Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Luck, Lucky and Luckier

Tonight, on Twitter, I steamed off a quick comment,

"Fantastic! Lost to quads again. 5 of my last 10 tournaments have been lost to quads. What's the record for running this bad?"
Normally, this is just me complaining out loud, but a moment later, I got a reply back from a good friend of mine,
"@ohcaptain Clearly you were out played. Poker isn't about luck"
This conversation goes way back. My good friend believes that there is far more luck in poker then he believes I give it credit. To him, skill is only a small component of poker. Luck is a big factor.

TripJax recently wrote a series (2 so far) of posts based on an article he read by Richard Weisman, "The Luck Factor." In TripJax' first post, he discusses the idea the lucky people are "..,skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities." The second post is about, "Lucky people make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition." We can only hope that he finishes this series...yo Jax...wasup?

I personally don't believe there is any such thing as luck. To me, it's just superstition. TripJax is only explaining the logical and to me, the obvious. Luck is a perception that misses the details leading up to an event. We make our own luck by being in the situation that favors our success.

The hand I played that found me busting again to quads didn't have to play out that way. I could have laid down my hand, but I was short stacked and decided to get myself into a coin flip. Something that, given a different situation, I would avoid like the plague. I had figured the guy had a medium pair. As the odds calculator over at CardPlayer.com says, it was 46% - 52% in favor of the other guy.

Poker isn't about the turn of one card. Short term thinking is what gives people the idea that luck is a factor. The reason I lost to quads didn't happen when flop was exposed. It happened almost an hour earlier. I had lost a pot that I shouldn't have lost. I just played it bad. This left me steaming. A bluff a few minutes later that went bad left me dangerously short stacked. These led to me making decisions to play margins much more risky then I normally prefer to play. Getting better at poker is about getting better at making decisions that lead to more likely positive outcomes.

Now, my friend will say, "see, you were gambling, you were hoping for luck." Well, that's not how I see it. What I'm looking for are opportunities where I stand a good probability of getting someone to risk a lot of chips in a situation that I'm close or am a favorite to win the hand. You see, I believe the numbers. I'm much more likely to win a hand that I'm only a 46% favorite then I am a hand where I'm an 18%.

Phil Helmuth once said, "If it weren't for luck, I'd win every tournament." What an unfortunate term. He really shouldn't say luck, what he should say is variance. If it weren't for variance, and bad plays, he might just win every tournament.

Variance is the term used to describe it when a statistically less likely event occurs over the likely event. Sure, you are an 82% favorite to win the hand, but 18% (or 9 times out of 50) the other had will win. That's just the way the numbers work.

Most poker players get super steamed when this happens. "Some donkey just hit a one outer and knocked me out!" One idea that has really helped me get back to grounded more quickly after this happens was the realization that long term, I want the donkey to put his money in the pot every time he's drawing to a one outer. As far as the math goes, I'll make far more money off of him doing this then amount I lost in just that one hand. It's the idea that we "get lucky" that keeps the fish coming back to the table, and making us money.

For me, there is no such thing as luck. Poker is about making the right decisions. Choosing to be aggressive and taking a pot from someone because you know they are week and will fold. That's not luck, that's skill. The other skill, that some confuse as luck is stay away from situations where the numbers lay to much risk. In the end, we are rewarded with more profits over time.

So, do you feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?


SirFWALGMan said...

For me there is no such thing as luck also.. just in a different, worse, way.

diverjoules said...

At the MiniFtops on Full Tilt last Sunday, I lost with my 4's full of Tens to quads(4) on the board after the river and a nut job who could not fold AJoff won with 4444 ace kicker.. I feel your pain.

Memphis MOJO said...

Thanks for the links to Wiseman and TripJax articles!

TripJax said...

I've been in Hawaii all week and preparing for the trip prior to that. I definitely plan on finalizing the series of posts when I get back. For now Kauai is rockin' my world.

Thanks for the links and checking in on me!

Goatlady said...

I AGREE with your assessment that you probably would not have found yourself in the BAD situation if you had not been "hungry" for a fast chip infusion. Nothing pays faster or as richly then a well timed coin flip for the "Back in the game" play. The lust for chips can muddle your "intuition" and discipline! I ponder the luck vs intuition vs variance.