Tuesday, September 13, 2011

How To Improve Your Poker Tournament Results

Mutual fundImage via WikipediaHow To Improve Your Poker Tournament Results

Let me share with you a way to improve your tournament poker results. It may change the way you think about your tournament game and how you play in your next event.

Here is a question for you:

Let's say you enter your local poker tournament. The event has 80 entrants. You start with 8,000 in chips. The blinds are 25-50. The rounds are 20 minutes. (This is a typical structure in SF Bay Area ). First place is $5,000.

It is the first hand. You have Kc-6s in the big blind. Everyone folds to the small blind. He picks up his cards to see what he holds. When he lifts his cards up, he holds them so high that you can see that he has 9h-8h.

He calls. You check.

The flop is Kd-4h-2h. You have top pair. Your opponent checks. You bet 100. Your opponent moves all-in with his flush draw. What should you do?

You state aloud. "I have to call."

You call as you are a big favorite with your top pair. The turn card is not a heart, but the river is a heart and you are eliminated. You shake your head, walk away from the table, and tell anyone who will listen about your "bad beat."

Does this sound familiar? Maybe this has happened to you?

I believe you made a mistake if you called this all-in bet. Let me explain why.

Risk in Poker: Don't Worry No Numbers Here!

When evaluating stocks in a portfolio, there are different kinds of risks that are measured to determine it's performance.

One kind of risk is market risk. This is the risk of the entire mutual fund compared to the market as a whole. Called Alpha.

A second kind of risk is specific stock risk. This is the risk that is specific to a given stock compared to the market as a whole. Called Beta.

I believe in poker, there is an analogy which will help you make the "right decision" at any point in time of an event.

Think of market risk as the "tournament risk" you are taking that uses your relative chip count and the number of chips you will win as it compares to your chances of winning the event.(Lets call this your PokerAlpha)

While specific stock risk is the "hand risk" you have or probability of winning a specific hand of poker. (Lets call this your Poker Beta).

How to Use These Risks in Poker

Lets take that poker hand where you flopped top pair and you knew your opponent was on a flush draw. Your probability of winning a specific hand of poker was very favorable--about a 66% favorite.

But, your market risk was extremely high: If you lost the hand, you are eliminated. And, you have only increased your chance of winning the event by a small margin if you win the hand.

Given this risk analysis, I believe the best decision is to fold.

Now, if you think your opponents are much better than you, you should forget about using the Poker Alpha. Just evaluate your odds of winning a specific hand and play accordingly. But, if you think you are as good or better than your opponents, consider both types of risk.

As you get deeper in a tournament, your risk assessment will change. In fact, that is why it is often best to move all-in when your stack is low relative to the big blind; for example, 10x's or less. Your tournament risk is such that it is better to make a move all-in now and take the hand risk to double-up.

Does this Poker Risk Concept Work?


I used this concept in making my poker decisions at the WSOP Main Event.

For example, on day 2, I was under the gun and raised pre-flop. Only the big blind called. I flopped top pair, and after I bet the flop, I was check raised all-in. Even though I was 90% sure my opponent was on a flush draw, I knew that losing this hand would cripple my stack. I folded.

I believed that I was one of the better players at my table and I would get these chips back. (It turned out that I won those chips back and more from that same opponent later that day.)

Does this Translate to Online Poker?


If you play online poker, your risk reward analysis is very different than a live event. Online, you may be playing multiple events and you know you can enter a new tournament in seconds. This means that the overall tournament risk is practically nil early in an online event.

I know others have written about risk in poker before, but I wanted to provide for a simpler and possibly a new way for players to understand them.

By the way, if you don't agree with this post, don't use it in your game.

Good luck!
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Anonymous said...


Another great post, as was your recent post on 10 concepts how to win a poker tournament. Not sucking up, just thanking you for sharing your knowledge with us.

Might be wrong, but it sounds like you're a financial guy, which makes sense as you were the first person I recall who called the FullTilt site a Ponzi scheme. I just read an article on Foxnews which used the Ponzi scheme reference. Sounds like Lederer and Ferguson have some some explaining to do. Wonder if more details will be released, especially info related to the other players/shareholders/board members/investors who not only had a financial interest in the business venture, but also competed on the website.

Dave said...

Thanks Mitchell -- I just won a nice little Sit'N'Go using your risk-reward advice... helped me let go of hands that I would otherwise have called with... prepared me to lose a few battles for the sake of winning the war!

Adrian said...

Interesting! I'll use it in my next online tournaments to see if it works. Seems to be in line with my poker experience.

What's Your Poker IQ?