The Poker Lab Rat

July 11, 2010

Part I: How Mike Caro Got Eliminated From The World Series Of Poker

Filed under: General Blog Rant,Mike Caro,pro tips — Mike @ 7:42 pm

Mike CaroI’m going to share a hand with you. It is an actual hand I played in the main event at this years World Series of Poker. You need to know that poker tournaments are not my favorite things. I don’t play many. My reasons are these:

Tournament complaint one.

There are just too many people to beat. The popularity of tournaments in recent years has meant that a great many have fields of competitors exceeding 300. Some have fields exceeding 500.
What does this mean to us? If you’re much better than your typical opponents, aren’t you going to win often regardless of the number of competitors? That depends on what you mean by often.

First, let’s get something out of the way. I’m an egomaniac. I know it and you know it. I think I’m the best player in the world, but you’re welcome to doubt, snicker, or scoff and assert that it’s really someone else. Maybe it’s you. Fine. The point is this: A good estimate is that against a typical field of mostly experienced opponents, the BPITW will win no more than three times his or her “fair share” of tournaments, through infinity.

Don’t panic. I’m going to explain what I mean. If there are 300 players in a tournament and everyone is equally skilled, then pure dumb luck will determine the winner. Skill is not a factor, because everyone has the same skill, so it all cancels out. In that case, each player would have exactly one chance in 300 of winning. But I’m saying that, in reality, skill does matter in a tournament. It matters a lot, and the very best players can expect to win three times that one-in-300 share. That’s a genuine Mad Genius estimate, and it means one win in 100 tournaments.

That’s profitable, and it suggests – assuming other factors break down equally, for simplicity – that you will have a 300 percent return on investment. In other words, if you enter a no-rebuy tournament for $500, your theoretical cash-out value is $1,500, and you’ve earned a $1,000 profit.

What’s wrong with that? I didn’t say anything actually was wrong with it, and I enjoy tournaments. That’s why I play them occasionally. It’s just that, even if I entered 10 times as many tournaments in a year as I do now, I wouldn’t be able to prove my skills to anyone’s satisfaction. I would need to be very lucky to win enough tournaments to sound any alarms in the heads of opponents.

Some players enter 250 events a year. Depending on the size of the fields, an experienced player of average skills, devoting full time to tournaments and forsaking all else, can expect to win anywhere from zero to four times in a year. The average will be about one win, but many years could pass without a single trophy. Think about that.

Yet, we know somebody is going to get lucky, and you’ll see that name much more often than you’d expect to over a period of a year or two, or even longer. Because poker is a game of skill, those stand-out names are much more likely to belong to the better players. But sometimes, due to random luck fluctuations, the repeat winners are just average players, or sometimes worse than average.

Put simply, if you’re planning to compete on the tournament circuit, willing to forego all else in your travels and in your pursuit of trophies, hope to get lucky. Otherwise, the drought may seem like forever.

Tournament complaint two.

But here’s the real reason I am unhappy with tournaments. In a winner-take-all tournament, your strategy is pretty simple: Play your best regular game. That’s the very same game you’d play if you were not in a tournament. While there may be a few minor adjustments you’ll make, most of these will be because of how your opponent’s play tournaments. No adjustments will be monumental, and playing your best regular game gives you the greatest chance at the trophy.
OK, but what about proportional prize pools? These are the norm in tournaments today, and this means that first place will earn a certain percent of all the buy-ins, typically 40 percent or less. Second place may get 20 or 25 percent, and so on.

Well, a semi-terrible thing happens in these proportional-payoff tournaments. Namely, a strategy designed to take first place is not the most profitable. This amazes folks who haven’t thought about, but is obvious upon examination. In order to win the tournament, you need to gather everyone’s chips. You need to win them all.

Fine. But then what? Then you have to give most of them back so that the close finishers who you just conquered can be happy. Of course, you don’t really give them the chips, but you do give them the largest share of the prize pool. Same thing.

When this happens, your best strategy is to decline to play some of your profitable, but risky, hands and opt not to make some of your profitable, but risky, raises. That’s because that stretch-it-to-the-limit “profit” isn’t really worth the risk, when you have to give most of it back if you win first place.

OK, so we’ve determined that the best tournament strategy is not to play your best everyday game in a proportional payoff tournament. But, it’s still fair to everyone, right? Wrong! It’s not fair to the people who prize winning first place more than anything else. After all, originally tournaments were about winning the trophy. And the best strategy designed to win the trophy is often a losing strategy in terms of long-range tournament profits. That’s why I have mixed feelings about most tournaments. I want the trophy; and I want to play for it. Why should I have to take the worst of it financially to pursue the trophy?

Players from around the World incl USA are safe and welcomePart II of this poker rant from Mike Caro will be posted soon….
If you’re USA-based, play and chat with top professionals online at Bookmaker Poker or BetOnline Poker.

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