Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Rumble in the Green Felt Jungle: Performance vs. Results

It's interesting reading assorted poker blogs and seeing the constant battle between the opposing forces of performance and results. I suppose opposing isn't the correct word, as sometimes they're close allies, joined at the hip, smiling and happy. Conversely, though, when things go badly, they're still joined at the hip, dragging one another down, kicking and screaming.

There is much sage poker wisdom out there about the value of being performance-oriented, and turning a blind eye to results, as variance will always lurk around the corner, bad beats will skulk around in dark alleys, unsustainable rushes will occasionally kiss your brow. And that's true, by and large. You can always control your performance. You can't always control your results. If you're looking for a benchmark, choose one that you can control.

That said, I think there's also a danger, albeit a smaller one, in striving to always be performance-oriented. It's more philosophical than anything, but important to note, methinks.

Simply put, the universe (nor any of its poker-playing denizens) does not care if you play poker the "right" way. There is no "right" way. Jim McManus can posture all he wants at the WSOP about people "disrespecting the game", but really, people, there is nothing to respect. Poker is a card-based method of gambling. Nothing more, nothing less. You can ritualize and codify it all you want but you'll never escape the simple fact that it's gambling. You don’t score extra style points for spectacular plays. Your performance is judged by one single, solitary thing: how much money do you win or lose.

Can you be more or less skillful in poker? Of course. Does being more or less skillful translate directly to winning or losing money? In the long run, of course. Does it then logically follow that to be successful you should focus on improving your skill? Not exactly. Especially not in the traditional way that “skill” is defined in poker, as far as equating it with a perfect cocktail of analyzing betting patterns, solid play based on mathematical odds, starting hand selection, selective aggression, etc.

Let's look at three different scenarios:

Player #1) You've played poker for thirty years, seen it all, experienced it all, and are a very, very good limit hold 'em player. You play poker the "right" way, understand the nuances, have every trick and tool of the trade at your disposal. You play at a nearby B&M casino in a 30/60 game, 20 hours a week. Your win rate is 2.25BB/100.

Player #2) You've been playing poker for two or three years, strictly online. You constantly review strategy books, analyze your results in PokerTracker, use PlayerView or GameTime+ to get instant snapshots of your opponents tendencies. You keep an eye firmly on the long-term prize, always thinking, always working to improve your play. You see the long poker road you’re traveling on, never getting caught up in short term results. You've steadily built a bankroll and worked your way up to playing one table of 15/30, 20 hours a week. Your win rate is 2BB/100 hands.

Player #3) You've been playing poker for a year, strictly online. You read enough to get the basics down, have absorbed the tenants of aggressive poker being good, but that's it. You play ABC poker, don't use PokerTracker or PlayerView or GameTime+. You think poker blogs are gay and the only Dolly you’ve heard of has ginormous breasteses. But you kickass at Doom and can play lots of tables without blinking an eye, listening to Slayer while surfing midget porn sites. You play 8 tables at a time at 3/6, 20 hours a week. Your win rate is 0.25/BB 100.

Which player is more successful and/or skillfull? While this is open to debate, I’d hazard that most people define “success” and “skill” in poker as ultimate profit/loss. Yes, indeed, it’s a little murky, as success can simply be having fun, accumulating knowledge, etc. But for the vast majority, success in poker is defined by profitability. With an eye towards that, let’s analyze the results of our players:

Player #1) In a B&M casino you’re typically looking at 30 hands/hour. So Player #1 sees 600 hands each week. At their win rate of 2.25BB/100, playing one table of 30/60 they make $810/week. (We’ll ignore tips/drinks/food/gas and just leave it at that.)

Player #2) Assuming an average of 75 hands/hour for online play, Player #2 sees about 1,500 hands per week. At their win rate of 2BB/100, playing one table of 15/30 they make $900/week.

Player #3) Assuming an average of 75 hands/hour for online play, Player #3 sees about 12,000 hands per week. At their win rate of .25BB/100, playing eight tables of 3/6 they make $1,440/week.

Which is pretty eye-opening. While most of us are likely striving to be Player #1, the grizzled, card-savvy vet of many a poker war, Player #1 is the least profitable/successful of the three, despite playing at the highest limits and having the highest BB/100 win rate.

Player #2 is slightly more profitable than Player #1, even at a lower limit and lower win rate, because the extra hands they see more than makes up the difference. Despite their skill and success and performance-based mindset, however, their result playing one table of 15/30 successful is dwarfed by Player #3.

Which bring us to Player #3. This monkey is barely profitable as far as BB/100, coming in at .25BB/100. Doesn’t study, doesn’t read, does nothing but play ABC poker, which anyone can learn with a minimum of effort. He does, however, play 8 tables. And does it passably well. And that makes all the difference in the world, as far as the resulting overall profit.

This brings us to a fairly critical point in the whole performance vs. results debate. I’m going to backpedal a bit and, in some ways, contradict what I’ve just babbled about. So much of this is semantics, really, as far as how you define things. I’m not suggesting, in any fashion, that performance doesn’t include factors like multi-tabling or anything else outlined above. It obviously can and, in most cases, should. Performance encompasses all of the above factors that lead to profitability. So yes, indeed, we should always put performance before results. If we perform optimally, optimal results follow. We should always be performance-oriented. But we should be really damn careful what it is we mean when we say that, what it is we picture in our mind when we caution ourselves, again and again, to be performance-oriented.

We encounter all sorts of paradigms along our poker path that represent success. Most common, and what most of us internalize and shoot for, is the idea that we will slowly gain experience, build a bankroll, and, by thinking deeply about the game, move higher and higher in limits.

If we always look at the big picture, ignoring the short-term slings and arrows of variance and bad beats and suckouts, if we always study and strive and analyze, we’ll finally reach that goal, sitting at the table with the big boys, the ones that play “real” poker, where all our skills can shine and be recognized, where we start making “real” money.

That’s not really wrong, as that definitely can happen and does happen. It’s just not really right, either.

If you’re playing poker to make money, your goal is to make money. That’s it. The quickest path to making money isn’t thinking deeply about the game, working your way up to rubbing elbows with the big boys. It’s by playing as many tables as you possibly can online, while remaining marginally profitable on a BB/100 basis.

That’s it. That’s all there is to it, if your goal is sheer profit. Volume > poker skill.

Yeah, I know, I’m oversimplifying like hell. And I’m really not suggesting that everyone’s goal should be to 8 table 3/6, sitting at the computer like a clicking automaton, mindlessly moving from table to table to table. That’s not fun. Especially if you do it 20 hours a week, each and every week.

All I’m saying, ultimately, is that being performance-oriented is a fine goal, if you both broaden and carefully define the definition of performance. Too often I see advice on being performance-oriented delivered in a slightly dangerous way. The implied message is that if you always keep the big picture in mind, you’ll someday arrive in the high limit promised land where suckouts don’t exist, where your skills finally shine and you’re rewarded handsomely for it. That, over the long haul, you’ll move up and up and up in limits, always making the best play, always making more money.

Suckouts always exist. Variance always exists. You’ll have the same frustrating experiences at 30/60 that you do at 1/2. To make it even worse (if you’re solely in it for the money), you’ll be making less successfully playing a single table of 30/60 than you would 8 tabling 3/6, playing like a robot monkey.

To wrap up this babbling, yes. Always be performance-oriented. Yes, But make sure you know what you mean when you say that, and that it jives with your own long-term poker goals. Being performance-oriented can (and should) include things like training yourself to play more tables, investing in a new monitor to fit 4 Party tables comfortably on your monitor, closely watching your BB/100.

While much of your poker performance does indeed involve abstract concepts such as attaining a Zen-like state where you always make the optimal play, based on strategy and knowledge and thought (with no eye to things as tacky and garish as short-term results), an equal part of performance is inevitably rooted in the mundane, everyday concerns of things as seemingly ridiculous as how many tables can fit on your monitor.


Dr. Pauly said...

Your last paragrpah said it best. Quality post. Good job.

Ignatious said...

fine post. i've been meaning to tell you how much i enjoy your poker posts so here it is.