Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Easy Games

Wit and Wisdom from the Poker Pigeon:
The Easy Games Ain’t Near as Hard as You’ve Heard;
Snoping Out the Rumor

You know Snopes, right? I do. I hate Snopes. Snopes is the website that goes around debunking urban legends, such as the one about the modern flushing toilet being the invention of an Englishman named Thomas Crapper. I’d heard that one ever since college, had repeated it at least a thousand times in my lifetime, when one of my hip young relatives threw the story back in my face along with a quote from Snopes stating that the commode was invented by a British company trying to solve the problem of all the excrement floating around the streams near London, that no one named Crapper was involved, and that the researchers performed their duties under commission from the king. By shooting me down with Snopes, my young relative put a stop to all of the excrement that I’d been floating around the rumor mill. Boy, was I ever put in my place. Thomas Crapper, we never knew ye!

But now it’s my turn. I’m gonna play Snopes to a rumor floating around the poker world, one that I’ve heard for decades, by golly, and I’m jumping at the chance to do some legend-debunking of my own. The latest version of this particular erroneous bit of information comes in the form of an email from a reader (and I’m not gonna embarrass the reader by publicly naming him, which is more than I can say for my relative, who sent a copy of his story-shattering email to my wife, my children, and possibly the CIA and FBI). God bless my readers, and may their number increase.

Actually the reader was responding to an email I sent to him, wherein I mentioned that while I’d beaten some really tough Las Vegas games, when I played in California against players who didn’t know AA from J-4, the really weak bunch beat me nearly to death, and offered no apologies as I slunk away down an alley. My reader told me that he’d had trouble with some easy games as well, and that he’d prefer to play with really good players because it was so much easier to put the experts on a hand. It dawned on me that I’d heard the same complaint in one form or another from so-called experts for years and years, so many times, in fact, that at one point in my life I actually believed that in order to win consistently I needed some tougher games. The stronger the competition, the hustlers reason, the smaller the field in each hand, and therefore the less the number of drawouts.

The fact that I ever considered the above-told theory as plausible proves that I’m just as susceptible to B.S. rumors as the next guy, and here’s the legend-busting, Snopes-like fact: Anyone who believes that facing stiffer competition steers one on the pathway to poker riches probably also believes that the University of Oklahoma should remove No-Name U. from its non-conference football schedule, and pencil in Ohio State. It’s easier to predict whether the Buckeyes are gonna run or pass, isn’t it? The change would make for a better ballgame from a spectator’s standpoint, okay, but when the non-conference loss knocked the Sooners from the bowl picture, you could look for the OU coach to be out of a job.

For the five thousandth time: winning at Texas Hold ‘Em is not and never has been an every-time proposition, no matter how skillful you become or who you’re playing with. And weak players don’t draw out nearly as often as it seems that they do.

For example: I play fairly often, at least once a week when I’m not on the road, in a 15 and 30 limit game filled with poker barracudas, people who’ve played from coast to coast for decades, some of whom with names you’d probably recognize (and some of those veterans play in this underground poker parlor because they’re also susceptible to rumor and terrified of the weaker games; during every session of 15 and 30 I hear a dozen or so drawout stories that would make your hair stand on end, followed by a statement such as, “From now on I’m playin’ where they know what they’re doin’.”). In the first six months of 2007 I played 23 times with those sharks. I booked 14 winners and nine losers, and my total profit from the game was $1163.

During the same six months I played 22 times in a 4 and 8 game with a kill, in a casino an hour’s drive from my house. The players in the casino game are for the most part tourists who have seen Hold ‘Em on television and want to try it out. To give you some idea of the quality of play: One afternoon I counted eighteen consecutive hands where four or more players called the final bet on the river. During the six-month period I booked 10 winners and 12 losers. My total profit from the game was $3384.

And I know that you sat up straight and thought, Aha! when I told you that in the weaker game I booked more losers than winners. It’s true that in the weaker game I lost more times than I won, but my profit from playing 4 and 8 with a kill against a table stacked with mostly novices was about three times my profit from the 15-30 game against a gang of pros. The lesson here is that good players give it up grudgingly if at all, while weak players play many more pots and draw unwisely and obsessively at many more hands than the sharpies. And while it’s true that you might lose fairly often in the weaker games, your wins will be much, much larger from novices than what you could dig out of the pros in any one sitting, and your profit will be many times what you could win—if indeed you could win anything at all—from a pack of hustlers. Remember, in a five-handed field AA is a strong favorite over any other individual hand, but it’s a light underdog to the field, meaning that AA will lose more hands than it will win in such a game, but in the long run the pots it wins will be many its losses in the losing hands.

Before you hear some math genius/poker wizard knocking my experiment, let me say that I understand the concept of scientific study. My six-month sampling wasn’t long enough, nor did it contain enough variation as to limits in the games and skills of the players, to establish a statistical pattern. And, in fact, I believe that my figures as to the total number of wins and losses are pretty skewed; I think that over an extended period of time my winning sessions and losing sessions against the sharpies would be about equal, and that eventually my wins among the novices would far outstrip my losing plays. But I did carry my study far enough to establish a salient point; while it may seem at times that you can never win against weak players because they don’t have the sense to fold when they should, the fact is that when you do go through a period of prosperity in the weaker games, the pot sizes will be bigger by far and the total amount you win will be much greater by far, than against the pros—if indeed against the experts you win anything at all.

So the next time you hear some poker hustler whining that he’d rather play with experts than people who don’t know what they’re doing, just grin and pat the hustler on the back and give him a string of attaboys. After all, as long as you can keep him battling the pros and leaving the easy games to you, the more money you’re going to make in the long run.

The Poker Pigeon is a pseudonym for the anonymous
pro-level player who wrote Play Poker Like a Pigeon (And Take the Money Home).
currently on the shelves, and The Education of a Poker Pigeon, coming
in March 2008.

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