Total Pageviews


Hand in hand for eternity

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Cogito Ergo Sum


Pic - www.graudinkarlvek.blogspot.com
I play poker, therefore I am. No limit Texas hold’em poker (or simply Hold’em) is widely acknowledged as the Cadillac of card games. Any player worth his salt will warn you that it takes 5 minutes to learn and a lifetime to master. The game has come a long way both in terms of perception and playing strategies making it the only card game with adrenaline power to be televised. Variations of the game were played in gritty saloons in the Wild West and steamboats on the Mississippi where you could get killed over a bad beat. Today it is the mainstays at casinos all over the world and consistently attracts the high rollers and thinking payers that don’t want to play the house. With the advent of the internet, it is played by thousands of people at any given time of the day, making millionaires of some or paupers of others, every second. The World Series of Poker Main event boasts of one of the largest payouts in any sport, $9MM to be exact in 2010. That’s was what Jonathan Duhamel, a 22 year old from Montreal won after he emerged at the top of more than 7300 entrants in the 2010 World Series.  
So what is this game all about? In short it is a game of making the right decision with imperfect information and has little to do with your cards or for that matter Luck. In many ways it is a game that closely resembles something we are all familiar with…. Life. As you go about your life the basic conscious objective is to make decisions in self-interest while being limited by resources. For the uninitiated here’s how the game is played- 2 cards are dealt face down to each player followed by exposing  5 community cards face up that are available to everyone to improve their hands. The objective is to make the best combination of 5 cards from a total of 7 available cards (2 dealt to the player and 5 for the community). The dangerous aspect of the game is the innocuous ‘no limit’ part-this means that there is no upper limit to the amount that one can wager at any point when the hand is being played out. This is the challenge that makes the game alluring and intriguing, for the money that can be won and more importantly, for being able to figure out how to consistently make the right decision without regard to the outcome – win or loss. Confused? If something has a 90% probability of happening then 10% of the time there will be an adverse outcome. That’s called a bad beat not a bad decision.
Pic - www.sodahead.com
In the 1976, David Sklansky,  a mathematician and alum of Wharton, wrote the definitive book on the application of game theory math to the game of poker. The book was by itself is worthy of a PhD. Unfortunately this book’s strengths are its very weaknesses. The math is overwhelming to the casual player making it a dense read. This was followed in 1978 by The Super System written by a then 46 year old professional gambler with no academic training who by then had more than 20 years of playing experience. These 2 books changed the face of poker by putting a structure around decision making thus letting the secret out. Doyle Brunson, the godfather of poker and the author of the Super System, is now 77 years old and still going strong at the poker tables, which says something about this game. But knowing the ingredients to the secret sauce was not enough as the games were still heavily dominated by professionals who knew how to put it all together. And then Moneymaker happened. In 2003 Chris Moneymaker, a then 28 year CPA from Tennessee  won the World Series of Poker beating a field of 800 players  to take home $2.5MM becoming the first amateur to win the Main Event. What was more astonishing at the time was that he did not pay the customary $10,000 entry fee but instead qualified through an online tournament for a few hundred dollars. This was a water shed moment… there was a demonstrable event that the math theory worked. The professional gambler no longer had the exclusive edge on the game. This lead to a snowball effect and within 3 years fields of more than 8000 players were vying for a payout for the #1 position in excess of  $10MM and.  
This is a social game where bluffing and banter are par for the course. Reading your opponent based on their exhibited actions and facial expressions are crucial. I use the same skills I have learnt at the poker table to any negotiations at work. I know not to believe someone making an assurance followed by a gulp and signs of nervousness. No wonder FBI agents have written books on how to read and extract poker tells through interrogation strategies.
For many of us the grind continues. Let me leave you with a bad beat story. Villian 1 is the first person to act and is short stacked. He pushes all-in pre flop (before the community cards are exposed). It is folded around to me in mid position and I look down at AA. I call the all-in for about 30% of my stack. The action fold around to the last to act – Villian 2. He goes all-in over the top now costing me another 25% of my stack. I naturally call. With 2 players all in, the villians reveal their card. Villian 1 holds 66 and Villian 2 holds KK. The 3 rd card is a 6 giving Villain 1 a clear lead with 3 of a kind. Then the 5th card is a K giving Villian 2 the win. No wonder the outlaw Wild Bill Hickok was killed playing poker.

BY ARIJIT GHOSHAL

25 comments:

  1. Forwarding this to real poker lover...I love playing cards,this just shows your versatility as a writer...

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for your comment Alpana - this is by my husband : )

    ReplyDelete
  3. I was fortunate to learn the game from the author of this piece and practice it with him. Fond memories of 'tension and relief' around the poker table still haunt me.
    Awesome writing, Arijit, and thanks.
    I still have the habit of taking a sip of whatever is available after a good hit on Ludo here with my grandson, a mannerism that often led to my downfall while playing poker with Arijit.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I am addicted to poker. Maybe others would raise an eyebrow on me whenever I say that but what can I do? I can't help it. :)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Well, I don't know how to play very well but I am very, very good at bluffing so I win often lol.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Oh I know all about poker, I'm very good at it actually :) Arijit has taught me many tricks....Nice post!! I suddenly feel the itch for a game right now. Life is like poker at times isn't it....

    ReplyDelete
  7. I want to learn to play poker, I am terrible at bluffing. Liked the way Arijith has explained the game and the tricks can be used in real life too. "Reading your opponent based on their exhibited actions and facial expressions are crucial." Hope to learn from the financial wizard when he comes to Delhi.Great post Mr Mitr

    ReplyDelete
  8. I love poker and understand his feelings about Billy the kid Been there wanted to do that lol

    http://jpweddingphotograpy.blogspot.com/2011/03/night-of-super-moon-at-vero-beach.html

    ReplyDelete
  9. @Tapas - LOL - I remember those days : )
    @Faye - I used to be addicted too but lost interest somewhere in the middle. We should play sometime : )
    @Mari - same here. Love the game but hate the math in it : )
    @Swati - life is like poker most of the time. we are on when we get together ok?
    @Mitr - you don't want Mr. Mitr to teach you. He is a tough teacher.
    @JIm - thanks for coming by - wish we could get together for a round of poker : )

    ReplyDelete
  10. I have no clue about poker. Kriti your article is so informative. Thank you so much for sharing. Such a versatile writer you are!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Rimly - that's my husband writing - thanks for coming by anyway : )

    ReplyDelete
  12. I love the game and the excitment ... I hate loosing but thats part of it lol I can recall many bad beats such as me having quad kings got beat by straight flush on river .... so great post : )

    ReplyDelete
  13. @Angel - tell me about it - has happened to me numerous times too. Thank you so much for coming by.

    ReplyDelete
  14. hiii.....i can recall the days i played poker with my father, brother and my gang of friends sitting in the last bench of my class....there were times we were caught by our professor and were simply screwed up.....there were times tension haunted for the last minute...but, now i totally retired from the game..to say u clearly i was addicted...

    well coming to the post....its informative though i know some tricks that can make up the game...i had now completely lost interest in it

    Nice write....

    ReplyDelete
  15. Very well written, but the old cowboy, “Wild Bill Hickok” never played Texas hold’em. The game started play in the 19-50s. The most common game was draw poker, and faro next was five and seven card stud. The all time most played is black or twenty one. The game Wild Bill Hickok kill playing was reported as five card draw. Aces and Eight’s became known as the dead man hand. As far as poker and life: I will quote the song by Kenny Rogers” you got to read people’s faces, know when to hold ‘em, know when to foldem, and know when to walk away” I love a good game of draw any time. Lol I’ll see your bet and rave you twenty. LoL god bless

    ReplyDelete
  16. Thanks to everyone that came by! I'll try writing more

    Funny you should say that Roy. here is s funny anecdote on the Kenny Rogers song. Something to put it in the context of the financial meltdown http://dealbreaker.com/2009/10/raj-rajaratnam-hoping-to-break-even/

    Best Arijit

    ReplyDelete
  17. I don't know much about poker, but have always wanted to learn how to play. :)

    ReplyDelete
  18. I love poker am truly terrible though. Thelanguage used is fantastic and I often watch late night poker when insomnia strikes!

    ReplyDelete
  19. I am non-poker person and try as i might i just don't get it ( I'm a slot machine person = speaks oodles of my poker knowledge hehehe). I will definitely share this with people who understand the game and will get a kick out of it.A very interesting post, Mr.Ghosal.

    ReplyDelete
  20. @Anna - thanks for showing an interest still : )
    @Charles - way to go : ). Thanks for coming by...

    ReplyDelete
  21. LOL Prats - you are most welcome...

    ReplyDelete
  22. kriti i have no clue of poker or any other card game , but this was an impressive read... awesome writing babia !!!!!

    ReplyDelete
  23. I am guessing this is Frane - thanks a ton for coming by : )

    ReplyDelete
  24. Aрprecіate thiѕ ρоst.
    Wіll try it out.
    Feel free to visit my website ... 888 Poker Site Bonus

    ReplyDelete