Often, when a poker player loses and they aren’t very good, their chief complaint is that online poker is rigged. They complain that the random number generator that assigns the cards is rigged against them or set by the house to ensure more rake; that there is a “cashout curse,” whereby cashing out causes you to lose; that the number of bad beats they have taken is statistically impossible. Exclusively, the people who complain about the cards being rigged are losing players who are only able to see evidence for the rigging and are highly resistant to any reason, logic or proof.
I will go through the flaws in the common complaints briefly, and only because they are so pervasive that I feel the need to refute them.
1. The software is rigged against them or to ensure more rake. Most poker software is inspected by 3rd parties to ensure fairness and there has never been any case that they have been tampered with or that they have malfunctioned. Many people have played a statistically significant number of hands (I have played over 10 million hands in my career) and these hands and boards can be imported into a database in order to ensure they are occurring at the correct frequencies. People have done this and the random number generator has never been found to be unfair in any way. Since hand histories are available and people can compile a statistically relevant number of hands, if there were irregularities, they would have been found.
2. The “cashout curse,” is when people lose soon after they cash out their winnings. The best explanation I have heard for this phenomenon is regression to the mean. This is when a losing player runs above expectation (is lucky and wins) and then cashes out. When they then return to expectation (by losing) they view losing as something anomalous, because now they believe themselves to be winners who have cashed out. The easiest way to resolve this internal conflict is to blame it on the software being rigged against people who cash out, rather than to admit that they are not as skilled as they believe.
3. Statistically unlikely events. I smile every time I get aces on the same table in back to back hands, because I know how many players would say the software is rigged because it is so rare (about 48,000 to 1 against). In actuality, I play more than 25,000 hands a week on average, so while it is unusual for me to have aces in back to back hands, it comes up about every 2 weeks. Even I have been a professional for a long time, I sometimes feel like I have lost every hand for a few days in a row. In reality, when I feel like I am getting unlucky, I tend to forget the hands I win and focus on the hands I lose. The truth is that variance occurs and that relative to my winrate, sometimes I lose more than I should and sometimes I win more than I should. Overall, it is exactly as expected.
The irony of the parallel between the 2016 Presidential Election and the people who complain about online poker being rigged is not lost on me. For the past several weeks Donald Trump has started to forcefully call the election, the voting and the media rigged against him.
First, Trump saying that he might lose because the election is rigged is not a sound argument because that would require the coordination of thousands of local, state and federal election officials, who have both Republican and Democratic party affiliations. Polls in Pennsylvania show Trump down approximately 10 points and predict he has a less than 10% chance of winning. This independent data serves a check against claims of widespread voter fraud in same way I can evaluate my hand histories to ensure that the random number generator is operating correctly. The most likely explanation for Trump losing is not that the polls, media and election are rigged, but that voters are favoring Hillary Clinton by a significant margin. It is highly unlikely that significant voting fraud will take place since there have been several studies who have determined that it is minimal(under 100 cases in the last 3 elections). Anecdotal evidence is not evidence of widespread conspiracy in the same way that your friend getting aces twice in a row doesn’t mean that the software is rigged.
Second, when Trump is suspicious of Republican candidates’ poor performances in inner city districts comprised of mostly minorities, he fails to consider that: a) The districts are small, as small as a few hundred people. b) The districts are comprised of people and demographics who tend not to vote for Republicans. c)Trump is polling in the low single digits with minorities. So, it is not an anomaly that he would get few votes in a district where the polls say people are not voting for him and the demographics predict he should be doing poorly. I am sure Trump isn’t suspect of rural Wyoming districts where he is winning nearly 100% of the vote.
Third, Trump’s complaint that the media is rigged is bogus. The media’s hyperfocus on him has resulted in enough attention to get him this far. He achieved unprecedented fame and recognition simply from being wealthy. He was in the tabloids when he was younger, on the Apprentice, and now, every news channel covers his rallies, which gives him a platform to expand his audience.
Trump’s expectation in the primaries and in the presidential campaign was poor because of his lack of experience, lack of knowledge and his many scandals. Most other politicians would have lost their support long ago, and the fact that none of his outlandish and offensive statements or actions were enough to squash his campaign meant that he was surely “running above expectation.” Until the last few weeks, the media coverage has been to his “yuge” benefit, so he is starting to sound a lot like someone who is complaining about the “cashout curse.” Over the past few weeks, he has returned to his expectation, in which people are horrified and unlikely to vote for him based upon what he has said and done is merely reversion to the mean. It is not statistically surprising.
In addition, Trump has pursued a strategy that is unlikely to earn him enough votes to win the election. His attacks on Republican allies, attacks on women and minorities and his reluctance to encourage the voters on a local level, do not appeal to voters he desperately needs to win. He has doubled down on his core of support to the almost to the exclusion of others and his core does not contain enough voters for him to win. Touting irrelevant statistics like online click polls and the number of people at rallies as proof Trump is winning are akin to measuring poker earnings by how often your opponent folds to your bluffs. In the past, and hopefully in the future, anyone who behaves like Trump and has views like his will reach their expectation sooner and not be considered a serious candidate for President.
David Sklansky, a well respected poker author, in his book Poker Gaming and Life estimated that of those people who try to become winners in poker without studying, less than 1% succeed. Of those who study diligently, he believed that about 10% succeed. Studying makes a huge relative difference and improves your odds of success, despite the fact that many(even most) winners in poker may not study or work on their game. I am sure you know people who are winners who brag that they have not read a poker book and you might even think that because they were successful that way, maybe that is the best path to take. It is not. Studying increases your own chances of becoming a winner in poker in the vast, vast, vast majority of the cases. That poker player who wins but does not study probably has a natural ability for the game, but imagine how much more he could win if he studied?
There has been a lot of discussion before the debates about how little Donald Trump has prepared and it really bothers me. He has mocked her practicing for the debates and for her knowledge of the issues. Winging it and saying whatever crazy idea comes to his head has become his badge of honor. I am not sure when it became acceptable to look down on those who are working hard and trying to be their best.
There have been so many reports on his unwillingness to learn about policies, do mock debates, read anything longer than one page and to prepare that these things are pretty much as understood as his lack of knowledge and depth on basically every subject. His reply to most of these criticisms is to say that he is so smart that he does not need to prepare, his style has worked for him in the past and that he has beaten 17 other candidates so why should he change. This is a fallacious argument that is similar to the poker player who feels no need to study because he is already winning, forgetting about the fact that he could be winning more.
We want our doctors to be educated (not just have a passing interest in science) and to be learned in the newest technologies. How would you feel if you went in and the doctor said, “bloodletting by leeches has worked in the past, so that is the treatment we are going to go with?” That is why there is continuing education for most professions. The fact that Trump is unwilling to work at his newfound craft and thinks he knows everything(“I know more than the generals about ISIS”) speaks volumes about his personality and how he would act as president. Hillary Clinton, who has spent many years in and around government, is deeply involved in the nuances of policy and has spent the past several months preparing for the debates by doing mock debates, going over topics that might come up and preparing for different lines of attack and defense.
The way Clinton is preparing is the way one should prepare based on the seriousness of the job at hand, the stakes involved and the desire to do the best one can do. Are you happy with your boss/spouse/doctor who doesn’t try to get better and thinks they know it all? Why should we settle for that in a president? I hope all the preparation and hard work shines through for her tonight.
In case you missed the inspiring story of the British man who was the last entry into qualifying for the qualifying of Wimbledon. He then won 6 straight matches to make it into the main draw, won his first round, then faced Federer in the second round on Centre Court.
Dear Daniel Negreanu,
When I saw you busted just short of the final table of the World Series of Poker last year I was disappointed because it would have been great for poker and poker legalization across the United States. You are one of the most recognizable figures in poker, and have always maintained a smile on your face while making the game seem fun and enjoyable to the masses. Hats off to you!
When I first saw the report of your final hand, where you called preflop with A4 and checkraised all in on an AdKdT board it seemed clear to me that your hand was an obvious shove preflop. When I saw the explanation of your mistake of this hand and 2 others on your blog, I was pretty shocked to see the clear mistakes in reasoning and I feel compelled to point them out. The italicized are your words and the bolded are mine.
“Hand #1 Justin Schwartz threw out a 500k chip in the cutoff with 80k-160k blinds and didn’t say anything. I know limping is part of his game plan, but he had smaller denomination chips that he could have called with. My thinking was that he did this on purpose to make it look like he meant to raise so that the rest of us left in the hand would be less likely to attack his limp.
I picked up 7d 8d on the button and limped. This is exactly the type of hand that plays well post flop and I didn’t think it was necessary to isolate Justin. The small blind folded and the big blind checked his option.
The flop came Kd 7s 6c and both players checked to me. Here is where the mistake comes: I bet 250k. The big blind folded, and a short stacked Justin check raised to 600k. I called with lots of back door potential with a 3 card straight, 3 card flush, and a pair.
The turn was the 3 of clubs and he went all in for about 3 million. I didn’t think about it for very long and folded my pair.
So what is the mistake? My bet sizing on the flop allowed Justin enough room to check raise me as a bluff. If I bet 450k he would have to risk a million or so to bluff me and that wouldn’t have left him enough wiggle room. By betting just 250k in a spot where I could easily be bluffing myself, I opened the door to get outplayed. I found out later that he had QT of clubs so he turned a flush draw but I was still ahead. I don’t think folding the turn is a mistake, besides, he had 15 outs to beat me, but that could have been avoided had a I made a more substantial bet on the flop.”
Your call preflop is fine, and kudos for paying attention to your opponent. However, if you believe there is a decent chance that you will be check raised as a bluff on the flop (though that is probably results oriented thinking), then perhaps checking back or 3 betting his checkraise bluff is the correct play. You are probably betting pretty wide when checked to in that spot, so you want it to cost you less when you bluff/bet with weak hands, not more.
Calling his checkraise because you have “a 3 card straight and 3 card flush” is silly, because with your small ball style, the last thing you want to have to do is call a big turn bet when you turn a draw (hello variance!) or to get bet off your hand on the turn. In most of the possible turn scenarios, you lose 350k chips when you call the flop raise and fold the turn, and in some you wind up calling again with a draw (hello variance!) and fold when you miss. The only time it really works is when you make 2 pair or trips and he bluffs it off(and doesn’t have you beat or outdraw you), which happens very rarely. It’s obvious you weren’t deep enough to start making moves like this and you are not playing Pot Limit Omaha where he is suddenly going to get scared and check fold a strong hand on the turn or river because a scary card comes.
Hand #2 Blinds at 150k-300k Alex (short stacked) raised from middle position at a 5 handed table to 600k and I defended the small blind with Ac 6c and we went heads up to a flop of 10-10-3. I checked, he bet just 350k and I called. The turn was a 9 and we both checked, and once again it went check check on the Jack river.
So what is the mistake? This one is a little more subtle so think about this one for a minute…
Some would argue calling preflop is a mistake. I disagree with that, and that’s not the mistake. When I checked and he bet 350k I felt like I had the best hand, but wasn’t certain. The play was to check raise to one million and put the pressure on Alex to guess. A 10 is a card that is very likely to be in my hand (9T, JT, QT, KT, AT) so even if he had a hand like 88 he may consider folding. Truth is though, he rarely has a hand like that and bets only 350k. To call my check raise he would have to call more than 25% of his stack and then be in no mans land on the turn whether I bet or check.
Turns out he had Q9 and hit the 9 on the turn to beat me that hand. Many would look at the hand and think “unlucky.” I don’t see any value in that. What’s the point in labeling it as lucky or unlucky? Did I play the hand the best way that I could? No. There is value in analyzing your plays, not your variance.”
You actually played this one well and it was unfortunate that he hit a 9 on the turn to win the pot. I wouldn’t call it “unlucky,” as that is going to happen roughly 25% of time the hand plays out the way it did, not including the times he a)has you beat or b)bluff you off your hand.
You should not be checkraising this hand to “put pressure on him to guess.” You are unlikely to get him to fold anything you don’t have beat, and saying a ten is “very likely to be in your hand” (which it is not, use Pokerstove to count the combinations if you need) is silly. If your range is somehow has a lot of tens in it, then calling your range should be enough to ensure you don’t get bluffed too often. It’s interesting that you want to checkraise him to “put pressure on him to guess,” while representing a very narrow range out of position.
You probably would happy with the way this hand played if you had won it.
“My last hand was the A4 vs J3dd hand on an AKTdd flop. Some will argue that against a player who opens 100% of buttons in that spot, that moving all in preflop is a better play. I think for most people that is absolutely true, but not for me, and not in that situation. The reasoning for that is a little lengthy but I’ll try to explain it in brief the best I can:
My goal was to win the tournament not make the final 9. I knew that Joe was abusing the bubble and the other players were not fighting back. I felt fine playing both in position and out of position against his very weak range post flop. My strategy wasn’t to just guess when he had a hand preflop that was strong enough to call a reraise, it was to see flops with him and eek out value wherever I could and rather than double up in a flip situation, GRIND my way to a double up.
It was working. I was able to go from 4 million in chips to 9 million without being in an all in situation. I was clawing my way back into the match by seeing flops and moving in with some hands when necessary.
Once I got over 8 million it allowed me to start defending my blind a bit more liberally against Joe. A few rounds in a row I had defended the blind, once with an all in reraise with KT, a much better hand to move all in with than A4, by the way, considering how he was playing.
So the reason I chose to call with A4 rather than reraise was threefold:
1) It balances my calling range from the blind a little bit
2) I WILL get extra value post flop when I hit an Ace. He can’t check an Ace
3) I avoid getting it all in preflop in spots where I will almost certainly be a 2-1 underdog when called
Once the flop came out, the hand played itself and it wasn’t meant to be in the end. Had I won that pot, though, I would be sitting on a very healthy stack of about 14 million. That’s the way I do it. Chop away, chop away, chop away, see flops, try to get it in good when necessary, and then hopefully the hand holds. It didn’t this time, but I’m quite happy with how I played overall and stuck to my game plan throughout.”
Almost everyone’s goal is to win the tournament, not to make the final 9. Making a poor play and blaming it on “trying to win” is a cop out.
You might feel fine playing against him postflop when he(and you) have weak ranges, but there isn’t really enough room to maneuver with a hand that flops as poorly, and has poor equity on so many flops. You don’t need to balance your range in this spot, since it will a)probably not get to showdown b)you won’t be in this situation often c)he won’t know what you had. In addition, when you do flop an Ace, you will get a small continuation bet out of him, but likely not too much else that you want (you want a bet, but if he barrells off, that’s not great for you). You do much better in the long term shoving against a guy that is opening that wide(and who may or may not call marginally) then hoping to flop well and win a bet.
All of this analysis is completely moot, since as soon as you flopped an ace, you checkraised allin, rendering all of your analysis of small ball, eking out value and grinding completely moot.
For the record, if you just call the flop, which you absolutely should, you will be put to the test on the turn when he shoves this hand.
I’d love to hear your thoughts of my analysis.
Best of luck this year!