Sunday, July 29, 2012

Hand Chart Construction, Part 2: Format

There are 1,326 unique starting hands in Texas Hold'em that can be dealt to a player. Preflop, however,we can think of a hand like QJ♥ as being functionally equivalent to QJ♣, and hands like 87♥ the same as 87. In other words, we can reduce this rather large number of 1,326 hands to a smaller, but still somewhat unwieldy 169 "unique" hands. 

Of these 169 hands, 13 are pairs, 78 are suited non-pairs, and 78 are non-suited non-pairs. Within these three basic groupings of cards, some are clearly stronger (and therefore more "playable") than others. Within the pairs, for instance, AA is clearly stronger than 22 before the flop. Similarly, AKo is stronger than AQo, which is stronger than KQo, and so on. The trick with a starting hand chart, therefore, is to display all 169 2-card hands in a manner that is both easy to read, but still informative in terms of relative strength. We also want to be able to differentiate playable hands as a function of our position, table dynamics, and the action upstream of us.

To do this, there are essentially three primary styles or formats we can choose from when constructing a starting hand chart: 13x13 Grid, Matrix, and Text. Here's little bit about each:

13x13 Grid. This is the format that programs like PokerStove and Flopzilla use. Pairs are located along the central diagonal that runs from the upper left of the grid to the lower right. Suited cards are above this diagonal, and unsuited cards are below it. Generally speaking, the higher up and to the left you are in the chart, as well as the closer you are to the diagonal, the stronger your 2-card hand is (e.g., note that AA is in the upper left corner, while hands like 32o are near the lower bottom right.)
13 x 13 Grid Format
  • ProsThe chief advantage  to this format is that the chart is compact and easy to read. It's also easy to visualize where your hand sits relative to others in terms of general strength. In other words, how far up and to the left is your hand on the chart?
  • Cons: The chief disadvantage with this chart is that it doesn't leave much room to add information on things like position, table dynamics, or the upstream action. Yes, you can use color, but this only provides a solution to one of these items.
Matrix Format. This is the style that I personally used when I was first starting out in poker. Down the left side of the matrix is a listing of hands, usually sorted into groups by the high card in the hand. Across the top are both positions and upstream actions. To use this chart, you simply drop down vertically along the left side until you find your hand, then scoot horizontally across the chart until you find your position and the upstream action. Easy peasy.
Matrix Format
  • Pros: The biggest advantage of this chart is is ease of use and display of the information.
  • Cons: The biggest disadvantage of this chart is that it's a little slow and awkward to use. The chart can also be pretty large if you want to include a lot of hands. This means it's hard to create one that sits fully on your desktop when you play; i.e., the one I used to use required me to scroll up and down.
Text List. This is the old-skool "chart," which is in reality just a list of positions, along with columns for call, raise, and so on.
Text Format
  • Pros: you can fit a lot of information into a small, compact area.
  • Cons: it's tough to read this this kind of chart in the heat of battle; graphical displays are almost always better than text displays when trying to convey information in a fast, concise, accurate manner. You don't see fighter pilots with text lists displayed on their HUDs, do you?
There are other types of charts, but these are the most common. So which one am I going to use? I haven't fully figured that out yet, but I know that I'm not going with number three (text list). Instead, I think I'm going to start with the matrix format as a means of simply collecting the data. Then I might try to shoe horn the information into some kind of hybrid grid format. Dunno. The trick is figuring out a way to display all the data into just one or two charts. We'll see how it develops. The next thing I want to do, however, is start creating the actual data that goes into the chart.

All-in for now...

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