Tuesday, June 30, 2009

World Series of Poker

For my upcoming trip to Las Vegas, I've promised a bunch of people that I'd keep them updated on how I'm doing while I'm there. Chances are I'll be knocked out early on (after all, most people are), but perhaps there will be time for a few posts of interest nonetheless. The majority of the people who have requested that I'll keep them posted are not poker players, or at least not very experienced poker players, so to kick things off I'd like to set a few things straight.

(Hi immediate family, hi Zenterio people, hi Facebook acquaintances, hi everyone else who might drop in!)

First of all, the World Series of Poker is, as the name implies, a series of tournaments, not just one tournament, and the one I'll be playing in is actually event #57 of the series, and is called the "Main Event." It's a $10,000 buy-in, no-limit hold'em tournament and usually has around 6,000 entrants. The entry to the tournament, plus a week's worth of hotel and $1,000 to get to and from Las Vegas was something I won in a small tournament at Party Poker, which cost me $5 to enter and which has to be, by any standard, a really good deal for me.

Secondly, and I'm bringing this up since there has been some confusion about this when I'm telling people about it, a tournament where a lot of people enter means that there's a lot of tables full of people playing at the same time. It is NOT the case that only the winner of each table goes on to keep playing. It doesn't work that way at all, but rather what they do is to make sure to keep the tables as full as possible at all times. Since every table has 10 seats (or 9? I forget) and there can be as many as 3,000 people playing at the same time, this means that there can be up to 300 tables full of players in a very large room. As the tournament progresses and people get eliminated (by losing all their chips) seats will become vacant at the tables. Once enough seats are vacant, some tables will simply be split up and the people playing at them will be assigned new seats among the ones that are empty. In other words, we're not playing until someone is the only one left at a table, but until there's only one table left, if you see the difference.

[Curiously, once there's only one table left, the tournament will take a 3-month break and will resume again in November. This was something they started doing last year and I believe the reason for it is that they want time to get a whole bunch of media coverage and sell really expensive advertisements for it. Last year it may not have worked out so well for them (the final table was played only days after the US presidential election and so the expected media frenzy over the poker world championships was underwhelming), but perhaps they'll be redeemed this year. In the very unlikely event that I'll be playing at the final table, in other words, I'll have to go back to Vegas again in November.]

Third, it's not a "winner-takes-all" tournament. If 6,000 people enter - as was the case last year - they start the payouts at around position 600. So if I'm among the first 5,400 people to get knocked out, I win nothing. And if I'm knocked just after the "bubble" bursts (the point in the tournament where people start getting paid) I'll win around $20,000. The payouts increase gradually (and slowly, at first) up to first place which last year paid about nine million dollars.

Fourth, and this is the main point which I think people may misunderstand about poker in general and tournaments specifically, this tournament is predominantly about luck. I don't care what you've heard before or seen in "Rounders" or any other place, the fact of the matter is that the outcome of a tournament is not going to even remotely accurately reflect skill. I'm not pointing this out to safe-guard myself from being teased about not being good enough if I get knocked out early, but because I don't want people to get strange ideas about what it means to win money in a tournament. On the other hand, I also really don't want you to think that I'm claiming that poker is a game where only lucky people win because that's not true either. Poker is a skill game as surely as any other game of skill you can come up with, but the edge that a skilled player has over a bad player is very small compared to how the cards fall. Over a long period of time, skill will completely negate the random deals of cards and only the skilled players will make money - but one tournament is anything but a long period of time. A couple of thousand tournaments and we can start talking.

To help me explain this I'll use two "games" that are analogous to poker in their different ways: Bridge and betting on horses.

Bridge is a good analogy because the deal of the cards is random. However, no one (in their right mind) would claim that bridge isn't a game of skill. The way bridge tournaments has taken the luck out of the cards is by dealing the same hands to different teams and matching their relative score. So a team that plays a "bad" hand really well still gets rewarded for it and can go on to win a bridge tournament even if they haven't "won" a single deal. This is most certainly not the case in poker; a poker player can play every hand he's dealt perfectly and still get knocked out early and not win anything.

Betting on horses is also a good analogy for poker, but in a different way, because it helps explain how "luck" can be successful in the short term but skill will prevail in the long term. If a skilled professional sports bettor (horses, football, whatever he's betting on) places a bet, he's not expecting to win it most of the time. In fact, the vast majority of bets he places will be losing bets, but he's looking at the odds not the chance of winning: If he thinks a horse will win 25% of the time, but is getting 8:1 odds, he's going to bet a fairly sizeable chunk of money on that horse. Sure, three times out of four he's going to lose the money that he bets. But one quarter of the time, he'll get 8 times his money back which makes him a huge winner in the long term.

And so it is with online poker tournaments. The world's best player (I'm not going to speculate as to who that is except to say that it's decidedly not me) is almost certainly not going to win the World Series of Poker Main Event. In fact, he's probably more likely than not to not even get paid at all. But the times that he (or she, in fairness) DOES get paid, that payday is going to make up for the many losses he has to put up with between wins. That's how poker tournaments work.


And my point in all this, especially the last part about luck and skill, is that I don't want anyone to get their hopes up. There's perhaps 6,000 people entering, which is a lot of people to hope for to get knocked out before I do. And if the world's best player is more likely than not to be knocked out of the tournament without winning anything at all, the same clearly goes for me. That said, I'll still do my best to have fun and let you know - via this blog - how things are going. I'll try to make a point of making a post every night from the hotel room but I'll hope you forgive me if I miss some nights.

So bookmark this: http://fredrikpaulsson.blogspot.com/ (or subscribe to the RSS feed) and you'll see how I'm doing and what's going on. I'm hoping to get some pictures up, too. I must remember to pack the camera.

Comments are enabled and you're welcome to write and show your undying support for your hero - me.

Jao jao jao,


Icemonkey9 said...

Good luck sir. You'll find the structure of this event to be a lot better than it was years ago. I agree with what you've written as it seems geared towards poker novices and I want to reiterate what you said to them as being true.

Safe journeys to my homeland, and it'll be nice to meet you and your family while you are out here.

Örjan Nyström said...

Best of luck to you mr Paulsson. Get deep and get rich.
It would be great to join you in Vegas. Maybe next year (as usual).

WVHillbilly said...

So having said all that luck mumbo-jumbo you're definitely taking this thing down, right? I believe it was Jerry Chang who "proved" that all you have to do is ask your "higher power" and the cards will fall your way! EZ game.

gl Fredrik. :)

Anonymous said...

Hey there Fredrik. Good luck in Vegas and best wishes from your beloved God-son.

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