Reflections on the Great Sport-Betting Experiment – The First Bet

My bets:

Sunderland 0 – 2 Man Utd (picked due to statistical analysis)
Sunderland 1 – 3 Man Utd (picked due to the value of 16/1)
Sunderland vs Man Utd – below 2.5 goals (successful)

Well, just as I wouldn’t have claimed a huge success had Man U scored a second, I’m not too disheartened by the outcome of my first betting challenge. I am happy with the strategy employed in making my selections (based solely on the stats; no credence was given to my pre-existing biases and beliefs about the respective strength of the squads).

For those who haven’t seen my betting strategy videos, I collated and analysed the following stats: recent form (home form for Sunderland, away form for Man U); attacking prowess, defensive strength, and league standing. It became apparent that Sunderland score few and concede few at home, and that Man U almost always win away from home without trouncing the opposition. I settled on 2-0 Man U, which unfortunately did not come to pass, although I am pleased that my analysis yielded a similar outcome to the real one.

Onwards and upwards! I am taking suggestions as to my second betting challenge. Please let me know if there’s an EPL match that you would like for me to analyse and predict.

Many thanks,

Christy

A Sport Betting Challenge!

Never one to back down from a good challenge, on Saturday I will make my first sports bet since 2010, and second since 2006. Here are the details:

Can my online poker background and Sport Psychology MSc be utilised in the world of sport betting? Can I successfully analyse the upcoming Man U – Sunderland game, and predict its outcome?

Keep your eye on this page for a short strategy video detailing the challenge I face, and the thought process behind my decision-making.

Participants Wanted for Poker Study: 6-max SNGs

As some of you might be aware, I am currently undertaking a Master’s degree in Sport Psychology. My dissertation is going to be on decision-making in poker. If you meet the following criteria and would be interested in taking part (no fee for participation I’m afraid, but it’s going to be a fun study!) please PM me at Drag the Bar, email poker@christykeenan.com, or add me on Skype (search ‘casy151’)

*Winning 6max SNG player with an ROI not more than 5%

*Willing to find an hour or so to undertake the study in the next month

The Ambition Fallacy: Ruining Scottish Football

In football, momentum is critical. Strikers in the goalscoring habit make it look easy, and every chance is a goal waiting to happen. This is generally because on the pitch, those playing ‘in the moment’ are not thinking about the mechanics of what they are doing; they are too busy banging the ball into the net to care.

Making it look so care-free and natural actually requires a perfect storm of contributing factors. Firstly, a trustworthy support network is a must. The coaches who have brought the player through the ranks are usually first on the list. Family and childhood friends are vital too, for no youngster should be defined entirely by their occupation. This is why so many footballers marry and start families at such a young age.

Moving around the country (or the world) in such a stressful occupation can be too much to handle for most young, single, men. Having a reliable support network has two main benefits: it reduces the effects of stress, and, crucially, it results in potentially stressful situations being perceived as less-stressful. With a high stress threshold, a youngster can play without fear.

Promising Young Scott Allan

Promising Young Scott Allan

A promising player who bursts into the first-team, playing as if he doesn’t have a care in the world, has this impact facilitated by the love and support of those around him (keeping the pressure off his shoulders) far more than the clichéd and misleading ‘natural talent’ myth.

In short, this is why making a big move at a young age can stymie a career. A youngster’s agent and the media will perpetuate the lie that it is the player’s talent that is responsible for his career, as if talent is this one, distinct and free-standing attribute that certain people are blessed with.

The reality is far more prosaic, will sell fewer papers, and results in fewer signing-on commissions for the agent. Talent is a construct, propped up support and hard work. Think of talent like it’s the peak of a pyramid, with support and hard work as the bottom corners. Without these two crucial components providing the frame, ‘talent’ is unable to stay at the top.

The agent is focused on his commission, the media are focused on their headlines. Nobody stops to think about what is best for the youngster’s development, the fact that ‘talent’ unsupported is not truly talent: it’s potential. And it will go unfulfilled if the youngster is removed from a comforting, nurturing environment, and deposited into a bigger pond with plenty of bigger fish with better support networks already in place.

A promising teenager is not an adult; no matter their physical dimensions or performances on the park, they are still immature. They require a strong support system and will produce their best performances when they feel loved and pressure-free.

Forget what the press will say; rejecting bigger transfers at a young age is actually the most ambitious decision that a footballer can make. It requires self-awareness and self-assuredness that are traits synonymous with maturity, which is why the youngster is susceptible to making impetuous, career-harming, decisions.

The ability to say ‘the best thing for me right now is not money – after all, I already have more than I need – it is regular first-team football in a place where I am happy and well-supported by those around me. In a couple of years I will be more experienced and more mature, and ready to make a big move that befits my ability’ requires huge ambition. It shows a belief in their own career trajectory, and a respect for the importance of hard work and a reliable support system.

Making a big move at too young an age, away from their familiar surroundings, friends and family, will likely create an imbalance in the pyramid and result in ‘talent’ giving way to ‘potential’. A truly ambitious player sees where their talent can take them, and respects that the factors required to take them there cannot often be artificially manufactured somewhere else.

Of course, the irony is that a player mature enough to make the decision to reject the transfer may well be mature enough to handle the move. But that’s Scottish football; a sport filled with bad advice and short-termist outlooks. If we are not careful, we are going to have an entire generation of burnt-out, disillusioned youngsters too busy following bad advice to remember that this game is supposed to be fun. And where’s the ambition in that?

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The Strategy of 18-Man SNGs (pt 2)

18 Man Strategy – Part Two

Last month we took a look at the early game strategy of 18-man Sit N Gos. With a very limited amount of time until the push-or-pass blind levels come into effect (BB 100 and higher), there is an onus on the good players at the table to accumulate chips in the early stages.

As such, starting hand requirements can be lowered if there is reason to believe that Hero’s post-flop edge will counterbalance his hand’s weakness. In other words, the cards matter less than position when facing a fish. With the bubble factor being so low (the further from the bubble, the lower the bubble factor), then risks can and must be taken in order to give yourself a competitive stack at the endgame.

Guess what the biggest mistake commonly made at the final table is? I’ll give you a clue: it’s exactly the same as the biggest mistake commonly made in the early game. That’s right; forget what you think you know – tight is WRONG!

Most players instinctively nit up when short or medium-stacked as the bubble approaches. Their logic, which runs along the lines of ‘I’ve invested too much time and concentration in this tournament in order to bust without any cash’ is fundamentally flawed. I’m going to show you the numbers in order to explain why.

Let’s take an 18-man SNG on Pokerstars. Entry costs $13.89 + $1.11, with prizes of $100, $75, $50 and $25 for the top four finishers. A lot of novice/intermediate players make the mistake of looking at the prizepool and deducing that a first-place finish is 4x as valuable as finishing fourth. However, this is not the case.

Let’s compare them when deducting the entry fee: $100 minus the $15 entry plus rake = $85 profit. $25 for fourth places equates to a measly $10 profit once the same $15 is subtracted. Put simply, one first-place finish is worth a monstrous eight-and-a-half fourth-place finishes!

So how does this relate to optimal bubble strategy? Well, in short, you should do everything within your power to ensure that you grow your stack on the bubble, rather than folding your way to a puny cash. The bubble must be treated like it’s an old friend; you have been here before and know how to cope with its idiosyncrasies.

Too many players fear the bubble and risk-aversion takes over. Of course, I’m not advocating ‘any-two-will-do’ recklessness; however, it is absolutely vital to identify the players who are only interested in locking up a cash and then you must bully them mercilessly.

Remember that, when the bubble period commences, the blinds are normally monstrous and the presence of antes are a double-whammy. Any opportunity to steal and propel yourself towards the chip-lead must be grasped with both hands.

Remember the maxim of Sit N Gos: shove wide, call tight. Fold equity is absolutely crucial; calling an all-in shove involves paying an enormous ICM tax unless the caller has a monster stack, so it is imperative to put your opponents to a tough decision.

The vast majority of the time, all but the LAGgiest of villains will err on the side of caution. Let’s take a look at two examples from a tournament recently played by one of my students:

HAND EXAMPLE ONE:

In the early stages, risks should be taken in order to grow your chipstack and apply pressure on your opponents. Here, Luis has a tough decision when faced with a mini 3-bet. Reasoning that a higher pocket pair would probably 3-bet larger in order to juice the pot pre-flop, he decides to 4-bet all-in with Jacks for value. Villain’s call with pocket fives is consistent with the loose/passive play commonly found in lower stakes tournaments. However, that’s not Luis’s concern and he is happy to gain a full double-up with his Jacks. Now he is handily positioned to start pressurising the rest of the table.

HAND EXAMPLE TWO:

Luis has successfully built upon his early double-up and approaches the critical bubble passage with a commanding chip-lead. He puts his chips to full effect by whaling on his opponents, making a number of loose open-shoves safe in the knowledge that, with such enormous ICM implications, his opponents will be (correctly) calling very tight. On the bubble, he picks up the 725 in blinds and antes four times in six hands, positioning himself handily to take down the whole tournament, rather than being content in waiting out the bursting of the bubble.

Luis ended up taking down this particular Sit N Go, and in reviewing his tournament afterwards I was proud to see the number of occasions in which he didn’t allow his terrible cards to dictate his decision-making. Recognising a good shove spot has little to do with your actual holding, and has everything to do with your fold equity. Weak players wait for others to do the dirty work in popping the bubble for them. Good players, however, see the bubble for what it truly is: an opportunity to set oneself up for winning the tournament.

SIDEBAR: Folding Can be OK!

Of course, we can’t always be reaching for the stars. Sometimes we will be in the gutter, short-stacked and scrapping to secure a min-cash. This is the nature of the Sit N Go; you can’t win them all, but you can do everything in your power to make the optimal play at any given moment.

When you are micro-stacked and your tournament EV is low, it can be strategically sound to attempt to fold your way into the money. Any return on your investment is an achievement in itself, but it is criminal to fold away into a position where you are rapidly blinding out. In Sit N Gos, fold equity is everything; preserving it by making some light shoves has to be done on occasion. And remember, you’re allowed to suck out sometimes too!

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The Strategy of 18-Man SNGs (pt 1)

***Here is a 2-part article I wrote last year for Poker: The Magazine ***

THE STRATEGY OF SIT N GOS – WITH PREACHERCASY151

18man Sit N Gos are hugely profitable for two main reasons: with more entrants than their 9man or 6max counterparts and fewer regs, there is obviously more likelihood of finding a soft game. When this simple truth is coupled with the fact that there are some pretty basic flaws in the accepted optimal strategy, it is not difficult to see why the best regs at even the lowest stakes are making some serious coin.

In 6max SNGs, with two players getting paid and a pretty chunky payout structure of 65% for first place, 35% for second, each player’s tournament life is extremely valuable. Even in level one, with one-third of the entrants reaching the money, the bubble is not far away. Let’s contrast this with the payout structure of an 18man SNG:

Firstly, the payout is more gradual With four players making the money, it goes up incrementally from 10% of the prize pool for fourth place to 40% for first place. At no stage is there a payout leap as great as with a 6max or 9man money bubble. As such, locking up a min-cash (or, conversely, being the bubble boy) is not as significant in terms of prize pool equity as in one-table SNGs.

Of course, in actual dollar terms, the larger the field, the bigger the prizepool. Therefore, making the money consistently is fundamental to your bottom line. However, with only 22% of the field cashing in an 18man SNG and a larger proportion of weak opponents, the best regs will be on the front foot from the first level.

I advocate taking risks in the early stages, with the intention of building a formidable stack right from the start. The positive impact of this is three-fold. Firstly, achieving an early double-up affords you a comfortable buffer from elimination.

If you have your opponents out-chipped, then you cannot be eliminated in a single hand. Your opponent’s tournament life is at risk every time he plays a pot with you, but yours is not. As such, you generate more fold equity against those who fear being KOd.

Secondly, as mentioned, it is vital that you claim the weak players’ chips before your tough opponents do. Simply put, the best regs have a higher expectation in the tournament than the fish.

They will, on average, reach the end-game more frequently. If your opponent is a big donator in the games, then his chips are up for grabs. He will enter too many pots, play too passively, and spew off chips postflop with hands like Top Pair, Mediocre Kicker.

Of course, the only way to truly exploit his postflop deficiencies is to get into pots with him. Look to isolate his open-limps, and play liberally when in position. There is a difference between widening your range in order to exploit a weak opponent, and sheer recklessness.

You will have to have some deft post-flop manoeuvres in your arsenal, but the only way to develop a feel for this is by immersing yourself in post-flop decision-making. Remember that the deeper-stacked you are post-flop, the more pronounced your edge will be. This is because there is an increased likelihood that your opponent will have to make decisions on all three streets. More decision-making for your opponent = more potential mistakes for him to make. More mistakes from him = more money for you!

The third compelling reason why you should be inclined to take risks in the early stages is that accumulating a big stack will not just prevent your tough opponents from doing so, it will allow you to whale on them.

You will be able to wield your big stack; the good regs will know that their expectation in the tournament is high, and will be disinclined to tangle with another good player who has them out-chipped.

Their blinds will become ripe for your plundering, and their raises prime opportunities to re-steal. So not only will you accumulated a healthy stack to take into the end-game, but you will also be constantly increasing the disparity between yourself and the other good players by nicking away at their chips.

In summary; it is my opinion that too many good players approach the early stages of an 18man SNG with chip conservation, rather than chip accumulation, on their mind. They simply want to reach the push-heavy middle stages with a playable stack in order to exploit the holes in the fishes’ shoving habits. The flaw in this theory is that there is no guarantee that the soft money in the field will still be in their possession! If a good opponent gets to the weak player’s chips before you do, then you can guarantee that you will have a far trickier mission claiming those chips from him. His mistakes will be fewer and further between, and he will be able to whale on you with impunity. So don’t be afraid to get involved in some marginal spots in the early stages with spewy opponents. You do not have an infinite window to lay claim to their stacks, so you might as well get cracking right from the start.

SIDEBAR: The following hand demonstrates the need to trust your reads on a loose, aggressive opponent. Seeing that he has somewhat fishy stats, I elect to isolate in position holding AQ. The dry flop hits a part of his limp-call range (which I would anticipate to be 22-TT, A2s-AJo, and some general Broadway-type combinations such as J10, KQ etc), but there is no reason to do anything other than fire out a continuation bet, which Villain calls.

When he check-raises the turn, it would be easy to fold in the face of his apparent strength; after all, he is repping AJ, JJ or 3-X for flopped trips and my AQ would be very close to drawing dead. However, his stats indicate that he folds to continuation bets only 50% of the time. Therefore, I am happy to call his bluff and take it to showdown on the river, safe in the knowledge that I’m very unlikely to get called by worse and so I have received maximum value for my one-pair hand.

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Movin’ On Up

As well as being one of my favourite songs of all time (Movin On Up), it makes a pretty good name for September’s blog. A few of my students have found themselves in the enviable position of moving up in stakes recently. They have beaten their usual game for an impressive winrate, and now they’re ready to take a shot on some bigger buy-ins. Here’s the single biggest piece of advice that I gave them:

Blend in the new stakes; don’t jump into those games exclusively.

There are a few good reasons behind moving up in stakes slowly and seamlessly, and those reasons all centre around the individual’s comfort zone.

First and foremost, it can be intimidating to step up to higher limits. Some people become inclined to gamble it up more than usual, almost as if they’re unconsciously trying to get lucky and take the new games by storm. Others nit up, protect their chips to the bubble, and hope to take it from there. Neither strategy is optimal.

The allegory I always use is that of a young footballer. He’s an 18 year old winger and has really been impressing for the Youth Team. His style is fearless; he likes to take defenders on, using his direct running and dangerous crossing to terrorise opponents.

Now the manager selects him for the Senior team. He is ready for his first-team debut. He gets onto the pitch and instead of running at the full-back, he decides to keep it simple and play easy passes to his more experienced team-mates. When he has a chance to shoot at goal, he plays a square ball instead. Now does the manager want to see this from the youngster? He most certainly does not; the youth was selected for his mad skillz, and now he’s playing like a nit! That is not the type of performance that the manager deemed good enough for the big games.

When you move up to bigger games, you must resist the temptation to think about the stakes. Your natural game made you a stand-out at the lower-levels; now take that same skillset and keep doing what you do. Do not modify yourself initially; improvements can be phased in over time, once you have a better feel for the intricacies of the demands of the new level.

The young footballer and his manager believed that he could bring the ruckus to the first-team scene, and my students and I are no different. If I tell them they’re ready to take a shot, then they’re ready to take a shot. However, taking a shot does not encompass making broad adjustments to their natural game. It was their natural game that brought them this opportunity, and it is their natural game that will make the most of it.

The only way to overcome new limit tension is to get comfortable at those limits. The best way to get comfortable at those limits is to avoid attaching added significance to those particular games. If you tend to play 12 tables of $15s, why not try 9 of those and a couple of $30s? When the tables are stacked up, you will not give the $30s extra attention; you will just play your natural game and keep your decision-making consistent.

Or let’s say that, like me, you regularly play the $60 games on Pokerstars. You have beaten them comfortably over a big sample, and you want to start playing the $100s. Your first thought should be to select good, beatable $100 games, and mix them in with your regular $60s.

That way you get a feel for what it takes to beat the $100s without having to make the psychological leap of thinking ‘now I’m a $100s player’. Poker should be about playing in good games, not about stroking your ego by only playing the highest limits you can afford.

In a recent session, I played 40-odd $30 games, 60-odd $60s, a dozen $100s and four $15s. I’d rather have played them all at the $60s and $100s, but those games were often extremely tough and I have no interest in losing money. If a $100 6max game is registering and I see Foreman12, AndyAFC#1, Koovoon, Bigstealer and maybe one fishbowl sitting, should I think ‘well, I’m a $100 player, guess I better register’? Hell no! I think ‘there is no way on earth that I can sit in this game and expect to earn money long-term’, so I check the lobbies at lower limits instead.

So when somebody asks you what games you play at poker, your answer should not be ‘the $100 6max Sit N Gos’. Nope. Your answer should be, simply, ‘the good ones’.

***For more on the subject of Moving Up in Stakes, check out my video with MD261 entitled ‘Soft Eyes: The SNG Outlook’ only at Drag the Bar

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On Patterns

The thing is, patterns don’t exist. Things happen, entirely at random, and we instinctively attempt to rationalise, formulate, and categorise them under the totally arbitrary and misleading title ‘patterns’. Do any of the following sound familiar to you?

‘I was running like dogshit so I quit.’

‘I lost my first five coinflips and I thought ‘uh oh, it’s gonna be one of those sessions!’.’

‘These big combo-draws haven’t been hitting for me recently, so I decided to just fold instead of jamming.’

In poker, the equity of decision-making should exist entirely in a vacuum; or rather, the swings of fortune/misfortune have no bearing on the mathematical correctness of each decision. Just because you are, in fact, running like dogshit, doesn’t mean that you should eschew the mathematically best decision (ie. shoving) in favour of the ‘safer’ option of folding. When that happens, you are letting variance win. You are allowing the totally random will of the Poker Gods to influence you towards making a sub-optimal decision. So much for poker being a skill game!

Just think of how much mental energy and focus you could free if you stop allowing these arbitrary ‘patterns’ to permeate your decision-making. They don’t exist, and yet poker players expend so much focus trying to rationalise them. Let’s take a look at my results over the last ten days:

Day one: + $807
Day two: + $347

This is going so well! I’ve cracked poker! I’m a genius! The poker Gods love me!

Day three: – $1571
Day four: – $528
Day five: – $189

Jesus, I suck. The poker Gods are punishing me. I run so bad. I hate this f game!

Day six: + $1179
Day seven: + $667
Day eight: + $263
Day nine: day off
Day ten: + $138

Cracked it again! Poker is my BITCH!

These ten days yielded an overall win of + $1113. I like to earn money, so this is good news. However, notice how completely arbitrary my means of demarcation are! Had I elected to use a five-day sample rather than ten, I would have been stuck $1134 – rather less impressive. And had I gone for a twenty-day sample, guess what? Back to being a genius again: a win of $1962!

Now, it looks as if my winning and losing days come in streaks. I win for a few days, lose for a few days, win for a few days. There must be something behind that, right?

Well, for me the answer is no. I have a deep-enough understanding of variance by now to recognise that this is just chance, just the swongs of online poker. For the more recreational player who checks his results after every session, is more apt to tilt, and generally allows his confidence to be affected by the short-term swings inherent in the game, then yes, I would agree that he is marginally more likely to book a few winning days in a row while his confidence is high.

However, in my case (and hopefully yours too!), variance plays a miniscule part in my poker life. Some days I run good, some days I run bad. Overall, I run exactly even. If I allow a completely alien factor such as ‘how I’m running’ to inform my decision-making, then I’m losing the poker battle. And making correct decisions is the ONLY consideration at the poker table. It is all that matters.

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Poker and Football

…two of my favourite things. Watching England’s supplicant display against Italy in last week’s European Championship fixture reminded me of Chelsea versus Bayern Munich in the recent Champions League Final. In both encounters, the seemingly weaker side elected to sit back and defend for virtually the entire match with the intention of booking a penalty shoot-out or binking an improbable goal on the break.

As with poker, the margins for success in football are extremely thin. Chelsea managed to hang tight against Bayern, take the game to penalties as befits their pre-match gameplan, and win the battle of nerves against the German megastars. Their manager Roberto di Matteo might not have selected an entertaining route to victory, but by God it was successful. With the trophy in his back pocket, di Matteo’s negative selection policy was vindicated.

Contrast this with the England performance against Italy last week. Similarly spirited displays that offered plenty in guts but little in imagination. With a defensive line that held steadfast even in the face of near-constant Italian domination, England mimicked Chelsea’s doggedness and they too secured the target of a penalty shootout. Had England triumphed (as looked likely before two late misses from Young and Cole in a swongy shootout), then their affable manager Roy Hodgson would have been vindicated a la di Matteo.

So how does this relate to poker? Well it’s pretty simple. In poker, results don’t matter. Decisions and performance are all that a serious poker player will focus their energy on. I have lost count of the times that I have explained to a student why their decision was not a correct one, only for them to shoot back with ‘ah but he folded so it worked’. This type of thinking may be relevant in footballing terms (ie. ‘Chelsea’s defensiveness won them the trophy so it was a good tactical decision’, or ‘England’s gamble to play for penalties didn’t work because they lost’) but it has no place in poker. In football, results are everything. The fact that they played like a fish will be instantly forgotten if they take the trophy home; vindication is in the winning.

When it comes to poker, the result is an often-inconvenient footnote to the decision-making process.

 

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