Introduction to Poker Theory Part 1

The following content is provided under a Creative Commons license. Your support will help MIT OpenCourseWare continue to offer high quality educational resources for free. To make a donation or to view additional materials from hundreds of MIT courses, visit MIT OpenCourseWare at KEVIN DESMOND: All right, everyone. So welcome to 15.S50, Poker Theory and Analytics. So this is going to be Monday, Wednesday, Friday from 3:30 to 5:00. I just got a room for a review session on Tuesday, Thursday for anyone who needs to catch up a little bit.

The class is here, 4370. I’m Kevin Desmond. I’m going to be the instructor. Paul Mende is the faculty advisor. And this is worth three H credits. The game play aspect– so this is what I did. And I think this is really cool. So Poker Stars gave us our own private league for only MIT people in this course. And my goal here is to separate people who are fairly new from people who are very competitive, because I don’t want someone not to pass the course because they happen to be not that great at poker. So I created this thing called the Beginners’ League. And these are going to be Daily Turbos. Turbos means they’re fast-ish tournaments.

And to get the game play credit, you can cash, you can make money in one of them, or you can play in 10 of them. So those who are struggling can get this game play credit by playing 10 tournaments, which is about a 10-hour commitment. Let’s go into the game play aspect more. So Poker Stars created this private league for us, which is really cool. So Poker Stars is generally considered the most reputable online poker site. That’s why we use them. So they have two different types of games. So they have real money and play money games. Now if you’re in the US, you can’t do real money.

It used to be something that was very gray area. And then there was one poker site which turned out to be legitimately like a Ponzi scheme, and as a result, now poker in the US is like much more black and white, definitely not OK for real money. However, their play money scene is pretty resilient, and that’s what we’re taking advantage of here. The Poker Stars play money scene is broken down into two different things. They have public games, where you can just go and play for play chips against anyone in the world, which is cool. And you can do that, and I recommend you give it a shot just to get used to the software. In addition, you could do home games, which is what we’re generally going to be doing. That’s what they call their private leagues.

So in the private leagues, in their home games, they have this showcase. And you might notice as soon as you log in that the MIT League, Poker Theory and Analytics, is already at the top. That’s not just for us. That’s for everyone. Anyone in the world who logs into Poker Stars and looks at home games has the MIT League at the top, which I think is really cool. So to access this, I’ll send a more specific instructions later. I gave you guys just the passcode of what you need.

But to actually get there, what you need to do is, you log into Poker Stars. You go to this button, which is a little house, to access home games. And then you want to join a game. And what you do is, you put the Club ID, which is 557832. You put the invitation code, which you’re all going to have on Stellar. And then you put your real name, preferably the one that’s listed in the course, because I actually have to approve everyone that joins the league, and I can’t do it just based on someone’s screen name. And I guess you have to agree to some sort of terms and condition

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So let’s talk about hand history. So a lot of analytics are going to be based off of hand histories, which are just text files that Poker Stars gives you to the extent that you indicate that you want to save them down. So these are kind of jumbled messes of text. Each line just shows one thing that happens. And you might get used to reading it, or might not, depending on how much you’re going to scrutinize it. But more importantly, you can use these in all the data analytic programs that we’re going to use. In particular, Poker Tracker runs off of that.

You’ll load just thousands of hands into Poker Tracker, and it’ll do analytics for you. It knows exactly what’s going on based on that format, which is generally considered universal. And then for the sake of visualizing these hands– if you just read it, that’s fine. But then if you want to show other people, I’m recommending we use something called the Universal Hand History Replayer, which is something that’s free. And what it does, it just reads the hands, and it plays them. It animates what happened as if you were seeing it for real. So the deal with hand histories is, if you’re a real money player, Poker Stars dedicates databases of hand histories so that, if you want, you can request all your hand histories at any time. For play money players, they let you capture your own hand histories if you want, but they definitely don’t save them.

So the reason I’m showing you this now, and I’m going to email it out to you later, is if you lose your hand histories, so you don’t capture them in time, you’ll never get them back. So make sure you’re actually capturing hand histories, because we’re going to be using that for a lot of the analysis we do. OK, so let’s talk about the league. And honestly, I think this league is going to be really cool. Usually the evolution of a player is they’re terrible at poker, and then they start becoming good at playing against bad people. And then when they actually start playing for real, they get crushed again because they’re used to playing against other bad people. So this will actually hopefully get you used to playing against other people who are playing correctly, which is not something you can commonly learn just from playing around with your friends.

In addition through playing in these online leagues, you can collect stats that you could never get from playing live. And I think this is why the live tournament scene is dominated by online pros. It’s because no live pro can get as many hands or analyze their play in the way that you can do online. It’s not even comparable. So this is given– even if your whole intention is to only play live the entire rest your life, doing this type of analytics would give you a chance to learn at a much faster rate and learn things that you would never see live. So every week we’re going to have a major tournament, which is basically going to be the same structure, maybe a little bit slower, than the ones we do daily, except they’re going to have real prizes.

So Akuna is giving us, for their first tournament, Beats headphones. And Apple TV, Bose speakers and a lot of gift cards. And then for their second tournament, they’re giving us all of those things plus an iPad Air and an iPad Mini. But we’re not done yet. Because this class is focused on playing live, we’re going to end the class with a live tournament sponsored by Optiver on the 31st, which is the day after the last day of the class. So after the league’s over, and after you guys are good at poker, you’ll have an opportunity to play each other in a live tournament, where their prize pool is all of the Akuna prizes, plus a PlayStation 4, plus an iPad, plus a Kindle, and plus a GoPro.

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I want this to reflect the type of things an online, multi-table tournament player would do. How it normally works is, during the week, and basically every single day, there is a uniform amount of tournaments that will just run every single day at the top of the hour. And these pros will just grind those out. They’ll get used to the structure. And that’s where they’ll kind of grind their teeth. And then on the weekends, that’s when you get a lot of the square money, a lot of the newer guys who only play poker on the weekend. And those are more gimmicky, idiosyncratic tournaments, but also the highest value. So that’s why I’m producing the tournament structure like this, where the bulk of your tournaments will be very similar to each other.

But then the tournaments that really matter will be completely different, at least relatively different. So that’s why I’m doing that. That’ll make you get a feel for what these guys have to go through. So let’s talk about turbos. Turbos let you focus on pre-flop decisions, which are the area where I think there is the most to learn among people who are new at poker. Basically, all of your value that you’re losing in tournament is from screwing up pre-flop. No one gets that right live because it’s really difficult to be able to feel comfortable doing what’s generally considered right. And we’re going to spend a lot of time on pre-flop. But these turbos encourage you to do that sort of thing, because live is a lot of pre-flop, and you’re going to be doing that in the turbos online, too. In addition, no one wants to spend six hours doing a tournament.

I’m making these turbos so you can be in and out in 45 minutes. And then you boot up another tournament, or you can be done with poker for that night. In addition, you have the opportunity– you can play as many tournaments as you want. It’s common for pros to do something called multi-tabling which is they’ll do multiple tournaments at the same time. For the beginners, I’d probably recommend you just do one. But for the regular league, have at that. you want to do like all four tournaments at the same time, go ahead, to the extent that they overlap with each other a little bit. OK. So that’s the end with the prize league. So the schedule is, we’re going to go through what I’m calling basic strategy, which are the basic axioms that we’re going to be using in order to analyze the decision making process in poker. Then we’re going to be doing pre-flop analysis. And we’re going to be doing a lot of this, because this is really where the value add is going to be, is getting this right. I think the way that we can tackle this thing is kind of a way I recommend that you learn anything complicated. So we’re going to break this down into three different sections. Fundamental concept, practice, which are actually implementing those concepts when you have 10 seconds to make a decision, and then more advanced stuff. With regard to concepts, I’m going to call this the basic framework for decision making. It’s being unexploitable. You want to get to the level when you sit down at a table, every pro in the room doesn’t turn and go, I want to sit at that guy’s table. You want to be a slightly winning player way before you want to become a huge winning player. In order to let you know the type of thing that we’re learning, I’m going to label the slides with this, to indicate that this is like a basic concept. Learn this thing before you move on. The advanced stuff is, once you learn how to do things– which how to do things is pretty broad– we’re going to learn minor adjustments that we can do to get quite a bit of extra money, like how to grind out that additional half big blind an hour out of our opponents. So any real deviations from what we normally do, in addition to meta game. Meta game is always fun, like anything not related to the hand to hand decision making process, like table selection, or bankroll management, or deciding whether or not to play. That stuff is really fun, and that’s to be indicated by this ace here. OK. So I’m going to label those slides for anything that’s considered advanced, and stuff you should only really do when you get the concepts down. And then a lot of this class is going to be focused on practice, which is how to actually implement these concepts on a day to day basis when you’re actually playing, especially live. We are not going to have all the information. We’re not going to have calculators, and we’re not going to have that much time to make a decision. So how to apply these in real time, making rules of thumb, figuring out what you can just ignore and what you have to definitely do, and then some the psychology stuff related to actually performing live is going to be what I’m calling practice, which is going to be indicated by that poker chip with a P in it. Let’s talk about what I’m bringing to the table here. So this course is primarily going to be from my perspective. And the decisions about what I’m going to teach you here, and the value calls I’m making, is going to come from what I consider the appropriate way for someone to play poker. So my background is that I was an online multi-table tournament grinder, not because I was a great pro, but because I sat more than I played. I was definitely a person who did not play every single tournament. I told you the World Series of Poker has like 25 different tournaments. 10 are Texas Hold’em. And then they have an Omaha tournament, and a horse tournament, which is a combination of five different games. And what is common is that any pro who plays one plays them all. I consider that ridiculous for someone who’s actually interested in making any sort of money or career playing poker. So I’m definitely someone who prefers identifying value and monetizing it. So anyway, that’s the perspective that I’m going to be teaching this course from. I like ROI.

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