dude, the "zone" in poker works like this: I pick up a big hand, I raise, some fool calls, the flop is dealt, I bet, he raises, I have him crushed, I win the hand. I play cautiously, then shove a couple of times in decent spots, getting called by a worse hand and chipping up even more. I then play aggressively in the money and win easily. But see, this is all reasonably automatic. I just do the right thing with the cards that are favouring me. That's easy to do. You certainly don't need much skill to win when you get smashed in the face by the deck, but sadly it doesn't happen often enough.

BTW, I think you've misunderstood me. I mean that we get upset because there is no justice, not that there actually is any! Justice doesn't even enter into it.

I've played a bit more than two and a half thousand games seriously, and a few more for "fun". I haven't been all that observant, but of course I've seen that most successful players have attributes such as playing tight early, pushing big hands hard, being aggressive. Not everyone who is successful plays the same way, but I don't have enough evidence of the players who play differently to figure out how they do it. Of course you do learn things from experience: what you can get away with, what bets mean, and so on.

It's very hard in poker to know whether you're doing it right. You can do what you think is right, what you understand to be right, but results don't always show that to be the case. I don't know any way to fix that. Results are, after all, what counts.

nobody said...

Zen wrote,

"BTW, I think you've misunderstood me. I mean that we get upset because there is no justice, not that there actually is any! Justice doesn't even enter into it."

Well, if you say so. I would say that justice is the whole of it.

"Results are, after all, what counts."

Yes, I agree, though not necessarily in the context you refer to... and since you contend that the context I refer to is imaginary it isn't clear that I can do anything to help.

What I will say is that results are what count and Truth is beside the point; long-term maths are irrelevant to the current hand (even more so to the next action be it bet or fold or whatever), and the long-term consists of the sum of the short-terms.

"But see, this is all reasonably automatic. I just do the right thing with the cards that are favouring me. That's easy to do."

Then it's a simple matter of getting out the instant you determine that the cards do not favor you, isn't it?

"You certainly don't need much skill to win when you get smashed in the face by the deck, but sadly it doesn't happen often enough."

The important thing in my view is to recognize when you are being offered a gift and when you are not.

Can you recognize that?

If you can consistenly recognize when the cards favor you, you need only play one hand a month. Of course you would need to bet more to make more.

Putting too much importance on how much money you are making can negatively affect your results.

Dr Zen said...

LOL. If I knew which cards were going to favour me, boots, I'd be a rich man. Unless they actually only did favour me once a month. Then I'd never make a cent.

Money is how you know what your results are. Anyway, I don't want much. Never have.

nobody said...

Zen wrote,

"Money is how you know what your results are."

Our viewpoints are very nearly opposites, with you the material collectivist thinking of money as a measure of results, and me the pragmatic idealist thinking of money as a nearly irrelevant intermediate step. That makes communication challenging.

"Anyway, I don't want much. Never have."

How you know what your results are is by determining whether you have what you want. It doesn't matter whether you "earn" what you want by shovelling ditches, or stumble over a wad of money dropped by some incompetent burglar, what matters is results, not intermediate steps.

I think that I cannot help you, at least here. Probably anywhere.

What I leave you with is the suggestion that you consider this idea: the long run is the sum of all the next actions.

Dr Zen said...

Dude, it's just that in poker you play for money. If we played for points, the aim would be to get points. Do you see?

Yes, I know my results are poor just now. I don't have what I want. So obv. I need to change the game some.

Dude, I understand what the long run is. But I don't have the means to know what the short run holds, so where does that leave me? It's not that you're wrong about it; it's just that there's nothing to be done about it.

nobody said...

"...in poker you play for money. If we played for points, the aim would be to get points. Do you see?"

Of course. What is it we play for in life? Is poker life, or is it a small piece of life?

"...there's nothing to be done about it."

Perhaps then the proper course would be to do nothing. How little can you do while still playing poker, if you must play poker?

Goodbye my friend, I will hinder you no more. We may meet again elsewhere, or not. Should you start a new blog other than "yeah, whatever" please do let me know of it.