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Flippin' Crazy

Quite a while back, Matt Matros wrote an article about a players willingness to take coin flips early in MTT's. Here is the article from his Cardplayer page...

To Flip or Not to Flip: Analysis of an all-in "coin flip" situation early in a tournament

If you've never read that article before or it has been a while, take a moment to click the link and give it a gander. Back so soon? You must be a speed reader. Anyway, I've been thinking about this article lately and thought I would briefly discuss it here. In other words, I have nothing better to write about, so lets discuss something written by someone else.

We each have our own strategies, concepts and actions in a tournament. What is considered a correct style of play for one person may be deemed incorrect by another. This difference in style, coupled with the inherent luck/chance factor of the turn of a card, are what keeps poker fascinating to me. If we all played the exact same style of poker and/or there were no luck luck/chance involved, poker would be a pretty dull game.

I state the above for a reason. Chances are the type of player you are on the felt will determine whether you agree with the concepts Matt discusses in his article. I, for one, tend to agree with Matt. I believe you have to capitalize on your small edges and, each time you pass on a potential edge, you decrease your chances of winning a tournament. Of course, each time you pass on a potentially game changing all-in situation, you also avoid being knocked out of the tournament. Again, this difference will usually boil down to what style of player you typically are. Of course, we all can change our style of play at any moment, but I'm speaking generalities here folks.

In his article, Matt mentions a few arguments people often have for folding in a coin flip situation. I want to add a few to his list.

1) Fear of losing money.

2) Fear of negative results.

3) Fear of being judged by your peers.

Notice a key word that keeps popping up in the sentences above. The fear factor. Fear in poker is exploited to the max. In fact, I'd say many top pros are so successful because they pinpoint and exploit fear in their opponents. Imagine the online qualifier who won his way into a 10k event via a $50 super satellite. As you know, the first money spots in a tournament typically give you your money back and maybe a small profit. For this online qualifier, 10k is not breaking even, it is a significant amount of take home money based on the original $50 buy-in for the satellite.

Enter the experienced player who recognizes the above situation and rips that online player apart with sheer power poker. The pro knows the online qualifier will most likely NOT coin flip for the same reasons the pro WILL coin flip. The pro is not afraid to lose his money, have short term negative results, or be judged by his peers. On the other hand, the online qualifier can't imagine flying to an event, getting stuck in a tough decision early, and having to go home to his family and friends and explain how he went out in the 1st hour when his QQ was cracked by AK.

I don't know about you, but I have given up +EV or coin flip situations for each of the above reasons before. And I must say, there were times where I regretted my decision tremendously. I know there were times that my decision ultimately cost me a chance to go deeper in a tournament. Sure I held on longer because there was no chance I would be knocked out on that particular hand, but that does not make my decision right. And yes, maybe there was a time that I ended up finishing well in a tournament where I avoided a coin flip situation early. Still, I'm trying to maximize my edges over the long haul and I think analyzing these situations more closely makes sense.

I'd like to now take a step back and look at Matt's article from a slightly different angle. The example in his article is regarding a large buy-in, multi-day event with, most likely, long levels of 1 to 2 hours per level. Now imagine taking that general scenario, but having a tournament structure and blind level that would make it finish in hours, not days. I'm talking about your typical online tournament or lower buy-in MTT or home game.

When you play a tournament that will end in hours, not days, your chances of finding a better spot to double up often become few and far between. Passing on getting your chips in with an edge in online tournaments becomes an even more dire situation than Matt's article prescribes. Now as I've mentioned before, I'm not exactly a numbers guy so I tend to let the others do the calculating. However, I see Matt's points and I personally think if I pass on my small edges in the tournaments I play, I am costing myself money in the long run.

Of course, the beauty of basically everything in life, including poker, writing and theories, is that we can choose to have our own opinion and we can disagree. If I stuff my chips in the middle because I feel I have a slight edge, then that is what is right to me. If I was correct and win, more power to me. If I was correct and lose, that's just the way the cookie crumbles. The beauty (and subsequently the beast) of poker is that I can also be incorrect and still walk away with the chips. As you and I both know, it happens ALL THE TIME.

I remember hearing a quote on ESPN once by a football coach that went something like this..."There are three results that can happen when you pass the ball and two of them are negative." This is clearly a coach who probably builds his program around a running attack and a strong defense.

What does this have to do with poker you ask? Well, honestly nothing, other than the quote makes me think about a poker situation. When you push your chips into the middle and announce "all-in," there are only so many results that can occur. Let's take a look.

1) You are ahead and win.

2) You are ahead and lose.

3) You are behind and win.

4) You are behind and lose.

Now that is obviously pretty basic, and truly more goes into it than that, depending on the situation, but you get the idea. But think about the above scenarios for a moment. There are not many situations in life that I can think of off the top of my head that reward an incorrect decision. Yet, in poker, it happens all the time. With #1, you made the correct decision and got the result you were hoping for. With #2, you made the right decision and were at the mercy of the cards. You can't control the actions of others and can only hope to get your chips in the middle with the best of it.

With #3, you ultimately made the wrong decision, but walked away with the chips. With #4, you made the wrong decision and "got what you deserved." In essence of the 4 situations, only one results in you making an incorrect decision and paying the price. I believe, in the end, if you make the right decisions and exploit both your small and large edges, you will ultimately be rewarded. You can't control what other players do, so you might as well try and exploit as many edges as possible and put yourself in a situation to win more often than not. Passing on your edges, no matter how small or large, can become very costly.

Let's finish this post up with a few things I will no longer do...

I will no longer play poker with fear. I will not fear negative results. You can't win every time and, especially with MTT's, more often than not you will lose. However, I can and will pinpoint and exploit other players fear, even at the cost of losing in certain small edge scenarios.

I will not fear losing my poker money. This is easy by playing within my bankroll and playing only with money I can afford to lose. If I fear losing my buy-in I am costing myself loads of money in the long run. This train of thought will find me limping into the money instead of storming the final table.

I will not fear being judged by my peers. That I'm aware of, I've yet to be the recipient of one of Hoy's rants, but I certainly have no fear of putting myself in a situation that I feel correct about at the cost of being fonked out. Whether my decision is correct or whether I am ultimately a fonkey, I will not fear the result. Don't get me wrong, I love Hoy's rants and can't believe I've yet to be one of his victims. I'm just using him as an illustration as his posts are a perfect example of letting the fear of what others think change the way you play a particular hand. I won't let that happen. If I make a fonkey move, so be it. If I make a decision that results in my exploiting a small edge that looks crazy, so be it. I won't lose any sleep over it. I will not fear going out first in a tournament if I feel I made the right decision in a particular situation.

Yikes, this post has turned into a self help nightmare. I think I should shut down now before I start looking like a wackjob. I know, I know, too late for that. Anyway, I'd love to here your thoughts on this subject. Like I said, to each his own, but of course, I'm right. I keed, I keed.

posted by TripJax @ 3:11 PM,


At 8:28 PM, Blogger GaryC said...

Dayum, that cold knock a little poker strategy into you? Nice post.


At 8:39 PM, Blogger Garthmeister J. said...

Ditto here, Trip. Very nice post, and great article to (re)highlight.

At 11:08 AM, Blogger Schaubs said...

This is EXACTLY what I needed this morning. In fact I think I'll re-read this post again before I go home today. Thanks Trips.

At 11:54 AM, Blogger Chipper said...

Well stated Tripjax. Fear is what keeps us from making the moves we should. I had a hand in the Hoy last night that I knew I was probably ahead in last night, but I could not make the big call when they raised big on the river. I "feared" being wrong. I was wrong alright. I folded and was shown that I did have the best hand. Grrrr.

At 6:13 PM, Blogger Matt said...

Thanks for the comment man. I agree that a break is needed, and if online poker is still around when that break is over, I'll jump back into the fray.


At 1:47 PM, Blogger Jestocost said...

I completely agree, which means nothing. I've been reading the Mathematics of Poker, however, and Bill Chen and Jerrod Ankenman agree too, which means at least a little bit more. Their reasoning is that there simply are not enough chances to get your chips in as a big favorite to justify timid, exploitable play.

At 4:36 PM, Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

Excellent post. I didn't read the original article by Matros, and can't read it right now from my office, but in general it sounds like I would totally disagree with the conclusions in the article. I don't understand how taking a 50-50 chance very early in an mtt can possibly be the right move. Cash game, of course if you are sure you have a small advantage and don't mind going back to your pocket for more chips if you come down on the wrong side of luck for this race, then sure. But in a tournament, where one elimination means you're done, taking what you know to be a 50-50 chance of winning or being eliminated seems downright silly to me.

Now, if it were in fact true that there aren't enough coinflip situations to double up in a tournament, then maybe you'd want to jump at the chance to double. But that idea is patently false, at least in basically all the mtt's that I play (and that is many of them btw as you know). The simple fact is that if you play smart, aggressive poker, you can probably find 2 to 3 chances an hour to take a race situation and have a roughly 50% shot to double up your chips. I mean, when you raise 3x preflop with AQ, and someone in LP reraises you 3x preflop as well, and you know this player well enough to know they almost surely have a pair Jacks or lower, and will almost surely call you if you move in on them with their 88, 99, TT or JJ, etc. then there is an opportunity for you to race right there. While you can rarely obviously be certain of exactly what your opponent holds, as a general statement these kinds of opportunities present themselves all the friggin time early in mtt's in my experience. And it only happens with more frequency as the tournament rolls on, the blinds and antes get higher and the Ms get lower.

One other important point on this concept -- I think there is a big difference moving in your last 1300 chips into a 200-chip pot with AQ against a guy you are fairly positive has a racing hand like TT or JJ, and being the guy who calls that allin preflop bet with the racing hand. Moving in in that situation is easily more justifiable, because there is some significant chance that your opponent will fold, either thinking he is behind and dominated, or more likely just not wanting to take on a 50-50 shot early in a tournament. But calling an allin when you think you're racing early in a tournament is the ultimate in -EV moves in my mind.

Ima read that article tonight and see if he convinces me of anything.


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