Get It Quietly

Football, bollocks and a bit of poker if you're lucky.

Location: Enfield, London, United Kingdom

Monday, October 11, 2004

Structure Schmucture

All of a sudden the Mob forum has gone structure-mad. I've been trying to stay out of it because it's not really any of my business what the structure is for £3K tournaments, as I'm not going to enter anyway. In any case Neil "Bad Beat" Channing made a couple of excellent posts which I simply direct your attention to as being correct. In my opinion the luck factor is not higher with larger blinds, it's just more apparent. In the early stages, there's a ton of luck regarding who actually hits his set when the other guy has Aces, whether the big draw hits or misses against two pair, and so on. What happens in between with pots that amount to 5% of the average stack isn't so important.

DY chipped in something that caught my eye though, as he described how he laid down a set in a cash game. Good laydown David - provided you believe the guy when he told you he had a bigger set :-). Of course you can only make this kind of laydown when the chips are deep.

However, I don't subscribe to the commonly held belief that the "best" player is the one who can make these laydowns. Sure they're difficult, sure there aren't many players who can do it but how often does this situation arise in a tournament, even with small blinds ? Every now and then I suppose. In the meantime someone who is believed to be a "great" player because he can lay down trips once in a blue moon can be making mistake after mistake short stacked, in situations that arise time and time and time again.

I was thinking about this as I hacked my way around the golf course yesterday. At the end of the round, your score is more dependent on how many bad shots you play than how many good ones. Rolling in a 20 foot putt for a birdie (it happened !) doesn't count for a lot if you hack the next tee shot into the ditch (now that's more believable). Similarly in poker, making a great laydown once in a while isn't going to compensate if your idea of short stacked play is calling a reraise cold because "KJ is the best hand I've seen in an hour".

There is one further aspect to this. Making these "great" laydowns is all very well until you get one wrong. If you lay down a set [or Kings pre-flop] twice when you're behind and once when you're in front, you'll usually be out of pocket over the three plays. Frankly if you're not careful you'll end up like Hellmuth, walking out of tournaments crying "I've made laydowns that no one else in the world would make !!". Maybe there's a reason for that. Just not the one you think.

The best player is the one who can adapt to the structure around him and make correct decisions by properly balancing risk and reward *. Great play = great laydowns is a misconception that costs some people a ton of money in tournaments. Making great plays occasionally is nowhere near as important as not making bad plays on a regular basis.

* And the good player is the one who realises that if he can't do this, he'd better find a structure elsewhere that suits him, instead of just moaning about it.

Update 22/10 : If you saw the Party Poker thing on Channel 5 last night you will have enjoyed the Good Doctor's demonstration of how to adapt to a fast structure. I missed the end because I set my video wrong. Look, I've got a cold, ok ?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I did say that I felt 95 per cent sure that I was looking at a bigger set. There are many people against whom I couldn't fold bottom trips. There are also other situations that would lead me to play differently against the same person.

I can't help thinking that slower structure = more skillful comp and I can't agree with Neil's idea that faster clocks require only different skills. That's true for sure, but they also require fewer skills IMHO. To illustrate by example, what do you think is a better test in boxing, a twelve-round fight or a four-round one? In a chess championship, what gives the inferior player the best chance, best of ten matches or the best of 24? In most fields we consider that the faster something is played, the more important it is to have early luck. Surely reducing the influence of early luck is something to applaud?

No less a dignitary of poker than the Camel himself told me that the 'real' World Champion was the winner of the $25,000 event at the Bellagio, as it had the slowest clock and the most starting chips.


8:26 PM  
Blogger Andy_Ward said...

I posted a similar analogy to your chess/boxing comments very early on in the diary. Look for "Exclusive - New World Poker Champion" in July 2003 (I can't seem to post a link in a comment).

However in that context I was talking about No-Limit. The logical extension of this argument is that both Pot-Limit and even Limit Hold-Em are greater "tests of skill" - and I'm not disagreeing with that extension ! Look at Rumit Somaiya, finds AA in the first level, gets called by KK and loses the lot.

Anyway I'm rambling. I would agree that a slow clock decreases the luck element slightly. However I believe that the vast majority of players over-estimate how much the difference is, even while they're over-estimating their own ability in believing that a slow clock is "better" for them. Which it might be, if only because they can't adapt to a fast clock properly.

9:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Andy, the link to your July 2003 post is here -

It does seem to anticipate this discussion!

To post a link to a particular piece, click on the time of day that appears between your name and the number of comments underneath it. That's the link to the given post in isolation. Keep up the blogging!


3:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Ward, Can I point out that in my first two tournaments employing your "all-in" table I came 44th out of 500 (for a prize of 45p) and 2nd out of 103 (for a rather nicer prize of £300). And, to top it all, I actually used your all-in table at least a dozen times in the game in which I came second, since I was short-stacked virtually the entire way. I owe you a drink.

But this was not the purpose of my post. I've been thinking about the "longer structure" and two points occurred to me. One was something that you said a long time ago that related to Omaha tournaments. It went roughly along the lines of "I might want to see a cheap flop at Omaha, but I think that my opponents want to see a cheap flop even more, so I raise".

I think the same could be applied to tournaments. I'm sure that Barny (and most players) prefer a game with "lots of play", but some players probably want it more than others. If you are one of the players who wants it "less more" (if you see what I mean) then you should go for the faster structure, even if you don't particularly like it.

The second point was that "longer tournaments are more skilful". I think that we might be entering the airplane fallacy here. That is that air travel is the safest form of travel. Well, yes, in terms of miles travelled. But in terms of time on the mode of transport, trains are considerably safer.

How does this apply to structures? Well. Take a 100-player tournament where you start off with five big blinds, doubling every 10 hands. This will probably be over fairly sharpish — say, a couple of hours at the most (ignore the logistics of more table-balancing, for the moment. Let's assume that it is online)

Now, take a 100-player tournament where you start with 200 big blinds, two hour levels, levels going up by 50% each time. This tournament will probably last you two or three days.

Clearly the second tournament is more skilful than the first, no?

Well, no, because you are not comparing like with like. You could get 10 of the first type of tournament in during the time that you would be playing the second type of tournament. So, the REAL comparison is, would the skilled player earn more on average over 100 of the first type of tournament or 10 of the second?

The mean would probably be higher for the 100 "luck-filled" tournaments, because of the Poisson distribution of prize money. The greater sample would flatten out the distribution extremes, making the expected return higher from the greater number of the "luck-filled" tournaments.

So, although each individual tournament would feel (and would be) more reliant on luck, over the whole period of time, the shorter tournaments would provide a greater test of skill.

I am also loath to point this out AGAIN, but there is one obvious example of this during the World Series, where there is one tournament of very slow levels that lasts six days, and hundreds of tournaments of very fast tournaments that can last little more than a couple of hours.

And we both know which the real money makers choose, don't we?

Pete Birks

10:39 PM  
Blogger Andy_Ward said...

Hi Pete,

If you keep reading the blogs and chipping in with comments you won't owe me anything because I value your input very highly.

I don't remember saying that about Omaha. I say a lot of things :-). Interesting though. In many game situations (not just poker by any means) it's more important to do what your opponent doesn't want you to do rather than what you want to do. However in poker there is the complication that two opponents can "go to war" and both be hurt while the rest of the table benefit.

Personally I would definitely rather play a fast structure when surrounded by more experienced live players. However a better choice still is not to play at all. What I particularly don't like is playing 10-handed. With all the extra runners at the WSOP this year, and all the comments about how it was more difficult to win, only one person had the wit to point out that playing 10-handed has a big effect - Padraig Parkinson. Typically forthright, he called it a "fucking joke" :-). It doesn't suit him, and while of course I'm not putting myself in the same class as a player, it doesn't suit me either. For me, single table satellites, both live and on-line, are my best game by a mile. Game selection is the most important skill in poker. It's EVERYTHING.

Anyway, stay tuned to the strategy blog because I will be moving on to live single-tables next !


11:18 PM  
Blogger steve said...

Hi Andy,

Great site, but the gloves are off.

Andy I’m surprised you can have any truck of the belief that there is more luck when there the antes are low. A player making decisions at random will have more success in a fast blind structure than a slow one. If fast structures are what the game is all about then so bet it, but lets not kid ourselves into thinking that isn’t a leveller, because it is. The notion that there might be more luck in the game stems from the fact that one can invest a small amount and win something large.

As I said on the mob, imagine a heads-up game on roulette. Two players, 2x10k stacks. One plays the house, the other the gambler. One has to break the other for the game to finish. The greater the table max, the better chance the gambler/ the poor player has. As analogy it is hardly perfect: a player in NL poker isn’t ever restricted by the size of a bet; however, the average stack/bet ratio is much lower with low blinds. When the blinds are low, when there the flops, bad players have more opportunities to play bad, when there are no flops they don’t.

There is no doubt that both nerve and a different skill are required in abundance to optimise playing when the blinds are high and certainly it belongs in the game; however, as a percentage you have less to optimise than in the earlier rounds: luck is a far higher portion of the game. One statement that I agree with whole-heartedly:

‘In the meantime someone who is believed to be a "great" player because he can lay down trips once in a blue moon can be making mistake after mistake short stacked, in situations that arise time and time and time again’

One swallow does not a make a summer.

Finally one game isn’t necessarily more skilful than another if it is less reliant on luck. That would assume that skill is only measurable as a %age of the game: i.e. quantitively not qualitatively. Is tic –tac-toe more skilful than Backgammon? Of course not, but there is more luck in backgammon. This is the one reason why the NL v Limit skill debate persists.

In sumary the skillsets are different when the blinds are low and high and the proportion of luck is different too.


6:39 PM  
Blogger Andy_Ward said...

Hi chaos,

Can we leave the gloves on ? I already have visits to the dentist and my financial advisor lined up for today. That's already far too much pain for one day !

I liked your tic-tac-toe/backgammon example very much. It just goes to show that we're not talking about a line with skill at one extreme and luck at the other, it's more like a graph with skill and luck axes !

My major issue on the forums and blogs is with the common perception of the blinds/stacks issue. The common perception is that large stacks = game of skill and small stacks = game of luck. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is considerable scope for good play when blinds are high, and even more for bad play. Of course someone splashing around at random will do much worse when stacks are large, but someone who is sitting there waiting for a big pair / AK will definitely do much worse when stacks are small - and which is the more common style of play ? Frankly there are loads of people out there who equate skill with sitting with their thumb up their arse waiting for a big hand. I tend to get quite irate when these people start demanding that structures be changed to suit them.

I couldn't agree more with your last line ; perhaps we can agree on that as a conclusion for now ?

Keep chipping in,


10:15 AM  
Blogger boxinglover9 said...

OT: I guess I'm not the only one asking this question. Is Manny Pacquiao really retiring now that he has won the senatorial seat? You can still watch his videos at the Manny Pacquiao Official Youtube channel on Youtube!

8:32 AM  

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