Sunday, January 21, 2007

Multi-Table Tournaments

At another web place last July, I chimed in an answer to a question like "where will you be 1 year from now", and on that short list of goals, I remember throwing in something about taking more shots at multi-table tournaments (MTTs) online.

If you've been following along, and I don't know who this might even apply to, I started poker online hitting the single-table sit-and-gos pretty hard, eventually migrating to short-handed cash games. But along the way, I've hit a few freerolls and other big MTTs, and really seem to do well in such a format.

Last night, needing a break from some work and rather on a whim (perhaps with last July's goal in mind) I jumped into a 90-player deep-stack $1.25 entry-fee MTT on FullTilt, and won. (netting a life-changing $21.25) Probably the most amazing part of the tournament was sitting three-handed with ~25k in chips, with an 18k stack and a (lucky) but huge 200k+ stack. I busted Mr. 18k, and buckled down to drill into this huge lead that my heads-up (and loose) opponent had. I eventually worked up to a 1:2 deficit, then we did the 2:1 flip and I was in front. Next hand after the flip, my tilting opponent shoved with 98o and I called with AJo to finish the deal.

In around a half hour at midnight, I'm enrolled in a $10+1 $8k Guarantee, currently with ~180 players registered (and growing). My goal is simply to cash, but $1536 sure isn't bad for first, with some bankroll boosting numbers for any mid-to-top final-table seat. I'll post updates in the comments so check there for how this all turned out.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Backgammon and Poker, Part 2

Backgammon is easily as aggravating as poker can sometimes be, and it seems perhaps more so. I don't know if they call it a suckout when a player who is very far behind lucks into a win, or if backgammon players tell "bad beat stories", but whatever the terminology is, the nature of the game is the same.

The backgammon equivalent of "rivering" someone is coming from behind in bearing off (when all the checkers are "free" of one another and each player begins removing them from the board according to dice rolls, with the winner getting his/her's off first.) I won't go into detail but let's just say that rolling doubles (6-6, 5-5, etc) is generally very advantageous.

Now with 36 possible ways to roll a pair of dice, and 6 of those ways being doubles, we can say the odds of rolling doubles are 5:1 against. Pretty long, but with the average bear-off requiring something like 6-9 casts of the dice, well, you should roll doubles at least once. Yet I have seen game and again where I was comfortably ahead, and my opponent rolled 3 sets of doubles, sometimes consecutively, to win. Odds of 3 consecutive doubles? 125:1 don't commonly see odds like that in poker, I can tell you that.

But maybe... Let's say player one holds 99 and player two has AA and the flop is 994. Player two needs running Aces, which is 22.5:1 to hit one on the turn and then 45:1 to hit one on the river. Unless I'm a moron and can't do odds anymore, that's a combined probability of over 1000:1 or something like 0.1%. I'm sure it's happened to some poor guy at one time or another.

Another common scenario involves your opponent needing exactly one number to do very bad things to you, like for instance he must roll a six, or you will likely win. Again, with 36 ways to cast two dice, 11 of them will include at least one 6, so the odds are about 2.3:1 against. Consider it a common A6 vs 88 70/30 matchup in poker.

Thinking (and rambling) about these kinds of probabilities -- and perhaps this is the point -- shows how the two games are similar yet different. NLHE allows a player to deny the other(s) the odds they will need by varying bet and raise sizes accordingly, but there is a problem: he doesn't have complete information. In other words, though you can control the pot odds, you must infer and guess at what those odds should be to make your opponent be in error to call, and that's if you are ahead with the best hand, which you also are often uncertain of. (Incomplete information is why bluffing is possible.)

On the other side, backgammon is a game of complete information. You know your position and your opponent's at all times. But (excluding the doubling cube, which is going into too much detail for a poker blog) you don't really "bet" to deny your opponent odds, and you often cannot force him to resign (like folding): he gets his turns and consequently, often gets his chance to suck out, no matter how far behind he may be. You must use the odds much more subtly, using probabilities of certain occurrences to guide your strategy and moves in a more indirect way.

Putting this all together, poker becomes more psychological because of incomplete information, and a good deal of the time involves looking backward in a hand to infer information and guide decision-making. Backgammon on the other hand relies heavily on examining countless future scenarios and balancing these rather complex possibilities with the current position.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Backgammon and Poker

So my wife bought me a backgammon set for xmas, which was a great gift considering it's a game I've been curious about for a while now, but had literally no clue how to play. We've all probably heard of the famous poker players who also were/are apparently accomplished backgammon players; Harrington, Magriel (who wrote the backgammon "bible"), etc... so I knew there must be something to backgammon.

I'm still getting up to speed with the game, but the seemingly confusing rules at first are easily mastered, and then the real strategy starts to develop. The similarities to poker, most specifically NL Hold'em, are many:

- the above noted "minute to learn, lifetime to master"
- a rather optimal balance of luck and skill (short-term variance, long-term positive results for good play)
- places within the game where moves are automatic, others that involve tough decisions and gambles
- always having outs: either game allows you to be very far behind, yet arise to victory
- starting position has a powerful effect on outcome and subsequent strategy: in backgammon, this deals with "opening moves"; in Hold'em, starting hand selection
- the ability to escalate the stakes and put your opponent to tough decisions (as well as the reverse)
- those awful moments when your opponent can simply do no wrong, either always rolling exactly what you fear, or catching exactly the card he needs

As you can see (or already know if you play both), the two games are a good match. Backgammon's complexity may be best demonstrated in the fact that programmers were able to simulate and write effective chess playing programs, before they could do so with backgammon. Interesting as well, are the other variations of "tables" games played similarly on a backgammon board.

I've been playing at, and although my rating there took a big hit getting up to speed with the game, I've been winning more, and scored my first "backgammon" (and it was doubled!). I'm not sure how seriously I'll end up pursuing backgammon, and poker is still the focus, but backgammon may be a welcome break from poker for those times where you just need to put your mind somewhere else for a few days.