Introduction to Poker Theory Part 2

It’s a great efficiency metric. Usually you try to maximize your ROI up until the point where it’s below some sort of hourly that you set for yourself, because one of the ways you supplement ROI is by moving down in stakes. Usually lower stakes are easier games. You should have a higher win rate. But that win rate’s multiplied by a much lower number. So usually you’re going to move around in stakes until you have a good ROI, but hopefully above what you consider your lowest amount that you can feel comfortable earning. In addition,

I want to focus on live tournaments because who knows what’s going to happen to online? Whereas I think live tournaments are very social, they’re very public. Everyone knows who wins live tournaments. So I’m going to teach in a way such that focuses on these types of values. OK. So let’s move on to some of the concepts and tools that we’re going to learn. So we’re done learning about what we’re actually going to be doing during this class. So let’s learn a little bit about poker.

So first thing is, we’re going to be using PokerTracker a lot. So I’m going to email out exactly how to install this thing. PokerTracker has donated 115 licenses to their product for us. And then our next lesson, on Wednesday, is going to be Joel Fried teaching us how to use this thing and going through some of the analytics. So one other thing that I like using is the Universal Replayer. And what this thing does is it just visualizes hand histories. So you’ll feed it a hand history in a text file. It animates it. It probably does other things, but it’s free. And this thing’s been around for a while. I’ve not even sure if it’s supported anymore. But it’s a thing that I’m used to.

So this is what it looks like. So you give it a hand, and then it reproduces what you might have seen if you actually played that hand. So let’s move on to a concept. So stack size. So this might seem fairly simple, but we ought to make sure we’re talking about the same thing when we go through this. So your stack size, it’s the value of the chips in front of you. So that’s fairly normal. But we have this thing called effective stack size, which is what we’re usually going to be talking about when we refer to stack, which is the minimum of your stack or the next biggest stack after you.

And the way to think about this is the number of chips you could possibly lose in this one hand. That’s what your relevant stack size is. And the way you make decisions will depend on your effective stack much more than anything else. So an example of this would be, say you’re in a heads up situation where you’re the hero here on the small blind. Big blind has, whatever, 300 chips. And you have some amount of chips with queens. So if you have 1,500 chips, and so does he– say blinds are like 10/20– you have, what, like 50 times the blinds combined here. So this is a pretty different hand than aces. Why? So say that you raise with queens, and then he raises you.

So you raise to 60, he raises you to 200, you raise to 600, and he pushes to 1,500. Your queens are probably not really that good anymore. It matters how many chips you have here. However, if you have 300 chips, you raise with queens, and then he pushes over, you can’t fold that. You might as well have aces, and it makes your hands, the way you play hands, materially different. That’s why chip size matters in general. When the chip stack is low, you’re playing these two hands basically identical. You’re saying– you’re just playing this range. However, when we’re talking about effective chip stack, it’s the same thing, where even if you have 1,500 and he has 300, if you raise, he’s going to push. You don’t have the opportunity to do that back and forth anymore. So you might as well have 300 with regard to your decision making here. That’s why we’re looking at the effective stack, because it really matters who has the least number of chips, because that determines when the action is going to be over.

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So really, I like this definition the most, the most amount of chips that you can lose in the hand. It’s a lot more, I think, simple to think about than this min formula. OK. And then we’re almost always talking about effective stack. Let’s talk about Dan Harrington. So Dan Harrington is a player whose style I very much like. His nickname’s Action Dan, which the consensus is, he just kind of gave himself, because he’s considered Mr. Fundamental, like tight aggressive ABC player.

So this playing style, this temperament, tight aggressive, is something that is used to characterize basic playing styles. So let’s quickly go through what those are. So there are two different axes here. There’s how often you bet, where bet means you are raising the stakes, so either you bet or you raise. And then here’s how often you call. Either you call a lot or you call not that much. You can get a good feel for the type of person someone is by what box they fill in. So these have names. So someone who’s tight aggressive, you would just refer to them as Tag, which is like what Dan Harrington is. You bet when you have good hands and you fold when you have bad hands. Another possibly winning strategy is loose aggressive, Lag, where you certainly bet when you have good hands, but you will see a lot of cards before you’ll give up on a hand. You’re definitely willing to call a lot. These, type passive, are not pronounceable words, so the community generally came up with different words to describe these.

So a tight passive person is weak. They’re someone who you can completely run over, because they fold when they have a bad hand, they check when they have a good hand. I guess they would be called rocks. You never need to worry about having a big losing night against these guys. So someone who’s type passive is generally considered playing sub-optionally. And then the loose passive people are described– this icon, which I forget what it’s from. I think it might be from an old version of PokerTracker, or maybe it was on Party Poker or something. But everyone loved seeing this icon which you could label people as, because a loose passive person is what? They are a calling machine. That’s what that stands for, and it means that when you have a hand, they will call all of your bets. You will extract value out of them.

But when they have a hand, they’re OK with letting you look at your draws to make a decision about whether by the river you have a hand or not. There’s virtually no way that these guys are making money in poker. I think it would be, like over a realistic sample size, there’s no type of player who could fit in this quadrant and be good enough on any other metric to actually be making money in poker. So in general how we look at this is, we would call this Tag guy solid ABC. That’s what I’m recommending you guys play as. Tag players, as a quadrant, are going to be the biggest winners. Lag players, someone who’s very aggressive and plays a lot of hands, could possibly be a pretty good winner. It depends on the type of game, and then their opponent and their ability to pick spots. But there are a lot of big Lag winners.

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There are not a lot of big weak winners. And there are not a lot of calling machines, loose passive players, who are not big losers. So anytime you see– this is a definition of someone who’s a complete fish, a huge donater to the game. And your ability to recognize this type of thing will help you find good games to play, when you see someone doing this kind of thing. Anyway, back to Action Dan. So Dan Harrington is a pretty good poker player. He’s been around the block. He won the main event back in 1995, when it had, like, 300 people in it. He has two World Series of Poker bracelets and one World Poker Tour title. But anyway, so Harrington popularized this thing called the M-ratio, which was invented by someone else. So the M-ratio was invented by this guy Paul Magriel, who’s a backgammon theorist, apparently one of the best backgammon players in the world, commentator for the WSOB, World Series of Backgammon, and eight WSOB final tables.

Anyway, so he’s supposedly really, really good at math, even by MIT standards. But he invented this thing called the M-ratio, but then it never caught on until Harrington started doing it. All right, so Harrington’s M-ratio is your effective stack divided by the sum of the blinds and the empties. So you’ll hear people talk about, like, oh, I had 10 big blinds, or 15 big blinds or whatever, to talk about their chip stack. But that has a fundamental problem. It has a lot of different problems.

One is, it doesn’t tell the story. So the usual blind levels are like 1/2 or 2/4, where the big blind is just twice the small blind. So that’s the assumption. But if you’re at a blind level that’s like 1/3 or 3/5, the number of big blinds you have is not indicative of anything. It’s not indicative of how many hands you can see, or how much you care about winning a pot pre-flop. So using the blinds is bad, in addition to, once you start having, like, if you’re 50/100 blinds and you have an ante of 25, you have basically half the stack you had before, in realistic terms. Just to get big blinds doesn’t, in fact, earn antes at all. And that’s a major problem referring to it like that. So using M seems to make a lot more sense. So what it is, is it’s basically the percentage of your stack that is the blinds in the ante. So it’s like how many rounds of poker you can survive if you just fold every single hand. Of course, you’re not going to do that.

Although I think that’s what he’s actually getting at, because he uses M to refer to when you have to make a move, which is not generally how I recommend you do it. I think it’s more important, because it means how important the blinds are to your stack. The only reason anyone plays any hand of poker is because someone wants to win the blind. So even if you have kings, to some extent, if you could win the blinds, 99% of the time you would just do that. You don’t really all the time want someone to go up against you. So the blinds are really driving the decision making process, at least pre-flop. And the percentage that those blinds are of your stack matter a lot. If they’re 1% of your stack, if your M is 100, the blind basically don’t matter at all. Whatever happens after the blinds is going to materially impact your decision. Where if your M is 2, and the blinds are half your stack, winning those seems really important. You should do whatever you can to kind of maximize your chance of winning that. So that’s why M is a good ratio here. And then, in addition, for tournaments, it makes it much easier to talk about hands without having to worry about all the different parts of the tournament life cycle. If you have 1,500 chips and it’s 50/100 blinds, you can basically make the same decisions as if you have 10 times as many chips at a level that’s 10 times as high blinds.

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You could just divide in your head and basically make the same decision. You don’t need to worry about doing anything different as a result of having more chips. So Harrington invented or brought up a bunch of other things that never really caught on. He invented a thing called the queue ratio, which is your stack size divided by the average stack size in the tournament. So I guess you might use this to get an idea of how far behind you are in the tournament. Like if your queue is 5, you don’t need to be that aggressive. But if your queue is .2, you have a lot of catching up to do before you’re realistically going to be anywhere near the money. I don’t really make decisions based on that.

I think the community doesn’t. So it never really caught on for anything. I’ve never actually heard anyone use that. So he came up with this thing called effective M, which makes sense, if you look at M from his perspective. Effective M, it’s your M divided by– you multiply by how shorthanded your table is. And it gives you the equivalent of the number of 10-handed tables you could survive. It just means that, say you have 10 Ms, you could survive 10 rounds of blinds. If you have three people at your table, you can’t survive for another like six hours because you actually pay the blind every other hand. That’s what effective M is doing. It reduces your M proportionally. Since he’s looking at this from the perspective of when you need to start making moves, it kind of makes sense that your M would be reduced if you’re shorthanded. But I look at M from the perspective of how valuable it is in terms of blinds. So I don’t really use that. I don’t know anyone who really uses effective M either. But he invented them, and maybe they’ll catch on eventually. So I think that’s going to be done for today. Thanks, everyone, for a good first lecture.