Sunday, August 12, 2007


Survivor Bias And Result-Oriented Thinking (2)

OK, Part 2 of this lesson is drawn from the threads on 2+2 regarding the $3000 NL final at the WSOP. This is the one that was made 10-handed because Hellmuth was short-stacked the night before. In protest at this decision, I have not illegally downloaded this episode. That'll show them. However, I might do so later just to check the details. Not to watch it, because apparently Phil is doing his whole routine for the 99th time, and if anything Beth Shak sounds even more annoying than he is. Anyway, here's a comment from the 2+2 thread, about the first hand of the broadcast :

"Hellmuth is short stack with 123k, 10 handed, blinds 10/20/3aPhil in HJ opens with K6o to 50kBTN shoves.Phil folds getting > 3.3:1 and holds on to the remaining 73k.Then talks about how internet players won't understand why the play is correct and says 'see how right I was to fold the K' when he gets deals AA like the next hand."

Now, correct me if that's not how it happened. But if it is, well, raise/fold when you have M2 in front of you is so bad I don't even know where to start. It's really and truly horrible, both in terms of the hand itself and how exploitable this is for future hands. I will give Phil credit for making one accurate statement, which is that internet players won't understand why the play is correct. QFT Phil, QFMFT. And then, hey presto, he picks up Aces soon after and that makes the previous play correct. Do I need to continue ?

Moving on, another poster reports "(Paraphrasing) he made a comment after Hellmuth layed down another hand and kept stroking himself for still being alive, he [another player] said "you've done all that but you still only have 200k in chips." . Someone else confirmed : "Ya he said something like "You've had (or won) with pocket aces all in 2x and you still only have 200k."

Once again, both themes are reinforcing each other here. Firstly, the fact that Phil is "still alive" is in itself virtually no evidence that his previous play was correct. That would seem to be more related to the fact that he picked up Aces twice. More insidiously in this case, if Phil hadn't still been "alive", he wouldn't still be there to justify his previous play anyway. That's the survivor bias. When these two factors work together, they can completely overwhelm rational analysis.

In conclusion, be very, very careful about interpreting plays in the context of what happened later in the tournament. There may be occasional, specific cases where it is correct to pass up small edges (if only marginally correct) because you really do believe that you'll pick up a bigger edge later, but frankly these are few and far between IMO. Don't let anyone trick you into thinking that a flawed decision was in fact correct because "they're still alive" or "they won the tournament", and doubly so when if they weren't alive/hadn't won the tournament you wouldn't even be hearing them tell you. More importantly, don't trick yourself.

As an Internet player and 'math guy' of course I completely agree with you. And yet ... and yet ... I cannot dismiss the fact that Hellmuth has 11 bracelets from huge-field NL tourneys and that as I mentioned on another post "he must be doing something right". That's not to say that his strategy is necessarily correct but I think we need to explain why he's so successful if he's so out of line.

One possible answer is that by turning the whole table into the Phil Hellmuth show he induces other players to play so weakly that his style is correct. The verbal hectoring inhibits bluffs so perhaps he can sense more accurately when someone timid is finally taking him on with a big hand.

I don't know but it's not enough to say that Phil is just a huge donkey. He's not winning those tourneys through luck.

wish you'd post more often, ffs !


I second dD - with no job you must have loads of time to update your blog! :)

I've now seen some of that $3000 NL Final Table on You Tube and my belief that Hellmuth is mentally disturbed is strengthened. He seemingly refuses to acknowledge the other players as individuals lumping all their actions together collectively. I actually think his endless verbal diarrhoea is a leak - if you can learn to interpret it. He is saying what he's really thinking although it's through a filter. I'm sure a study of Hellmuth's chatter against his hole cards would prove immensely profitable [and has doubtless already been done subconsciously by Ivey et al]. He's like an autistic savant. His behaviour when he and Beth Shak were both allin with AA and the poor sap with KK hadnt called yet was way out of line although it probably shouldve tipped the KK guy what he was up against. Although the chance of spiking a king on Phil would be worth a lot of EV. I also found his behaviour in constantly stopping the action to go and "buy insurance" from Ivey (= get raped) very annoying. If I'd been at the table I would have asked for his hand to be dead once he stood up and when that was ruled out that the tourney clock be stopped.

I also found his behaviour in constantly stopping the action to go and "buy insurance" from Ivey (= get raped) very annoying. If I'd been at the table I would have asked for his hand to be dead once he stood up and when that was ruled out that the tourney clock be stopped.

I don't watch televised poker for the simple reason that people playing cards is more boring then me playing cards but is this really true? How could any TD let this go on?

P.S. What tags does google allow?
Several reports indicate that it is true. Even more of a concern to me was how the play was stopped the night before 10-handed with Hellmuth on the short stack.

I'm pretty sure that a top TD (like Matt Savage or Johnny Grooms) wouldn't allow anyone to hold up the game with insurance bets if another player complained. The situation the previous night, I don't know. I guess if you're going to play televised events you have to expect this, and if (like I do) you think it's bang out of order, don't sit down unless there's enough value to compensate.

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