13/04/2009

A Question of Expected Value (EV)

Carl Sampson 'The Dean'

Every experienced poker player should be more than aware of the sheer number of complex variables that are inherent within the game even if they don’t understand them. If they are not then they have missed a trick with regards their poker education. With poker if you assume that nothing is ever as straight forward as it seems then you will be on the right track.

This is why you should never stop working on your game. I don’t really see how anyone can stop working when poker is evolving as rapidly as it is. In fact it is only within the last few months that I have introduced Nash solutions and Neuro Linguistic Programming techniques into my game.

One of those factors that I believe isn’t as straight forward as many people make it is the concept of EV. Calculating EV is something that as a blackjack player you do automatically. But I have long maintained that maximising EV is not the primary objective for millions of poker players.

I am also referring to players who desire to make money and not just recreational players here either. Actually before I go any further I feel that I have to mention that all successful experienced players should stop reading now and go and do something else because this article isn’t designed for you. But it makes me laugh when I get negative comments about this topic from players who are assuming that I must be missing something if I believe that maximising EV isn’t critical.

In many cases I was utilising these concepts playing blackjack years before they even new what the hell it was. But maximising EV unfortunately means increasing variance and variance in all its different disguises just happens to be one of the most serious obstacles for any new player to have to overcome. I have always said that if you could offer two contrasting styles of play to a novice player, one which made him $3k a month with huge swings and the other $2k but with hardly any then they would be better off earning the 2k.

The problem with novice players is that they have no experience and I call someone a novice until they have rode a really bad negative run. Most people who play poker are strangely risk averse to a large extent and no one enjoys losing money. People are seduced by the lure of poker and the thought of playing it for a living or as a serious second income but yet have no mental strength to be able to ride the losses and the beats.

Variance causes players to doubt the very way that they play poker and when the runs are bad enough, can drive novice players into packing the game in totally. I am convinced that there are millions of poker players out there who could have made the game pay had they not experienced losses during the early days which led to a fear of actually playing.

Someone who had a cavalier outlook to risking money would think that I was totally off my trolley when suggesting that a player should look to reduce EV. In no way am I suggesting playing like a super nit, but there are many situations in poker where you can make the marginally –EV play in order to dramatically reduce your swings.

In fact it was while watching a CardRunners video by Taylor Caby that I got the genesis of an idea that I started late last year to try and produce a low variance multi-tabling deep stacked system for NL50 full-ring games. It has always been my belief that literally anyone can play poker for a “living”. How you define “living” is subjective and would differ from one person to another.

But I am sure that $2000-$3000 a month would be comparable with many peoples current incomes but yet this is much more easily achievable than many players realise. Actually for anyone who may be interested in following my progress in trying to prove that an absolute novice can make a living from poker very quickly then you can read my updates on my blog at www.pokersharkpool.com

At the higher end of the spectrum then of course EV is everything but as Checkov alluded to this week, we are also entering into dangerous territory with regards poker coming very close to becoming a solved game. The use of Nash solutions has gone a long way towards doing that. A combination of rake and tougher players has left many areas of the online game exceptionally tough to beat even for the very dedicated and game selection is life and death these days.

However as a novice/intermediate player, if you can limit your ambitions to playing low-stakes then you can get away without game selecting and certainly on certain sites and still make money. So the bottom line is that for millions of poker players, there needs to be a trade off between EV and variance until the correct balance is located for that particular individual.

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