How Prediction in Poker Should be Scientific, Part 2: WSOP Dream, WSOP Reality

Alex Rousso

In last month’s issue of Bluff Europe, I highlighted the errors the poker press commit when making predictions in poker. I promised to follow this up in part two of my article by doing some “good science” on the predictions Bluff Europe had made about some young internet guns who would be going to the WSOP for the first time.

As a story, it’s a great angle. Each year, dozens of players reach the age of 21 and thus are eligible to play in Vegas at the WSOP for the first time. The crazy thing is, plenty of them are actually veterans of the game by virtue of their internet play, and possibly also through having cashed big in events outside the US. Among their league this year was Annette Obrestad, Daniel “djk123” Kelly and Ashton “THEASHMAN103” Griffin.

Prediction is a funny animal. In the layperson’s world it works by picking just such a group of people, and if one of the “darts” hit, crowing about it, and if none do, just leaving it and moving on. In the name of being scientific, we’re not going to do that this time. We’re going to go back to that article, examine what we said about those horses, and see if it was any good.

Stage 1 – what we said

I’ll spare you a detailed list of what we said about our picks. Please refer back to the article in the June 2010 issue for more. Suffice to say, anyone of the following statements would look pretty sexy as a primer if one of these players went on to win a bracelet:

On Stephen Chidwick: “He’d like to be the youngest player to win a bracelet in one of the mixed games, and he’s working really hard towards achieving that goal.” From Jim Collopy: “I’m gearing up for this WSOP – this is big.” On Mark Randall Flowers: “many predict he’ll make a big splash this summer.” On Ashton Griffin: “I don’t want to use the term genius, because it’s a bit taboo and slightly excessive.”

You get the general idea. In short, the press sensationalise things, but as the saying goes, the papers are tomorrow’s chip wrappers. The reason it’s so important to challenge this in poker is because it’s so easy to consume all this information and believe that more people are winning, and winning larger amounts than they actually are. Being scientific is a great tonic against this sensationalism.

Stage 2 – how they performed (conventional poker media)

So let’s see how our ten picks got along. I’m going to start by showing you how they performed according to the conventional way of checking, which is to look at the databases which record players’ wins, such as the Hendon Mob website. Here is a table summarising the information available on the Hendon Mob database for our ten picks:

win (gross $)

As you can see, our picks have done pretty well. We’ve actually hit the jackpot in picking Doyle’s Room sponsored Daniel Kelly, because he won the $25k 6-max NLHE – probably the third most prestigious bracelet after the $50k players’ championship and the Main Event.

Our players managed 21 cashes between them and, buoyed by Kelly’s win, averaged over $150k in winnings at the series. I should note that these figures exclude our picks’ performances in the Main Event because I only had one sure fire way of checking how many WSOP events our horses entered, and as the main event hasn’t ended yet, these results aren’t officially posted there yet. However, I do know that of our ten horses, only Jim Collopy cashed in the main event (for $24,079 and thus 2.4 buy-ins). I presume that most if not all of our horses played the main event. However, in the interest of being scientific, because we don’t know exactly, let’s simply exclude these results from our analysis.

What I find most remarkable about these results is how decent the median performers’ results seem to be. To be sure, we can assume that Ashton Griffin, Brandon Hall, Taylor Paur and Jacob Toole were none too pleased with their showing in Vegas. But all those who scored $20-$50k gross wins – no less than half our sample – seem to have done pretty well. It sounds impressive to have come back from Vegas with $36k in tournament wins, as Stephen Chidwick did.

However, that doesn’t take into account how much these players spent on tournament entries (and for this article, we’ll exclude expenses, which for a month or two in Las Vegas can run quite high). Thankfully, for the first time this year the full gory picture is accessible. Sharkscope.com now allow you to search each player’s performance at the 2010 WSOP (excluding the Main Event, as mentioned) including their tournament non-cashes. Let’s have a look at how our ten picks did.

Stage 3 – how they performed (the full picture)

The table below shows the same results of our horses, only now it has total WSOP entries for 2010 in terms of both number of events and gross buy-in, plus their net win in dollars and number of buy-ins. I hope you find the contrast as staggering as I do. Remember that this discrepancy – between how much it appears certain live players are winning, and how much they are really winning – has existed in poker since the game began, it’s just that only now is it possible to collate the results and tabulate them.

Player Cashes Win (gross $) Entries Gross entry ($) Profit Win (gross BIs) Win (net BIs)
Stephen Chidwick 3 36,001 27 103,500 -67,499 24.0 -3.0
Jim Collopy 3 23,000 27 91,500 -68,500 9.7 -17.3
Mark Randall Flowers 2 36,089 20 56,000 -19,911 22.5 2.5
Ashton Griffin 0 - 15 167,500 -167,500 - -15.0
Brandon Hall 0 - 19 39,500 -39,500 - -19.0
Brian Hawkins 3 44,182 15 29,500 14,682 18.1 3.1
Daniel Kelly 4 1,338,609 30 178,000 1,160,609 68.0 38.0
Annette Obrestad 4 41,494 14 57,500 -16,006 15.6 1.6
Taylor Paur 1 3,875 9 18,500 -14,625 2.6 -6.4
Jacob Toole 1 2,733 16 29,000 -26,267 2.7 -13.3
Total 21 1,525,983 192 770,500 755,483 163.2 -28.8
Average 2.1 152,598 19.2 77,050 75,548 16.3 -2.9

First, let’s note that as a group, our horses are up financially. If you look at the profit column, our ten horses netted over three-quarters of a million dollars between them, and thus around $75k on average. As you can see, that is almost exclusively down to the $1.29 million profit that Daniel Kelly made with his bracelet win. Without that, our group would be seriously in the red.

There’s no question that Kelly’s win was an outlier, but it’s actually a huge outlier in dollar terms, not in terms of multiple of buy in. Looking at the last column, you can see that I’ve taken each win of our horses and divided it by the buy in of that event to give the win in net buy-ins. Kelly’s win, although big because it was in a $25k buy-in event, was actually little more than a 50 buy-in win. By contrast, Mike Ellis’ $581k win in a $1500 event was the equivalent of a staggering 388 buy-ins. In terms of cashes, I think our group has done OK (21 out of 192 events), but unfortunately with the exception of Kelly, there were no particularly deep cashes.

Annette Obrestad’s results are a case in point. She’s done staggeringly well to get four cashes out of 14 entries (in fact, she entered a total of sixteen events all summer including the main event and the WPT Bellagio, cashing in five total). As she put it herself: “I ran well to get all those cashes, but ran poorly once I got in the money.” In a certain sense we’ve picked a winner here: Annette is definitely worth all the fuss, but it’s amazing to think that someone of that quality, who posted a seemingly good set of results, actually ended up net $16k down on tournament entries, because of the lack of a deep run. Note, however, that she ended up in terms of net buy-ins.

As you can see for yourself, there are some other stories to tell. Despite our initial thought that only four horses had actually done badly, only two of them (Brian Hawkins and Daniel Kelly) returned from Vegas in profit from tournament poker. In terms of number of buy-ins, only four of our ten did so.

There were also some horror stories. DSE High Roller winner and online nosebleed player Ashton Griffin entered $167,500 worth of tournaments and didn’t cash at all. Also, despite cashing in a respectable 3 out of 27 tournaments, Jim Collopy and Stephen Chidwick both came back with big holes in their pockets. No fewer than four of ten players came back over ten buy-ins down, and on average our group was almost three buy-ins down over the summer.


For me, what’s most remarkable about this set of results is how much it reminds me of the simulation in the pre-Vegas article (from the same issue of Bluff, funnily enough) “The Vegas trip simulator.” In that article, using a spreadsheet and a set of prizes from an average WSOP event, the simulator predicted that (even very good) players will for the most part come back from Vegas a few buy-ins down, some will come back moderately up, and a lucky few will have a big win.

This seems to have been reflected in our sample. Daniel Kelly has hit the big time, Brian Hawkins has done OK, and the rest have had a Vegas trip ranging from mildly disappointing to utterly disastrous.

To repeat one thing: it’s not that these are bad players. Far from it. These guys represent the best ten players we could think of who were going to the WSOP for the first time, a really star-studded list. Yes, they may be twenty-one, but famously, Annette Obrestad has been playing since she was fifteen; Ashton Griffin has been a high stakes online pro for a number of years, and previous to his win in the WSOP, Daniel Kelly had $4.2 million in tournament earnings.

Using the old school approach of “fire a bunch of darts at the board and crow about it after the fact”, we couldn’t have done much better in “predicting” Daniel Kelly’s $1 million-plus score. However, the full outcome is somewhat different: even great players are coming back from the Series in the red. In my opinion, the scientific approach has yielded a much more interesting result.

Follow Alex Rousso’s blog at: www.nibetambassadors.com/alexrousso

This article first appeared in Bluff Europe magazine