# The myth of the house advantage

Don’t let the title fool you, for I know quite well that in all casino games the house has a probabilistic advantage for any one play of a game. But an interesting mathematical phenomenon, sometimes named Gambler’s Ruin, suggests that precisely 50:50 odds should still make them money.

Let me sum it up in slightly more of a layman’s terms. Assume the house has infinite money (compared to an individual player, this is essentially true). If the player never quits, he’ll eventually get a down swing in his luck and lose all his money to the house. If, on the other hand, the house gets a down swing, then it will give the player some more money, just to take it back when it hits its up swing.

Mathematically, on equal odds, the player with more money has the odds to take the rest. The house has more money, so it takes the money. Believe it or not, you can’t take advantage of that by “knowing when to quit.” For every time you double your money, a fellow just like you has gone bankrupt with nowhere to go but home. And that is the story of gambling: you can’t make yourself win with “money management”1. If you can’t win with everything you’ve got, you shouldn’t be playing at all2.

1Not to be confused with “chip management” in a Poker tournament. That will in fact get you much closer to winning—but you still have to know how to play the hands.

2Unless you have some ulterior motive, which many people do. If you go to Vegas to have a good time, then you’re paying some fraction of your bankroll to have that good time. In that case, you should play with the minimum amount of money possible that will still allow you to have fun.

# New Paper

I posted a new paper today about Implied Odds. Give it a read if you’re interested in the mathematics behind no limit poker.

# Losing Presumed Not Depressing

I lost the \$50 tournament. I came in something like 15th of 22.

I’m really happy I did it. I played really well (a bad beat sent me out: straight beat by a full house). I was bluffing agressively and getting my way most of the time. But better, I had the greatest improvement in my game since learning to fold pre-flop. I’m getting reads. Lots of ‘em. Not the reads that I used to get (“he’s thinking something”), but important ones like “he likes his hand.”

It all comes from a little word of advice Eric Shapiro gave me. Don’t look at your cards until it’s your turn to act. He’d told me this before, but I figured that I wasn’t missing much by taking that split-second to see my cards. And in fact I wasn’t. But I was missing all the reads because I was busy thinking about what I was going to do. Now I can figure whether someone is just limping with crap (or raising with crap), and if so, I can steal it out without even seeing my cards. I did that a few times in the tournament, and was very proud of myself.

We played a little mini-tournament tonight, and I was sent out by ignoring one of my reads, thus proving how powerful they are. Paul limps in with me after a long stare at his chips. This is his tell, and I knew he had something very nice right then. The flop comes, Q high, and I have a pair of 7s. I had gotten so little action, and I figured he didn’t have the queen, so I pushed in. He called without a wink, and showed down not one, but two queens. And I knew it. Even if he didn’t have trips, I knew he had a big pocket pair, better than my 7s. Grr, stupid Luke.

I’m overall very happy with the direction my game is heading. Now I need to get a job to fund the game.

# Outfitting and Poker

That \$50 buy-in poker tournament I was talking about happens tomorrow. First place gets \$600 and a shiny case of 1500 poker chips (so I’m told). We start with 650 chips and blinds start at 5/10. Blinds go up every time four people go out of the tournament, but I’m hoping to negotiate a fixed-time round scheme, 30 or 45 minutes.

I’m working on my bluffing, and in order to do that, I’ve got to get respect at the table. So, I went out and spent \$30 on a sharp corduroy outfit with a baret that I can use to hide my eyes. If I think I really need to throw them off, I have a chinese bamboo hat (can’t seem to find what these are called) which hides my whole face, and better yet, looks really weird.

My plan is to essentially sit out the first two rounds of the button and figure out what I’m up against. I’m hoping it’s the usual low-stakes assortment: the calling-stations, the pushovers, and the over-agressors. I’ll have to watch for good players, because the way I play them is very different from how I play the other types. It seems that we have plenty of time, so I can play tight and I won’t have to gamble a lot. I hope I can just sit back and go trapping, but that depends on how tight the competition is.

This is much bigger money than what I’ve ever played before, so it should be a good experience anyhow.

# Poker Winnings

I won two of the four tournaments tonight at the poker club (I guess it’s a club now). A \$1 and a \$5 (while losing a \$1 and a \$5). That puts me, let’s see, \$18 up. Both times I went heads up with Drew, formerly the only one who could play me without luck (that is, I consider Namaste, Metz, and Clif to be about on my level—though with vastly differing styles).

Drew plays looser than I do, when I’m in the right state of mind. Not much looser though. He bluffs me out a lot pre-flop, and occasionally when I’ve made it clear through my tells that I’ll fold. But he won’t bluff me out of the bigger hands. On the other hand, he seems quite ready to give me the pot when I go over the top.

He’s a very smart player though. I suspect next week he’ll have a new surprise for me that I’ll have to figure out to win. For instance, he’ll take his reads on me to another level (that’s what he’s got on me: he can read me much better than I can read him, but I killed him mostly with complex mechanics).

On a related note, I accepted a \$50 buy-in tournament that Namaste told me about. The host expects 16 people, probably amounting to a \$400 payoff for first. In order to win this, I’m going to have to step back and concentrate on my strengths: pure tight agressive play with the occasional well placed bluff (that could be advertizing: I’m good at advertizing). If I start bluffing too much, say, 5 times per tournament :-), I lose because I’m an aggressive bluffer. I should play online and work on winning every sit-and-go tournament I play.

# Shiny New Chips

Back on Wednesday, our car was broken into while my mom was on a hike. We lost approximately \$500 worth of stuff, \$50 of which included my Poker chips for Friday night Poker with my friends. But my school had recently paid me \$475 extra in financial aid for books and such, and I only spent \$100 on books. And we’re hoping that our insurance will pay the \$500 we lost.

Here I am with \$375 and no Poker chips (no expensive car stereo either, but I can live for a little while without that… I think). I head down to It’s Your Move, the local games store, and pick up a brand new set of 500 chips for \$100. Five colors, which is better than the three I had before (1, 5, 25). We’re thinking of making them (1, 5, 10, 25, 100). Now maybe we can start a tournament with 1,000 instead of 100 chips, and start the blinds at 5/10. Then betting a tenth of our stack doesn’t sound like a wimpy “10”, but instead a powerful “100”. It makes no difference technically, but I think it will significantly tighten up our playing style.

# Poker Crap

I got my first long run of really bad cards today. Indeed, I’ve before had a run of cards that induce bad beats, but today I played two tournaments and got a total of two (2) hands (of probably around 200) worth calling by low limit standards. If I did get a high card, it was always accompanied by a low offsuit kicker. The first good hand was JJ, in which I put out a little bet pre flop and people folded all the way around. Oh boy, I stole the blinds. Again. The second was KQoff, with which I went all in pre flop against AJoff. He flopped an ace without even a patronizing king, and the rest of the hand was low crap. He won, I was out of the tournament.

I went from an encouraging \$25, rebuilding my bank from my deposit of \$40, to a pathetic \$6.25. So I’ve stopped for the day, declaring it a drab piece of shit, and hoping that another day I’ll play a \$5.00 tournament and win (I win those pretty often, actually). Ugh. That sucked.

# Jabbertalky

Just did my Low Limit Texas Hold’em speech in speech 101 today. I thought I did pretty well, but the evaluators didn’t. Out of the three evaluators, 30 graded points, I got only two fives (scale of 1 to 5). Nuts.

I gave everybody at least a couple fives, because there were things that each person did really well. But sometimes people are afraid to give “perfect” scores. I did get a lot of fours.

I agree with what they were saying. It was a 7 minute speech, and there were 15 or more minutes worth of content, which I think was my greatest flaw. One person noticed that. I had to hurry a little, and I couldn’t define (and redefine) my terms very well because of the 7 minute maximum.

On the other hand, it came across really well to the couple of people who had experience with Poker. I even recruited a fellow (Clif) to our poker night. He plays \$100 buy-in tournaments once a month, so I wonder whether he’s better than us. He probably is. That’ll be good. If not, even better, because he obviously carries cash. :-)

# 2 for 4

Well, I’m 2 for 4 on 10 player tournaments online1, which amounts to \$30 up (well, minus all the money I lose playing tables :-). In the tournament I won today, I encountered the best player I’ve ever had to face in a \$5 buy-in game.

By the time it was just the two of us, I had 6000 and he 4000, or so. The resulting heads-up match lasted over an hour. I was the bully through most of the game, and I continued to play that role for the first part of the face off. Quite naturally he tightened up and whaled on me once for 3000, putting us at 4000 and 6000. We traded positions a few times.

The reason I had trouble beating him is because he was so versatile. If I played the bully, he would play his good hands and just call me to the river and take the money. When I figured this out and stopped betting when he called, he would start pushing me around. The way I finally beat him was waiting for a good preflop hand and forcing a huge decision on him right then. Eventually he took it, and was outdrawn.

However, I found much more satisfaction in beating him than I would have just pushing over one of the usual tight-passive players.

That’s an interesting point about this poker site. Most of the people who play in tournaments and get anywhere are tight passive, while the people that play at the tables are much looser. I’ve learned not to bluff at the no limit table players, because there’s always someone who will call. But the tournament players will usually just give me their blinds at the blink of an eye.

Oh yeah, and I’m not playing limit anymore. It’s no fun compared to the depth of no limit… well at least at the limits I can afford.

1 The name of the site has been removed because they blog-spammed me.

# Tisonnier

I finally beat my friends at poker for the second time :-). I’ve been doing a lot of studying recently, and it’s paid off. I’ve read two books on poker, and I’ve been playing online a bit.

I’m truly fascinated with how versatile a game it is. Limit poker is, in many respects, opposite from no-limit and pot-limit. Obviously, they both emphasize computing odds, but limit poker is about pot-odds while no-limit is about implied odds, two very different beasts. And no-limit has a huge emphasis on bluffing, while in limit it is usually wrong to bluff.

And I’m only talking about Texas Hold’em. Omaha Hold’em is vastly different, where you have to expect your hand to go somewhere by the end, and betting on the best hand at the moment (as you sometimes do in Texas) is a big mistake. And then there’s 7 card stud, which I still have no idea how to play :-).

And I’m pretty close to the point where playing online isn’t costing me anything: that is, it’s returning about \$5 per hour, certainly more than most games I like, and worth my time for something I enjoy doing.