Poker Outs – No More Cheat Sheets

One of the many things that I want to achieve as I strive to fulfil my poker potential, is a highly in-depth knowledge of the maths involved.  Being an online player for so long, I’ve just got used to taking advantage of my faceless avatar and stowed the odd cheat sheet or two just out of sight of my opponents.  The fact that I can, is however, a lame excuse for a lack of complete knowledge.

I decided last night to try and memorise my outs vs odds table to start me off.  To make sure we’re all on the same page, what I mean is for any particular number of outs, what are my odds of improving on the turn or river.   I decided that the number I should focus on (for ease of use) is what my odds are for improving on the river only.  This is ever so slightly better odds than on the turn because there is one less card in the deck.  I would normally err on the side of being conservative with estimates to make sure I stay on the right side of expected value, but in this case I think it’s balanced by the amount of times you’ll see both cards for the price of a call on the flop.

I’m now going to go through what I remember without looking at the chart.  No really, I’m not going to look.

OUTS
% OF HITTING
OUTS
% OF HITTING
1
2
12
25%
2
4%
13
27%
3
6%
14
29%
4
8%
15
31%
5
10%
16
34%
6
12%
17
36%
7
15%
18
39%
8
17%
19
41%
9
19%
20
43%
10
21%
21
45%
11
23%
22
47%

Yup, checking that over I’ve got it spot on.  At least as spot on as I was aiming for.  As you can see I’ve rounded everything down to whole numbers, to help make it easy to remember.

You might think that I’ve done pretty well to recall all that (if you believe me), especially when I tell you that I only spent five minutes committing the numbers to memory (it actually took less time than creating that table – come on wordpress, sort out your tables).  But it actually wasn’t at all difficult.

Once I rounded everything down I pretty soon noticed that the first 6 are simple – the chance of hitting is double the number of outs.  When it gets to 7 and up it’s just double and add one.  This continues until 16 when it becomes double plus 2 and then 18 it changes to double plus 3.

So all I actually remembered is that it is double the outs plus 0, 1, 2 or 3 with the changes being at 7, 16 and 18.  That’s why it only took five minutes.  Why on earth hadn’t I done that before?

  • 1 – 6  = double
  • 7 – 15 = double + 1
  • 16 – 17 = double + 2
  • 18 up = double + 3

I think that it’s this sort of simple mnemonic that is going to be the key to unlocking the maths behind poker for me.  Maybe it could be for you too.

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Cash Poker – Bankroll Management

Having very limited time to play poker tends to push you towards one particular form of poker: cash.  Tournaments are just too long, and require too much commitment.  Cash is handy because you can drop the game at any point.  It can also be good to see the same players again, which can help the build up of relevant information.

So cash it is.  I’ve never really played much no limit cash until recently (my earnings used to come from fixed limit cash which is too much of a grind nowadays), but so far I seem to be doing okay.  There is massive room for improvement, which I’m the first to admit, but I’m holding my own.  I played a cash game at a mate’s place recently, blinds at 10p / 25p, so I bought in for £25.  I cashed out at the end of the night with £125, and feeling like I deserved it.  I feel more confident face to face than online.  It’s easier to spot the fish.  But unfortunately the games just aren’t available where I live.

Online my stakes are much smaller, especially at the moment.  Coming back to the virtual felt I find myself with little more than a chip and a chair.  I had left a massive $28 spread across 3 different accounts: Pokerstars, Full Tilt and Everest (an iPoker skin).  Truth be told it was more like double that but I’ve blown the rest bombing out of a few tournaments.  Whilst the TV was on.  I mean ffs….

So what can I do with $28?!  Well, start at the beginning I guess.  Let’s say I start right down at 2c/5c.  That’s 5 buy-ins.  I guess what makes sense is to work up to $50 and then start to throw in some 5c/10c.  By the time I get to 10c / 20c I’d like to leave behind at least 20 5c/10c buy-ins, so effectively I need $220 to buy in to a 10c / 20c game.

When people talk about bankroll management they often suggest having 50 times the standard 100 big blinds buy-in at any particular level.  Well if I play at 2c/5c until I have $1,000 to step up to 5c/10c, well don’t expect great rewards any time soon.  Or my sanity to hold.  I figure the best I can do is gradually increase the buy-ins I hold as I go up the levels.  If I hit a rough streak, well I’ll have to dip into my life money.

So I guess the outcome of all that is this:

  • 2c / 5c – lowest level, will buy in regardless until I’m down to the felt
  • 5c / 10c – at least $50 (5 buy-ins)
  • 10c / 20c – at least $220 (11 buy-ins)*
  • 20c / 40c – at least $840 (21 buy-ins)*
  • 25c / 50c – at least $1,050 (21 buy-ins)*
  • 50c / $1 – at least $3,000 (30 buy-ins)
  • $1 / $2 – at least $7,000 (35 buy-ins)

*it’s a psychology thing.

Right now this seems a very long way away.  I don’t even know if I can do it.  I guess we shall find out, gradually, over the coming months.  I nearly didn’t fill that list as far down as that, but I need to realise just how much I need in my bankroll to make a proper go of this.  This little exercise seems to have helped with that quite well.

Tournament Structures: Why Turbo Poker Tournaments Are A Lottery

It’s common knowledge amongst anyone who knows anything about tournament poker, that a tournament’s structure massively affects the balance between skill and luck involved in the game.  The ‘slower’ the tournament structure is, the more the skill of each player has a chance to prevail against the natural luck involved in the game, and of course the reverse is also true.

To illustrate the point let’s have a quick look at two extreme examples, starting with the fastest.  There are tournaments on some online sites that are entirely based on luck, where each player starts with just a few chips, so few that all players are forced by the antes to go all in on the first hand.  There is absolutely no skill that any player can employ, a true lottery where the world’s greatest players would have no advantage over the world’s worst.

At the other end of the spectrum there are the world’s biggest and best tournaments, where players start with large stacks and the blinds increase slowly.  For example the World Series Of Poker main event structure provides each player with a starting stack of 30,000 chips and an initial level of 50/100, with blind levels increasing every 2 hours. You can see that this is a very ‘slow’ tournament structure allowing for as much skill as possible within the game. Luck can never be eliminated, nor should it be, but it’s tournaments like these that really allow the cream to rise to the top.

This is not a new concept to me, but I have to admit that I haven’t been paying enough attention to the structure of the tournaments that I enter.  I made a decision some time ago to generally avoid ‘Turbo’ tournaments because too much luck is involved in comparison to skill.  However I really got thinking more on the subject when recently I started playing on the iPoker network again, more specifically with William Hill.  There are Sit & Go tournaments offered across the whole network with jackpot prizes increasing weekly for winning a number of tournaments in a row.  They demonstrate the significance of the luck factor in tournaments that ramp the blinds up quickly.

Name Buy-in Entrants Wins Jackpot Consolation** Current Total***
Dirty Dozen $2+0.40 12 4 $2,000 None $2,000
Maui $5+1 10 5 $15,000 + $6,000* $200  $15,000
Craze $10+2 18 4 $50,000 None  $50,000
Rio $20+3.50 6 6 $30,000 + $10,000* $300  $130,000
Fort Knox $50+9 6 6 $50,000 + $20,000* $750  $172,500

*Jackpot prize increases by this amount after one week of not being won, and then by “incremental” amounts, whatever that means!
**Consolation prize is awarded for the same number of consecutive 1st or 2nd finishes.
*** Current total at time of posting according to the William Hill website.

Notice that the fees attached to each of the buy-ins is up to 20% compared to the usual 10%, which is what pays for the jackpot prizes.

At first glance the jackpots look almost too good to be true.  It’s clearly not going to be easy to win any of them, but a good player attacking them consistently should have a good chance, and the rewards if you manage are large.

Well even though I’m not privy to all the numbers, I can guarantee you that they work out in favour of the house. Looking at the Maui Sit & Go as an example, each buy-in includes $0.50 towards the jackpot prize of $15,000. So for the house to be even they can tolerate one jackpot winner per 30,000 buy-ins, or one string of 5 wins in a row for a single player every 3,000 tournaments. That’s what they can tolerate, but I have no doubt that a profit is made. Part of that I’m sure is simply from keeping players on the network by supplying such promotions. You also have to remember that I’ve not included the consolation prizes that they need to pay out.

Personally I still find these numbers fairly appealing. Could I get 5 wins in a row on a tournament at that buy-in? I’m fairly confident that given some time and commitment I probably could. So why am I not spending all my poker time playing these tournaments to hit the jackpot?

The answer is simple, the tournament structure. To be honest I think it’s a little deceptive. It’s not ‘turbo’ exactly and it’s not classified as such, but it can also be considered to be pretty fast. 10 players start with 1,000 chips each, with the first level blinds at 10/20 as seen below, so that’s a starting stack of 50 big blinds. That doesn’t really appear to be too fast, but then you look at the later levels.

William Hill Sit & Go Maui Jackpot Tournament Structure iPoker Network

iPoker ‘Maui’ Sit & Go Jackpot Tournament Structure

So let’s say no-one is eliminated in the first 22 minutes. The average chip stack would of course still be 1,000 chips, and the the blinds would now be 30/60, that’s an average of less than 18 big blinds. That does start to look quite quick, but still not totally terrible.

Let’s eliminate 3 people across that fourth level and the next. After that we’re at 7 players, average stack of 1,428 and going into the 100/200 level. Suddenly we’re at an average stack of just 7 big blinds each. Players are forced to draw a line in the sand and shove their remaining stacks where in other tournaments they would not. Not only is there not enough time to wait for a good ‘spot’, the game becomes far too reliant on guessing, often with no options but to fold or shove, and with very little information on what your opponent is holding.

It is the significant size of the luck element that the iPoker network force into these Sit & Go jackpot tournaments, that allows them to have such large jackpots.  From their point of view the greater the amount of luck involved, the easier it is for them to predict the number of winners across a large selection of tournaments.

So what’s the moral of the story?  If you want to become a successful tournament player it is imperative that you pay close attention to tournament structures.  Merely choosing not to play in tournaments that have been classified by the house as turbo, is not enough analysis.

I also want to stress that I am not saying that you shouldn’t play in any turbo style tournaments.  Some people like that sort of structure and choose to play super aggressive from the start.  This usually ends up in one of two outcomes, either holding a large dominating stack, or being eliminated early on before too much time has been committed. There’s nothing wrong with playing in turbo tournaments, but you must understand what you are buying in for and adapt your play accordingly.  Waiting for good cards is turbo suicide.

There are three elements that affect the speed of a tournament:

  • Size of starting stacks
  • Time between each level increase
  • The amount the blinds and antes raise with each increase

Make sure that you pay attention to each of these elements and notice the average stack size in terms of number of big blinds, as the tournaments you play in progress.

Despite everything I’ve said in this post, I’m still somewhat tempted by the prizes on offer from the Sit & Go jackpot  tournaments, particularly those with weekly increasing totals, but I don’t believe that constantly playing them is the right way to approach them.

One element that should also be considered is that when I have played in them I often feel like it’s somewhat easier to get inside the heads of my opponents.  Players can often be categorised more easily than with other tournaments.  Some players who play them regularly seem to attack them hard when they don’t have any wins under their belt, willing to gamble to put themselves in a position where they are then closer to hitting the jackpot with a more considered approach for subsequent tournaments.  If you identify who these people are and also keep a track of the tournaments that have not long finished, you can often have a big advantage over them.

As a general rule of thumb though, I’m going to be sticking to slower tournaments with particular reference to larger starting stacks.  I have found that there are many large tournaments, with several thousand entrants, that appear to have a good structure.  When I’ve run deep in them I have found that the ratio between the average stack and the blinds becomes too small, meaning that most players left are put in a position where they have very little room to outplay their larger stacked opponents, and luck becomes a greater factor in those later stages.  That’s really not something that you want when you’ve got an average stack, committed several hours to the tournament, and the money is still some way from getting interesting.

Looking at PokerStars as an example, which I am playing on most at the moment, there are many tournaments with exactly the same structure in terms of blinds, but differing in starting stacks, with either 1,500 or 3,000 chips in front of you to start.

It can seem that the difference of 1,500 between these two figures is pretty small when you compare them to the size of stacks in the later stages of a tournament.  But you have to remember that all chips stay on the tables.  So if you start tournament A with an average of 3,000 chips compared to the identical tournament B with 1,500 chips, the average stack will always be double that of tournament B, however far you look down the line, not just 1,500 more.

Serious Hard Work

After getting very excited by the arrival of Poker Tracker 4 the other night, I didn’t actually get to use it straight away.  First off I had a slight technical issue, which incidentally would have been solved a lot quicker had I just asked myself the obvious question ‘Have you tried turning it off and on again?’, and then there was some housekeeping to be done.  It took a long time to import all my data from my Poker Tracker 3 database, so much so that when I woke up in the morning I found my laptop had turned itself off with 10’s of thousands of hands still to be imported.

And then, of course, life got in the way and I didn’t manage to find an appropriate time to play any poker.  Once again I’m looking at that positively because it means I’ve been following my Golden Rules.

So long story short, tonight was the first time I could have a proper play with it.  “But wait!”, I hear my millions of dedicated twitter followers shout, “you forgot about the Nick Wealthall training!”  Ok then, I’ll get to that first.

Last night I signed up for Nick’s new monthly training program, convinced not only by his video snippets that I have been watching over the past few months, but also because the first month was free.

In all honesty I signed up for it fully believing that I would benefit from the first month and cancel before the second month, basically because it’s not cheap, but I generally am!  After my first session this evening, I think I’m in serious danger of paying him a considerable amount of money over the coming year.  That all depends on my results and my profits being enough to justify it.  I’m not going to make my mind up just yet.

Today I watched the first module video, then watched it again whilst taking notes, and watched the second module video.  The first month is entitled ‘How To Play Aggressively Pre Flop And Dominte Aggressive Players’.  I think the title speaks for itself really, doesn’t it?

So, to the poker table.  I fired up PokerStars and the Poker Tracker 4 software and decided to play a low buy-in STT (single table tournament) with a standard structure.  I took it as an experimental game, paying close attention to the techniques that Nick had been discussing.  It started very well.

It was a 9 seater table, 1500 starting stack, 10/20 for the first level.

In the first hand I was second to act with junk, so I was going to fold regardless.  The player under the gun raised, I folded as did the two players to my left.  The next player re-raised and it was folded around to the original raiser who called.  I can’t remember the flop, but that’s what the tracking software is for!  Looking now it tells me that it was a rags flop of 4d 2h 6h.  The original raiser checks and folds to the aggressor’s bet.

In the second hand I found myself with a pocket pair – 66 – and decided to raise to 80.  I would often limp in this spot hoping for a cheap flop and a third 6 to be in there.  But that’s not me anymore!  The same guy re-raises to 140 and it’s folded around to me.  At this point I’m thinking that I have no information on my opponent other than the first hand. He could easily have hit a hand bigger than mine, but my gut said he was one of those guys who likes to start out of the blocks fast. Most likely I was a small favourite to his two overcards.

I could call and hope to hit a set, but that would put me on the back foot and I’d only see that third 6 one time in every eight flops. That’s what I would often have done in the past, arguing that the implied odds were good enough for a call.  I couldn’t do that, not after the training I had just been listening to.

I could fold worrying that I was behind already or that I would be guessing too much when the flop was dealt because I didn’t know the villain’s starting hand range and I was out of position.  I didn’t want to do that either.

So the new aggressive me 4-bets to 380, representing a strong hand, especially considering I was playing out of position, and he had no knowledge of me either.  It didn’t take long for the 5-bet to come and he’d put me all in to call.  I thought for a moment and decided that the most likely hand for him to have was two overcards, leaving it at a virtual coin flip but with me just ahead.

If you look purely at the odds and assume I was right in what I thought he was holding, it’s got to be call.  However, you’ve also got to look at the fact that I would be out of the tournament on the second hand if I called and lost.  On the other hand if I fold I’m putting myself down nearly a third of my chips and leaving myself in an undesirable position early in the trounament.  That’s not me.  Not anymore.

So I call knowing that if I win I’m putting myself in a great position, and saw that I was right, he was overly aggressive with Ace Jack off suit.  Fortunately the odds stuck with me and he missed, doubling me up and giving me a dominating early chip lead.

I could have been out on the second hand but I feel like once I decided to play the hand I played it as well as I could considering the small amount of information that I had on my opponent.  Question is, should I have played 66 up front in the first place?

I went on to crush the tournament playing agressive poker, without sucking out once and I lost chips on several occasions when I had the best of it.  My only real hiccup from that point was when it was down to three players, I did drop down into last place, but not by much and I went on to win.

Until it got down to the last three and my two opponents started getting more aggressive, I felt like the table was scared of me.  I was picking up free chips all over the place, without even really attacking the blinds too much.  I lost count of how many times everyone folded to my big blind, giving me another free round.

I also ended up playing more hands than I would normally because I was finding more and more spots where I could push my opponents out without any real resistence.

Ironically I struggled a little with the Poker Tracker 4 software because everything has been moved around somewhat.  But I had enough information on my opponents from the HUD (heads up display) to help me out.  It looks like there’s so many great features on there and I can’t wait to get discover everything that it can do.  There’s lots of hard work ahead of me to study as well as to customise the tracking software to make the most of it, and then of course I’ve got to work on my bankroll.

Well, that entry certainly wasn’t supposed to take so long, but no matter, it’s Friday night and there’s still plenty of play on the tables. Now I’ve just got to decide if I want to do more experimental tournaments or grind out some cash on the fixed limit tables whilst there’s drunks and friday night fools on there.  I’ll grab a coffee to help me decide.