Monday, December 11, 2006


Now Is All That Matters

I know I should really finish a book before reviewing it but as the whole point of this post is living in the moment and doing what's right for now, I'm going to do it now. I was particularly keen to get my hands on the Chen/Ankenman book so I sent off to Conjelco in the US. That has arrived this morning, together with Snyder's Poker Tournament Formula in a spirit of "oh, while I'm there".

I will take some time to digest Chen/Ankenman, but Snyder's book has immediately caught my eye with its basic premise. I quote as follows, precising where necessary :

"Let's say that [premium starting hands JJ, AK, AQs] are the only hands I'll play ... I will be playing only one hand out of thirty ... [that is] one hand per hour ... In a fast tournament, a starting hand strategy this tight would be suicidal. Since [the time taken to blind you off if you never played a hand] is under 2.5 hours, I'd be resting my entire tournament outcome on only two to three hands of play".

This is wrongly assuming that our starting hand range remains constant while the blinds increase. Of course, it doesn't. The Bellagio $500 tournament, for example, has a "blind off time" as he calls it of 2.58 hours. You start with 2000 chips and the first level is 25-50. Adopting such a starting range for the first level would be tight, but hardly "suicidal". Consider my current daily fare, the turbo SNGs. In actual fact, JJ/AK/AQs is pretty close to my playing range for at least the first 10 minutes, maybe with the odd small pair or suited Ace for a cheap flop. This isn't "suicidal", or in any way a problem, because I soon adjust once the blinds start to bite. I like to play as tightly as that early doors because this is a rare case where I can look forward to a bigger edge later on.

I have that edge because I know how to play a short stack and many opponents don't. I can tell you from experience that this is also the case in live, small buy-in US tournaments. Many players will blind themselves off, call all-in with a medium hand after missing better opportunities to raise first with virtually anything, fold the big blind to short all-ins when they have to call, and so on. It's not the case at all, as Snyder says, that "There is not much you can do in an MTT this fast to increase your chances of winning". He's basically saying that you have to play faster early on because you don't have an edge when the blinds are high, and that just ain't so, Joe.

To summarise, there's no need IMO to start speeding when the blinds are low just because they're going to be high quite soon. Deal with that when it happens. Play each hand on its own merits [1] and let everything else sort itself out. People do over-complicate tournament poker. I still hope to divine some useful titbits from the book but if he's basing it all on this flawed initial premise, I'm not that hopeful. All the same, the website has a nice, up-to-date comparison of the various tournament structures in Vegas, which I didn't know about. That's probably worth the $20 on its own. But you lucky people are getting it for free. Don't say I never give you anything.

[1] Of course, by "merits" I mean hand strength, stack size, position, action to date, and all the other factors that comprise the entire situation.

If I may quote Snyder here, just to show where I think he is going wrong. Referring to a Caesar's tournament in a negative manner, Snyder writes:

"At blind level two, the blinds are $50-$100. At level three, they shoot up to $100-$200 with a $25 ante. That means the cost of going through a round of ten hands almost quadruples, from $150 to $550 in a single jump."

The Flamingo has a similar piece of insanity, although the amount posted only goes up three times from level 4 to level 5.

The point is, if you know something is going to happen, and your opponents do not, then the madder the structure, the better. Because you can exploit it.

In the Flamingo case, you see people thinking that they had a decent stack, suddenly realizing that they don't, and the panic as they enter short-stack mode (which most of them don't know how to play) is when you can push home your advantage.

I remain perpetually puzzled how several "esteemed" writers talk about "good" and "bad" structures, criticising turbos, praising deep-stack tournaments, and so on.

God bless turbos, I say, because they encourage people to make negative EV plays.

People definitely overcomplicate tournaments, partly through their experience of the increase in fold equity as the bubble approaches and partly because they continue to see MTTs as single events, rather than as part of one long sequence of tournaments. I fear that even you talk of "going for the win" rather than "playing for place money".

I definitely do best by thinking about things hand by hand rather than worrying about blinds going up. If I just focus on making every play positive EV, then the rest should, in the long run, take care of itself. Most times one of the more random players will get lucky (although it will be a different one each time) and I will have to settle for modest place money. But I will win a few as well - maybe fewer than if I "went for it", but not so many fewer as to make up for all the place monies that I would have lost out on if I "went for it".

Even win-only tournaments follow this principle, because other players "go for it" even more (i.e., are more likely to make the negative EV plays). My best averages appear to be in tournaments paying out the lowest proportion of places (such as the 1-in-100 FPP tournaments on Stars), because everyone else suddenly gets injected with the urgent need to build up a big stack. It's a false trail. finally e-mailed me this week to say that The Mathematics Of Poker was in the post - just the eight weeks later than originally promised. I can't remember when I have looked forward to receiving a book more. My only worry is that too many people might read it.

Having finished the Snyder book now, I have to say, it really is quite a piece of work and I would have to agree with the jacket's claim that "every tournament player should read it".

Parts of it are very good. Whether to play fast early on may be debatable, but I like his ideas regarding how to play fast if you're going to. He stresses moving in early when you're short stacked, even over-stresses it, but that's much less of a mistake than waiting too long. He tackles the subject of bankroll, although I was surprised that he makes some glib assumptions, considering his blackjack background. But at least he has a go.

Some of it really isn't so good though, as I said he completely misses the edge a good short-stack player has in the late stages. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the horrendous deal-making chapter. If you're not an experienced player, please don't even read this chapter. Tear it out, burn it, never make a deal and you'll be much better off. All in all though, interesting.

You will like the Chen/Ankenman book, I haven't finished it yet, but I did think of you when reading there "but in reality you don't know your expected rate" chapter !

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