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This Is What A Bad Run Looks Like

We need to talk.

There’s something I’ve been keeping from you and it’s time it was out in the open.

We’re finally at the point in our relationship where I feel comfortable enough with you to talk about something very personal. And I feel you’re at the point where you know and trust me enough to take it the right way.

I’ve been running bad. Very bad. For a long time.

For the last two and half years about 80% of my poker has been PLO cash. Whether you play it or not the chances are you know it’s a game of high variance. However what I’m about to share with you may still shock you just a little bit.

I hope we’re at the stage now where you know I’m not whining – I just want you to know because if I’m not myself lately and I’ve snapped or been grouchy this is why.

So first of all the numbers.

In the last calendar year I’ve played 148,880 hands. In that time I’m up a small amount of money but it’s a slight miracle that I am because (and it’s quite an important because) in terms of EV I’m running …wait for it…. 49 buy ins below expectation across all buy ins.

In other words way if my results had broken how they should have according to the probabilities in each hand over those 150k hands I’d be 49 buyins better off.

So if I had played exactly the same way in each hand but had been neither lucky nor unlucky I’d be much better off. Let’s not talk numbers but suffice to say it adds up to a car. Not a very good car – not a car I’d brag about or would increase my penis size; but nevertheless….a car!!

This is not an unusual experience and many online players have such horror stories over big hand samples. For example when the internet gold rush was at it’s peak Emil ‘Whitelime’ Patel reported a break even stretch over 100,000 hands in holdem games he had a huge win rate at. Once there was a time players didn’t play 100,000 hands in 2 or 3 years – now we know it’s not even the true ‘long run’.

There are several fascinating things about this. The first thing is despite the stories I didn’t really think it was possible. There’s a quote that gets attributed to several different online players which runs something like ‘one day you will run worse than you ever thought possible’. Since I began poker I’ve lived by the maxim, and preached it in media, that if you make the right decisions over the long run you’ll get your reward. Of course this is still true – but until I lived it over a year I didn’t really appreciate how badly variance could affect you. Actually living through it is a very strange experience – despite the numbers you second guess if you know the first thing about what you’re doing and it becomes really hard to play well without fearing the bad beats you feel are inevitable. It’s like putting your hand in a hole, getting it bitten by a snake then someone telling you there is money in the hole this time an it’ll definitely be fine but you’re still scared of the snake….they should have a phrase that sums up that feeling I think……something hole…no wait snake something….

The second thing is that until recently this wouldn’t have been possible. It’s playing online that makes it possible to rack up so many hands in a year (and I’m playing far from full time) and it’s only the advent of tracking software which shows us the truth of how we’re actually playing and running. If this had happened live or without tracking software I’m sure I’d have quit long ago being convinced I was colour blind and seeing the suits wrong or had some other fundamental flaw.

Finally there’s my reaction to it. You see objectively it should make me play more. The facts are I’m stayed a float despite this huge negative variance swing and if I’d broke even I’d have a very respectable win rate in the games I play. But it’s a really tough exercise to separate the negative emotions that ‘losing’ creates and to separate my feelings from results. In short – its hard to get excited about theoretical profit and playing for many hours to make small money makes you want to play less.

One last thing – for once my column has a point and it’s this. Next time someone claims to be a winner in a certain game or they’re on your TV being lauded as the next great player think about this column. Think about how many hands there are in a tournament, how long the long run really is and what reputations are based on. And then mutter under your breath, ‘come back to me when you’ve played half a million hands and we’ll talk’.

Content is not intended for an audience under 18 years of age.