Monday, July 22, 2013

It's all about EV. No, really.

I think the place to begin teaching someone about poker, is to not teach them about poker. Let me explain.

I am assuming that a new student like Jane Doe actually understands the basic rules and mechanics of Texas Hold'em. If she doesn't, there are any number of good, basic primers on how the game is played. Things like "what's a flop" and "what's a blind" and "three of a kind beats two pair" are straightforward to learn from any number of different sources. In fact, I've actually written what I consider a pretty good primer myself, and I’m obviously going to include it in my intro lessons, but this part doesn't actually matter that much. Why? Because hold'em only takes "minutes to learn," right, and it is actually pretty easy to get (this is in fact the true genius of the game; it's extremely easy to get started in, but is incredibly complex the deeper you delve). (Okay, that said, I have to admit that when I took my first introductory class on hold'em at a community college years ago, the instructor didn't actually teach us how to play (!); he just assumed us brand new to the game would figure it out on our own. It was quite frustrating for me; I'd only played some draw and stud poker decades earlier in college, and knew next to nothing about hold'em. Hell, I'd forgotten if a flush beat a straight or not. I had to go out and research things like the basic rules of poker and hold'em myself; just a simple handout or two would have made life so much easier… but I digress.)

Anyway, assuming the student already understands rock-bottom basic Texas Hold'em, I think the place to begin is actually with the bigger picture of gambling itself. Get it across that poker is no different than any other gambling endeavor, except unlike blackjack or roulette, the odds can actually be in your favor.  This is where the skill part of poker comes in, and this skill is predicated entirely on the concept of expected value. Manipulate the odds in your favor, even a little bit, and then repeat that situation over and over. The result of this repetition is profit. Get your chips in good, and you print money over the long haul. Get your chips in bad, and you go broke. This is what separates the Durrrrs from the rest of the mortals-- Durrrr gets EV, you probably don't.

Tied intimately into this of course is the idea that decisions matter, results don't. One of the biggest a-ha moments I had in my poker education was that of RDM, or the results of an individual hand doesn't matter. In fact, bad beats should be embraced and relished: it literally means, by definition, that you're doing something right and your opponent isn't. Yes: Bad Beats Are A Good Thing. And this is because EV is all that matters.

I think a couple of simple examples of EV would have really helped me back when I was a newbie. Something like the classic dice rolling example, followed by a really simple draw example from poker, like a flush draw with one card to come. Maybe even toss in some business and personal life decision EV stuff; so much in life is EV related (or maybe it's just the ole' when you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail syndrome...?) Anyway, this is where I'm going to start the meat of the lessons.

I think beginning with EV does two big things. First is that it introduces the student right away to a few key poker concepts that are going to come back over and over again, such as odds, expectation, making good decisions, and of course RDM. When I first learned, none of these things were stressed; hell, they were barely pointed out. But I now believe EV is perhaps the single most important concept to master, particularly at level-1 poker. More so than almost anything else (yes, even Tilt). I.e., if you repeat good decisions over and over, and get your money "in good" you'll win in the long run.  I think stressing EV in a newbie's poker education is like voting in Chicago: it needs to be done early and often.

And this brings up the second reason for starting here. The equation for EV is fundamentally about maximizing your chance of winning (and maximizing the amount of money you gain when you do), and minimizing the chance you're going to lose (and minimizing the amount lost when you do). To me, this means everything we learn in poker has to be centered around doing these basic things. From hand reading, to playing position, to estimating SPRs, to… well, you name it, I really believe it all stems from this equation. And from this flows everything one needs to know in poker. Yes, everything. From bankroll management, to the zen of folding, to pot commitment, to... well everything. I believe this so much that I even derive my three fundamental edges of poker from the EV equations, and from this I've arranged my poker pyramid of skills. From EV, all things follow...

As usual, feedback, criticism, and/or suggestions are always welcome. Maybe more so than ever, in fact.

--Warning: Non-Poker Content Follows--

Is there a media library/player program more frustrating than iTunes out there? Arghgh. I recently made the (ill-advised) switch from Windows Media Player to iTunes. I did this because I really like a particular podcast catcher on my smart phone that reportedly works really well with the Apple's iTunes product. After spending a day converting my music files over to a format that iTunes can play, I can honestly say it was a huge mistake. Or better stated: What a piece of flaming dog turd iTunes is. The program randomly makes duplicates of many of my songs, it randomly loses other ones, continuously asks me to reconvert files that I know its converted, etc.. At first I figured it was just me; I'm probably doing something wrong. Bzzzzzt. Just a little googling made it clear that it's the program, not me. Most "solutions" entail  purchasing third-party add-ins to help organize and clean-up your library of songs. Seriously? Windows Media Player just plain works. iTunes does not. Period. And it's not like these are recent problems with the software, either. Users have been griping about the problem with this flaming pile of dog turd, er,  iTunes for years on Apple forums. Frankly, I just don't get the whole Apple thing anyway. Take Mac computers, for instance. Invariably at work, when someone has to give a presentation from their laptop, and it's a Mac, we'll sit there for at least five minutes while they try to make their machine talk to the projector. Or they have the wrong cable and literally cannot physically connect the machine to the projector.  I also wish I had a nickel for every time a Mac user (and we have plenty of 'em at work) complained that they have to run Parallels or some other Windows emulator program so that they can do things the rest of us are able to do normally. For instance, we use a big name enterprise data management program at work to control the configuration of revision-controlled documents; it's a type of vault that files can be checked out of to be worked on and then checked back in to. It's a requirement of our systems engineering group to use this data management program, and it's pretty stable and robust, but my own boss (who is the freaking manager of the entire freaking $300M project) literally finds it too difficult to use it because it's too hard to make work with his Mac. He therefore operates rogue from the rest of us lackies. Can someone please explain the Apple thing to me? I run a basic laptop with Windows 7. It essentially always works, almost never crashes, never gets a virus, and runs all the software I need. I typically go months between reboots, and that is usually because I've done an update to iTunes, and they require it. What's the big freaking advantage of Apple?
All-in for now…

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