The Tsunami

Strategize. Optimize. Pulverize.


Maximize Your Effectiveness (Poker and Beyond)

Poker strategy is complicated. Measuring your effectiveness at poker isn’t. Your effectiveness as a poker player is defined by one number – which we can conveniently call your poker hourly: 

Poker Hourly = (net $)/(hours invested)

Actually, I oversimplified things a little bit. The concept of poker hourly is simple. Measuring your poker hourly isn’t.

Net $ is your net winnings/losses minus expenses. Assuming that you’re always playing under the same game conditions, estimating your true long-term net winnings/losses per hour is a statistics problem. And the more hand/tournaments you’ve played, the more precise your estimate of your winrate becomes.  Unfortunately, you’re not guaranteed to be playing under the same game conditions. Therefore, it’s difficult for many players to have a true idea of how well they’re performing under current playing conditions. 

PTBB/100 for NLHE cash game play doesn’t converge until you’ve played about 100,000 hands. ROI for multitable sit ‘n goes with 90-180 player fields doesn’t converge until you’ve played about 10,000 tournaments. ROI for multitable tournaments with larger fields requires even more tournaments to converge (this really puts something like WSOP in perspective, huh?). 

At this point, some of you might be saying: “Wow! I might not play that many hands/tournaments in my life!” If you’re saying this to yourself, realize that you generally don’t need sample sets this large to tell simply whether you’re winning or losing. However, we’re not simply talking about winning versus losing here. We’re determining how best to allocate money and time.

Money allocated towards your poker includes travel, meals, computer hardware, computer software, and educational resources. Time allocated towards your poker includes playing, studying, setting up hardware/software, and traveling. Poker hourly, an elegantly simple concept, turns out to be a non-trivial accounting problem.

Setting up an accounting system to precisely track your poker hourly probably isn’t worth it. Fortunately, if you’re concerned with effectiveness, understanding the generalized definition of poker hourly is sufficient. 

Is the $400 computer upgrade worth it right now? Should you spend $X per month on a video training site? Should you spend the next hour playing or reviewing hand histories? Are you always sitting at the tables that yield the highest hourly winrate given your bankroll? Should you hire a personal assistant at $15/hr to give you more  time to play poker at $50/hr?      

These are the types of questions you should be asking if you consider poker to be a source of income (whether a supplemental source or more). Extrapolating beyond poker, these are the types of questions you should be asking if you’re involved in any business-related endeavor. Finally, extrapolating as far as we can, we end up in the realm of personal utility theory, where personal utilty is an abstract quantity that’s a stand-in for “life quality.” And optimizing life quality is all about maintaining balance between taking time to do things we enjoy and taking time to produce money/food/etc. to ensure that we have means to survive and means to acquire the things that we want.

As a somewhat simple example of maximizing personal utility, I might consider the following: what’s worth more to me, working the next hour to make $X or playing Lords Of Thunder? If I have a lot of money saved up, and I don’t anticipate making any large purchases in the near future, then I might opt for playing Lords of Thunder. If there’s a purchase I’d like to make, I might opt to work and make $X.  


(BTW, this isn’t me playing. One of these days, I’ll have to set things up so I can put up videos of me playing when I make my random video game references)

Personally, I know that I’m not always perfect when it comes to maximizing my utility. But I’m working on having the discipline to improve on this front. Meanwhile, if you’re not consciously thinking about utility maximization when making decisions, then consider starting.  Doing so should help you at the tables and beyond.

(if you’re interested in more thinking like this, consider reading Treat Your Poker Like a Business by Dusty “Leatherass” Schmidt and listening to the 1/8/2010 edition of Killer Poker Analysis)

May Your EV Always be Positive!

The Tsunami


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2 Responses to “Maximize Your Effectiveness (Poker and Beyond)”

  1. Matt says:

    Of course, you can’t spend all your time maximizing your utility. I can think of plenty of times that I could’ve played poker or done something useful but decided that Donkey Kong Country was more deserving of my time at that particular juncture.

  2. Actually, personal utility is just as much about enjoyment as it is about maximizing $/hr. Hence, I should always be maximizing my utility. My Lords of Thunder example was meant to illustrate that concept, but maybe I was a tad unclear. I’m going to make a small edit to make the concept more clear.

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