Monday, February 25, 2008

Poker is about ...

Which of these statements is most true?

1) Expert poker players win money because they plan ahead to avoid having to make tough decisions.

2) Poker players win money by avoiding mistakes.

3) Solid players win by making correct decisions, whether they're simple or complicated.

The first statement comes from Ed Miller, and I wrote about it previously.

The second was written by Gary Carson in December, although I didn't see the post until recently.

The third reflects my belief.

Carson says that both Miller and I are wrong:

You do not make money in poker by being smart. You make money by the other guy not being smart. You simply want to avoid mistakes.

The decisions you want to focus on are the ones with big potential payoffs and small risk, it doesn't matter whether they're easy ones are hard ones, it doesn't matter whether you make most decisions correctly. It matters that you make the important ones correctly.

I disagree. If you "simply ... avoid mistakes" rather than actively try to induce them, that's a poor way to try to win money in poker.

Avoiding mistakes suggests to me that players should be dodging a minefield of obstacles rather than creating hurdles for your opponents yourself.

I also take issue with the idea that poker players should focus on the decisions that have "big potential payoffs and small risk." Properly bankrolled players should not be concerned about how risky a play is. All they're interested in is making the play that nets them the most money in the long run.

Do you think the goal of poker is to make correct decisions, avoid mistakes or avoid tough decisions? I'd like to hear comments.


SimpleStyle said...

I think the statements boil down to:
1) Avoid tough decisions
2) Avoid mistakes
3) Make correct decisions

I think each statement is totally valid and valuable in itself and/or in conjunction with the others. A great player will incorporate all three ideas into their game. They'll avoid tough decisions when they are playing against better opponents; they'll avoid mistakes by knowing the math and reading hands well; and they'll obviously make correct decisions based on math and reads.

"You do not make money in poker by being smart. You make money by the other guy not being smart. You simply want to avoid mistakes."

I think this is independent of being proactive to induce hurdles, because your opponents are being proactive too (or at least trying to be). Hurdles are equivalent to mistakes: you want to avoid them. So it's definitely important to create hurdles/mistakes for your opponent to walk into, and it's just as important to avoid hurdles created for you by your opponents.

Fuel55 said...

You are obviously right.

kurokitty said...

This reminds me of two statements, which both could be the new Theory of Poker:

1). The condensed Theory of Poker could be Amarillo Slim's favorite saying, "Guessers are losers." When you are the one who ends up having to guess what your opponent has, you are the loser and when you make your opponent have to guess, he is the loser.

2). Sun Tzu in The Art of War, or the "OG Theory of Poker": "When you know yourself and you know your enemy, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles."

or a third, from the movie Point Break: "Peace, through superior firepower," arming yourself with better decision making ability and analysis than your opponent.

Alan aka RecessRampage said...

I personally look at my poker game and notice that I tend to manage risk. I don't necessarily avoid it, but I also want to put myself in a situation where there are lower risks. So in other words, even though I am properly bankrolled for 2-4NL, I don't always make the "right" call in a situation where it could be considered right to call or fold. In other words, I know that I am not pushing the marginal edges because I know that I can find a better spot. I think as I move up, I might have to push those marginal edges because there are probably a lot less situations where I can find a better spot. But as of right now, I think that's where I fall.

pokerpeaker said...

What's interesting here is you could almost follow a different mantra based on whether you are in a cash game or a tournament.

I think when I'm playing a tournament, you make correct decisions, and sometimes the correct decision in a tournament, i.e. jamming with A-Q, would not be the correct decision in a cash game (cause you'll only get called with a better hand unless you've been aggro).

I think when I play a cash game, I try to stay out of trouble and avoid tough decisions.

Unfortunately, when I play a tournament, I try to avoid tough decisions far too often, and that's my weakness. I might go deep a lot but rarely have enough weapons to make a big cash. It's something I'm trying to change but it still is a problem. In fact, I believe playing to just avoid tough decisions in a tournament can actually HURT you as a tournament player because the blinds will always be your enemy in that case, unless you hit a good run of cards and flops.

I have made a lot of money, however, in cash games by avoiding the difficult decisions and letting others make the mistakes. It's worked pretty well so far. I wonder how long it will keep me going, especially as I move up in levels.

Drizztdj said...

I just trying to avoid sucking.

People that suck don't normally win.

Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

Great post, Gnome. My two cents is that the idea of great poker players making money by avoiding tough decisions is silly. I alluded to this back in your original post about this very point in Professional No Limit Holdem, but then of course I never went and put up my own post as I had been contemplating doing at that time.

In a nutshell, I think the entire flaw of the whole SPR premise from that book is that it treats "avoiding tough decisions" as an end unto itself, which I do not agree with. And don't get me wrong, I think avoiding tough decisions is an important thing to do at the poker tables -- cash or tournament, mind you -- but I would never attribute winning money playing poker to that concept. Avoiding tough decisions, to me, is more of a nice consequence of playing good poker, but not the definition of playing good poker.

The writers of Professional NL Holdem would have you change your raise sizes with a big pocket pair and big stack sizes as compared to a two-high-card hand, suited connectors, etc. Yet it seems the main point of their entire SPR strategy is to avoid tough decisions. I do not believe it is optimal poker at all to raise bigger or smaller amounts just to make your decision of whether or not to commit if, say, your opponent reraises you allin preflop easier.

"Well, I've already got a third of my stack in the pot now with this QQ, so I can easily commit the other 2/3 despite my opponent's reraise since I raised so much to begin with preflop already." That's basically the kind of thinking that I think SPR and the authors of that book tend to promote by their SPR strategy. Again, I am all about avoiding tough decisions, but good players play good poker and therefore usually avoid tough decisions. Good players do not actually set out to avoid tough decisions as a goal in and of itself.

Great post, did I say that already?

bayne_s said...

Two most important aspects of winning poker are to make correct decisions no matter how difficult and to force your opponent into mistakes.

I am a big fan of avoiding tough decisions so if I have nut set on a draw heavy board (flush + straight draws) after turn I am more likely to commit chips on turn so as to avoid a tough decision after river.

Eric a.k.a. Bone Daddy said...

I think the 2nd comment is to passive and simple, as Poker is a risk management, risk reward based game.

I would proposed that winning poker is...

minizing your mistakes while maximizing on the mistakes of others.

I liked Drizz's theorem too.

HighOnPoker said...

I picked 3 before knowing it was your statement. It sums everything up nicely. I think Miller and Carson are both taking skewed looks at the situation. My guess is that Miller happened to be focusing on the pre-planning aspect of the game when he wrote his overly broad statement. Carson just likes to argue, and probably fashioned his argument purely to oppose Miller.

In the end, all one can control is his own actions at the table. That is where poker lies, in decision making. You want to plan ahead to a certain extent to avoid tough decisions, and you want to make few mistakes and take advantage of others', but in the end, those things are merely just an outgrowth (or subset) of good decision making.

SubZero said...

The decisions of a good poker player during a hand need to be made according to a blend of objectives:

1) What the player deems to be +EV
2) What will make any future decisions for the player easier
3) What will make any future decisions for your opponent harder

A good player will always make decisions that should earn/save them the most money possible, but may occasionally deviate with a view to making any possible future decisions simpler for them, and tougher for their opponent.
Say I am in the cutoff with an overpair on a draw free board in a multiway pot. Firing a pot-sized bet at the button (who is a strong player) may not be strictly +EV, but will simplify the rest of the hand. If he smooth calls your strong bet, you can assume trouble, and react accordingly. If he folds, you will be in position, and can play much more easily and safely against any remaining opponents. If he raises, you can use your notes/experience of this player to determine the correct response.
Whatever happens, you will have identified with a high degree of confidence where you stand, and can thus use that information to make your next +EV decision.

Poker has been described as "a hard way to make an easy living". Make it hard for your opponents, and it should become easy for you.

< /essay> ;- )

SubZero said...

ps Very good post, as ever.