Friday, March 4, 2011

Embracing Variance

The other day I posted about this hand in the VPN strategy forums.  I was kind of up in the air about whether the hand merited a post as it seemed like a pretty clear decision to me after thinking through the situation at the table.  So I was wondering why it was that I decided to post the hand.  Eventually I decided that the hand had some broader implications which led to the notes forming the basis of what I’ve written here.

I had kind of a troubled feeling as I was thinking through my move.  Not that I was trying to decide what the best play was, I think I knew that pretty quick.  What it was though was a sense that even though I knew what I was going to do, that this was not going to end well.  And I think what that sense was at some level was an understanding that a lot of the value of my play came from making it against players who were probably more aware of things than these people likely were.

It should have just taken down the pot right there.  The first “villain” obviously had the concept of playing aggressively pre-flop, but should also understand that he has to tighten up when calling a shove.  As wide as he was opening, I should fold out a huge part of his range.

The second villain was almost 20bb deep and should need a monster to call off that much, and odds were that if she had a monster she would have just re-raised herself.

Now even though those are a lot of the benefits of shoving in my spot, and those benefits work best against more aware players, I am not saying the shove is –EV against less aware players.  I’m pretty confident that when you factor in the fold equity and the equity 88 has against the calling ranges a shove is +EV. When you factor in the bounties, the extra utility from having a much bigger stack the times I win and the fact that I’m still in decent shape if I’m called and lose I’m sure that shoving here is far and away the most profitable play.

Now against less aware players (particularly the ones who won’t fold as much as they probably should) while I’m sure the play is +EV it is definitely higher variance.  You’ll get called by a lot more hands that you’re ahead of, but flipping with, against those kind of players, and the odd J10 or KQ hand will end up costing you a big pot.

I think it’s helpful to understand the nature of what was going on in this hand on a couple of levels.  First, I think it’s sort of illustrative of the difference between “play bad” and “run bad”.  If we accept for the sake of discussion that +EV play equals “good play”, then as I said above, I know that shoving all in was the most +EV play.  Therefore, I played good.  Now I (marginally) ran bad because although I got all the money in slightly ahead, I ended up losing the hand.

The other thing that is helpful to me is to understand how and why, in these particular dynamics, the play was higher variance then it could have been otherwise.  I think that understanding, coupled with the confidence that the play is +EV makes it easier to embrace the nature of the variance and really easier to make the play without worrying about whether you’re just going to end up on the wrong side of variance this go-round.  If you can, in fact, just give variance a big ol’ hug and look for those spots that, while marginal, are still +EV you’ll be able to press those thin edges more.

That’s one of the things the best players do, they can press those razor thin edges, over and over and know how to walk the line between extracting value from those edges and taking unwarranted risks.  They are also able to acknowledge when that effort to extract value goes awry that sometimes it is just due to the fact that the play is supposed to achieve an adverse result a certain amount of the time.

So,  I think what I really learned from this hand was how to feel comfortable making a +EV move, even though there was that little voice in my head saying, “you know there’s a good chance this will not end well.”  It was a risk, but a worthwhile risk, and the next time I’m in the same situation, I’ll pull the trigger again.

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