Thursday, May 19, 2005

An Ode to Variance

Yesterday was not a good poker day. Sat at two 15/30 tables for a couple of hours after work. Was pretty card dead, couldn't get there in a few pots when I was drawing, sucked out on once or twice in big pots, nothing spectacular or crazy happened, no blazing muppets playing, no braying donkeys. When I shut it down for the day I was sitting at $-1,982 for the session(s).

Which raises a few interesting points in my monkey head, about both blogs and poker in general.

Being down ~67 BB over 2.5 hours of play, playing two tables, isn't that abnormal. A little unusual, yes, especially if you're a winning player, but by no stretch of the imagination is it a statistical monstrosity. You can play great poker, get no cards, and easily end up stuck to the tune of 67 BBs over a session of that length. That equates to the following at assorted levels:

.50/1: -$67
1/2: -$134
2/4: -$268
3/6: -$402
5/10: -$670
10/20: -$1,340
15/30: -$2,010

What's my point? Well, it's a pretty basic one, really. If you're moving up in limits, or taking a shot at a higher limit, it's likely a good idea to crunch some very basic numbers, to get an idea of what sort of the range of results to expect. Peg a gut-check number, basically the largest amount that you can stomach losing in a generic, no-frills bad session, and see just how likely you are to encounter that at the limit you're considering.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not looking for sympathy, or trying to reverse-impress anyone with how much cash I can fling around. Losing $2,000 in a session isn't going to send me running back to lower limits. The reason I bring it up is that I hadn't really quantified figures like that to myself yet, and am still pretty new to higher limits. While I've lost more than that in a session before, it was due to ridiculous suckouts, tilting a bit, etc. I hadn't yet encountered a pretty uneventful and boring session, in which I drop a chunk of change through the simple normal order of business that occasionally occurs.

The secondary, slightly more pot-stirring point, is that if you're thinking about moving up in limits, be very careful about basing your expectations on what you read on other poker blogs, in forums, in books, etc. One of the most basic human instincts is to minimize pain by altering one's perspective (both internally and externally). It's much easier to swaddle painful events in silk cloth than it is to actually face up and address them head on.

What the hell am I saying? Don't trust what you read, as you're likely getting only the positive side of things. It doesn't mean that any one individual is intentionally misleading you or trying to deceive, just that it's human nature to skip over the soul-sucking, draining downswings, only focusing on the winning sessions, or the new BMW they just bought with poker profits, etc.

Don't trust me, don't trust anyone. Experience is the best teacher of all, and there's no replacement for getting your paws dirty. Lacking experience, the next best thing is to take a few minutes to review past sessions in PokerTracker and compile the results, as far as BBs won/lost per session.

Pause for a moment and step back, thinking about what the largest loss you can stomach is, as far as a daily session. Be honest. And don't just think of the dollar amount, but of the psychic toll it might have on you for the rest of the day. While on paper you might be able to tolerate a loss of $1,000, the real test is whether or not you can lose that much, turn off the computer, and leave it there, without it affecting the rest of your night. Be honest. While the theoretical number might be $1,000, the working number could very well be $500, with anything over that causing you to snap at your husband/wife/kids/dog/pet rock for the rest of the night, gnashing your teeth, acting like a general bastard/bitch.

Use the previous session data to extrapolate what you might expect at a higher limit, as far as daily and/or weekly swings. If it jives with what you can stomach to lose, cool, rock on. If it doesn't, though, then you need to proceed with caution. It doesn't mean that you can't proceed, or that things won't work out well, as they very well may. Just be aware that you're in slightly dangerous territory and don't be stubborn about stepping down a notch, if you start to run badly.


Ignatious said...

great post, scurvy.

Div said...

Wise words.

It's definitely easier to write about the good times than the bad, but I think we owe it to ourselves, as well as anyone reading, to be as honest as possible.