The Mathematical Truth About Poker: Some Do Run Worse

Mike Matusow
Mike "The Mouth" Matusow: Is it really possible he runs worse than everyone?

This article constitutes a short dissertation on a banality. It'll seem stupid at first but bear with me; there are useful poker nuggets here.

The banality: You can't do anything about the cards you are dealt.

Now I know that everyone who has played even a little poker knows this is true - but few act like it.

Most players complain endlessly about their bad luck, cry about their rotten cards, agonize over the endless hours missing countless flops and getting sucked out on by bozos calling on a wing and a prayer.

You have to get over this if you have any hope of becoming a legit, long-term winner in this game.

You have cards; you have to play them; therefore you have to learn to play them in the most effective manner possible.

Get out when you know you're beat. Smile as pleasantly as possible when your opponent hits a two-outer for the third time that night.

And, of course, be gracious when you hit your hand.

Getting Your Share

Since this is so bloody obvious you're probably wondering why it merits a "strategy" article.

Well, I want to talk a bit about luck, about what it means to "get your share" of the cards and about what it means when aficionados of the game say wise things like "it all evens out in the long run."

IMG8376
Hansen: Likes his chances long term.
 

Gus Hansen was once asked by a reporter what role luck played in poker.

He responded that in any given session it probably accounted for about 90% of his outcomes. Over a month, he guessed it was about 10 or 15% and over a year it was down to around 2-5%.

In the ballpark, I'd say.

And it's true - all professional players of poker operate under the assumption luck will even out in the long run and skill will triumph. Otherwise there wouldn't be pros.

There aren't any professional craps shooters or baccarat players (no matter what some ill-conceived books and pamphlets may try to tell you).

There cannot be because of the mathematical nature of these games.

The Mathematical Truth

In all complex settings, the mathematical truth is considerably more complex and, in my opinion, more interesting.

The truth is there are certainly some people who have been luckier than most and some who have been unluckier than most.

I put have been in italics for a reason, which will become clear.

It is true that as the number of hands dealt increases the luck element shrinks, but it doesn't go away. In fact, it has to remain and to continue to play a role.

Think about it this way: Assume there is a distribution of the long-term expected value (EV) of every possible poker hand played from every position under all possible circumstances.

Oldurrrr
None of us have the time for distribution to even out.
 

It will be a wild and wonderful distribution full of all kinds of bizarre hands and outcomes and will be driven by a host of factors.

But it is a mathematical certainty that it will approximate a normal, bell-shaped curve.

The hands that have just awful long-term expectation will be relatively infrequent, mainly because they don't get played all that often, and will show up in the left-hand tail.

Those with the highest EV will also occur rarely (primarily because the situation has to be "just right" for them to get paid off). Those will appear on the far right of the curve.

Those with average outcomes will occur with greatest frequency and be at the peak in the center of the curve.

The so-called "computer hand" or break-even hand (Q-7o) emerged from simulations cranked out by a computer dealing gazillions of hands at random.

Everyone will be dealt hands from this distribution each time they sit down and, in theory, they will all be dealt the "same" hands.

In reality, of course, this sameness is only reached when an infinite number of hands have been dealt.

Frankly, I don't have time to wait for this and neither do you.

The Distribution of Luck

OK. Still with me? Here comes the fun part.

If you plot the distribution of the "luck" of each player (that is, the EVs of the hands they are actually dealt), you'll get another normal curve.

And when you plot it, you will discover that some players are below the mean, some above it - and a few are far below or far above it.

Ben Lamb
Some are flat out luckier.
 

Some folks are going to be flat out "luckier" than the norm and others "unluckier."

It has to be this way! If this seems nuts to you, just think about real life.

Some people get hit by trucks or lightning, or diagnosed with horrible diseases. Some people had the misfortune to live downwind from Mt. St. Helens or in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans.

Others stroll though life in perfect health, live in San Diego or bought a house on high ground.

The lottery has just awful odds; the worst EV of all gambles. But there are people who have hit jackpots of over $100,000 three times. Yes, three.

There have to be such "lucky" folks given the number of lottery drawings and the number of punters.

If you're one of these you've beaten the worst gamble in the civilized world and, unless you're a total nutball, you're going to go to your grave "lucky."

So, yes; you have to play the cards you're dealt and you've got to play them in the most advantageous manner.

You can't bitch about your lousy luck because there isn't anything you can do about it. In fact, if you do, it will hurt your game (more on this in a future column).

Cards Have No Memory

Allen Kessler
You can't bitch about your lousy luck.
 

The truth is some of you bemoaning your rotten luck, mystified because you never seem to hit your three-outer, nonplussed because you keep getting hammered by idiots making stupid calls, well, you know, you're right.

Reality bites. You have been unlucky.

Of course, you noticed the past tense in that last sentence. Cards have no memory and they don't know you've been smacked around the room by a random number generator for the past weeks or months.

Your expected "luck" for tonight's session is the statistical norm, the average outcome.

So go play your best game and don't sweat it. You can't do anything about the cards you're dealt.

More strategy articles from Arthur S. Reber:

About Arthur Reber

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http://www.yavuzcelenk.com/xnuggsstvlarxfbcs-us.asp?ugg-slippers-c-65.html 2014-10-30 05:20:35

The agency noted that itsis also examining the potential of arachnids, such as spiders and scorpions, although they are not insects, strictly speaking.

hustersathad 2014-10-20 08:23:24

hustler you so badass oh my good, you smoke em keep telling urself ur good, one day you'll just plain loose, and there you'll have it.

hustler 2014-09-10 23:36:13

You all sound like the bunch of sore losers I own all day long. Are you kidding me? If you are going into a poker room thinking it's all luck. I'M GOING TO SMOKE YOU.

Get outta here.

I know there is some luck involved. Sometimes, you get ridiculous cards one night. But, winning 7 times going in a row, including a major tournament, isn't luck. If you keep winning, it's called, skill. There's a difference between great players and good players. Most of you on here, are just good. I'm great. Don't give me this crap about luck. You guys commenting are the suckers on the table I smoke all the time, with so-called, worse cards you all complain about. Poker is poker. Only the strong survive.

If you don't agree with me. Quit playing now and quit donating to real players like myself.

Mike 2014-09-07 10:34:06

Every time I play poker I win a bunch of nice hands win a few small pots hand have 2 bad beats or so it's about the same every time. It's only rarely I get that terrible beat on a huge pot that I was 95% to win. Just for some extra info Iv'e been running some simulations and have found that out of 100 hands your going to win 10% of your hands in a random order so pick and chose and good luck!!

Mike Boatright 2014-08-21 18:46:57

In live Texas holdem poker you have 102 card cycling in a semi circular manner that isn't exactly round but kinda close. There is a physical property were talking about here than cards in tossed around then shuffled in a mchine once then split by the dealer. -18 then the flop over time you could see kk4-then 55A. It's impossible to tell but theoretically if you knew how the cards went into the machine and estimated from previous flops you could then calculate your best decision to play 7-9 suited. Let's say you remember the last 6 flops from the particular deck your tracking were all high cards like jj-5-ak4.... If it was the 7th deal you could estimate withing the next 2 seals a 5-6 or 34 hand might play well based on probabilities.. Run a coin flip simulator 1000 times and you see runs of heads up to 9 times usually nor more. Then next coins is almost always tails.

Mike Boatright 2014-08-21 17:56:57

In live Texas holdem poker you have 102 card cycling in a semi circular manner that isn't exactly round but kinda close. There is a physical property were talking about here! The cards are tossed around then shuffled in a machine once then split by the dealer. minus 18 on a full table then the flop over time you could see flops like kk4-then 55A. It's impossible to tell but theoretically if you knew how the cards went into the machine and estimated from previous flops you could then calculate your best decision to play 7-9 suited. Let's say you remember the last 6 flops from the particular deck your tracking were all high cards like jj-5-ak4.... If it was the 7th deal you could estimate withing the next 2 deals or so that playing a 5-6 or 34 hand might hit based on probabilities.. Run a coin flip simulator 1000 times and you see runs of heads up to 9 times usually no more. Then next coins is almost always tails yet the average is 333-333 or hhh-ttt-and so on.

Oliver 2014-07-29 18:21:33

i prefer chess.

lee 2014-07-14 02:02:27

lol...reality bites. nothing realistic about an RNG.

Etrain 2013-11-06 00:20:49

Have been playing poker for years and believe its 95% luck. Nobody gets more unlucky then me in this game. I play tight and only go all-in when I have the best hand. However, I get sucked out on EVERY time. People will think I'm making this up but have not had 1 winning day in two months due to these all-in suck outs. Meanwhile, my friend seemingly always hits the perfect card no matter what the odds. He, of course attributes this to skill but hitting the river card against huge odds has nothing to do with skill. I hate how people think they are somehow good poker players when they are just lucky.

Awejn 2013-11-04 11:40:32

I guess it's not easy for the human mind to accept that there's something you simply CANNOT control, hence the need to put the whole luck-factor in some sort of context, to try and make sense of it somehow. "Why me?" would be a typical indicator for that - taking something personal that's absolutely impersonal, arbitrary and out of our hands.

Here's an idea for a different approach: Keep a record of both unlucky AND lucky situations over a significant amount of time and see what comes out of it. Cause I suspect that "us unlucky" players usually don't celebrate our luck as much as we complain about the bad luck. Maybe we don't even realize that luck-wise we're actually "break-even"? So taking a look at how we deal with the lucky streaks might help to put things a little more in perspective. (I for one sometimes find myself thinking that I somehow "deserved" that lucky river card since I'd barely gotten any hands for the past hour, or the guy I sucked out on already had his share of luck for the night anyways ... But do I ever deserve that UNlucky river card? - And there you go.)

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