Here we go. I have finally found a bit of  time to write a first entry in my personal blog that will aim to hopefully enlighten, possibly frighten and certainly entertain by way of exposing my various thoughts about poker realities as I see them and experience them.

First, a bit about me. I've just recently celebrated my first anniversary here at PS, a year in which I had planned to bankroll build exclusively (no shot taking, thank you). It was to be all about going up, up and up and gaining steam. That was the plan, and I am happy to say that I stuck with it with better results than I even anticipated. I am one of those cats who enjoys a good and testing challenge and it is with this in mind that I came here to do something noteworthy with nothing. Specifically, I wanted to start without depositing and to duplicate some of the impressive success stories I had read in many personal accounts on the web. I was fully aware that it was possible and was intrigued by that possibility.

Like probably many who attempt this thing all the time I was faced with making some sort of initial headway by trying out the freerolls to see about winning my first cashes via the weekly round twos.I certainly did not initially have the patience to last through those 10 000+ Hubbles which I felt were played  too much like scratch and win tickets, Keno or Bingo, as is often mentioned. It was not long after this initial frustration with everyone that I joined the pokerschool site and jumped through a series of hoops to claim a bit of a starting bankroll with the bankroll builder promotion. I have to confess to still be hoarding that $8 seed money today in my stash. I did play a session of 2NL as per the instructions and was fortunate enough to win a $1.48 in a matter of a couple of hands. I remember the experience quite well. I open raised with pocket Ks and was reraised by a villain. I called to see the flop hoping to avoid an ace. It came out very dry with rags and I bet the pot only to be raised all-in. With much confidence I fired my stack at my foe and he turned over his set to sink my heart. I called myself every name in the book...and then was promoted to claivoyant genius by the poker Gods as my third K spiked on the river. However, I was spooked. I vowed to never again play a cash game out of fear of losing it all in one hand--the fear had burned itself into my soul! It's all a bit of a joke now, but I still have an unrealistic distrust of myself playing cash games where I feel at risk for being even a slight optimist. Maddingly, I have done very well at them the two dozen or so times I've sat at these games, but still retain that uneasy feeling which, I admit, ruins it for me. The whole thing feels so very point specific. Every hand is its own tournament. I realize I have to work on the mindset needed.

At any rate, I shall remember to thank the good folks at pokerschoolonline for their assistance in getting me started. Of course, I also did the courses and did some of the training sessions and became quite convinced that the Open League was the place for me. I experienced all the exact same things I routinely see new players writing about all the time--the game wasn't being played as I thought it should be and, more importantly to me,  everyone was exhibiting idiotic behavior except, perhaps, myself. It was a steep learning curve, for having to admit that it is best to do nothing most of the time was not what I had ever envisionned poker to be. To be honest, I did not yet realize that poker games have many, many intricacies and that not all are played the same strategic way and for the same purpose. In time I gained the understanding that when nothing is at risk, nothing is lost by taking any strategy to its limit, including playing extreme LAG!

The way I look at NL hold'em poker has evolved since I first started. I did not think that it would come full circle into ways in which I have come to see the nature of reality, though. I have a background in theoretical Science and have always strived to put my finger around the statistical uncertainty that lays at the core of what reality really is. I did not expect to come here and be reminded forever of probability densities and uncertainty, but  I have. I expected to encounter more of a skill aspect to the game. I don't know exactly why I thought this, but it so. Not to say that skill isn't part of it. There is a certain level of skill needed by which you will not be completely exploited, but there are real blurry limits to these skills in certain games. If an electron is not a point particle or a wave, NL Hold'em is similarly not either a game of skill or chance. There is a duality at play. We cannot ever point to whether it is best to be lucky or good at any given point. The minute you do you are reminded you' re clueless as to what's going on. You only ever really know what is most probable as things approach nearer to infinity.

On this thought proking note we shall share my developping thoughts about the likelihood of winning various large competitions we enter into when we click on that "register" button.

What does it mean to say that one has enough skill to win a large MTT of say 10 000 people? Is it the same as having the skill to win a smaller MTT? Since your skill level itself isn't proportionally related to the number of entrants in a tournament there would appear to not be much beyond statistical considerations at play (more on this later). Quite simply put, the more entrants there are the more your chances of winning diminish (variance increases). Even pros accept this. I consider this to be a foundational statement. You cannot get around that. With the understanding that it will take many doublings to achieve the phenomenal chip stack size that the eventual winner will attain one is forced to accept that a lot of things must go right for that long journey to come to a fruitful end. It is often and rightfully said that for this to happen your pocket aces must stick and that the coin tosses must go your way.  Since chance is so much of a factor (in large MTTS it dwaffs skill,imho) how is this most optimally exploited? Is there an approach to chance taking that yields better results? I say better because I am not talking about optimal results. To attain optimal results one would do what is best to do at all moments. That means being cautions to a point and using known card statistics to outplay your opponents in the long run, to mix in bluffing and applying deceptive betting startegy, hoping for a result that reflects the edge that playing this way might produce.  Can we do better than this? I believe we can do much better than play optimally when we tackle large MTTS; we can favor winning (or placing high) by exploiting the chance element. I have long known that there are players who do not cash in at a high rate, yet they have seemingly much higher final table placing rates than others. Is it skill? What's at play here?

Let's take an aside and talk a bit about the gambling and games of chance. If you haven't already been entertained by Derren Brown's 2008, "The System" in which he cleverly produces a winner six times in a row at the local race track I would suggest you look it up. It really isn't a system at all, but it highlights some concepts I think are useful. If you take 6 people and get them to bet on six different horses you' ll be giving one of them the right advice. Have you ever played a freeroll and watched multiple "idiots" going at it on the first hand? If you have, you have likely witnessed one of these "idiots" trippling up or quadrupling up on hand one. What do we know about his skill? I submit that we know nothing. What do we know about his chances of winning? We are forced to admit that he's two steps closer to the finish line than we are at almost the same time. Something has been gained. At risk is the possibility of cashing 3 or 4 times in favor of a better chance of FTing once. So let's call it a useful trade off. It is at this point that I submit that our "lucky idiot" should be quite interested in challenging anyone with an equal stack to his in a showdown. In fact, the sooner the better. I have seen it happen and I have also experienced it (without really understanding it). In the case in point I had quadrupled from the first hand with AA and been immediately reseated with someone who obviously had done the same because we had equal stacks. He would not stop dogging me. He was going all-in to isolate me every time I was in. It was obvious he was intent on playing any two cards against any of my two cards. Was he a really an idiot? This is where it gets interesting. If he succeeds at going through me then he is 3 doubling steps into his quest to almost everyone else's zero. Most have yet to play an orbit and he's way ahead.  I'll stop the experiment now and just say that he's taken on some risks (as all who will ever win a large MTT must eventually do). His "any two card" showdown may compare very favorably to a statistically better chance someone else will take later on when he is golden and when he is playing for a lot less. To play pots for a lot less means many more steps in the staircase, all the while time is ticking away and blinds/antes are taking their toll. Golden hands, if one sits and waits for them, do not come more often than by chance. Also, even an 80% winning scenario forced to perform even three times is no better than a single coin toss. You will very likely run out of opportunities if you are too selective.

I have now said enough about "idiots" to ask them for forgiveness. I get what you' re doing. You are putting chance in its right place--at your service. Your agression is giving you advantage quite early in the game and you are saving yourself the time and frustration of playing optimally and flaming out anyway. At any point you can revert to using your skill/patience if you wish. In fact the more I think about it the more I see your wisdom.  The whole venture is so riddled with chance that it is not insane to demand that it shows its face early. You will be lucky just as often as you ought to and that will deliver to you really good chances at doing very well--probably many more than I will ever get by playing optimally.

To all the optimal players who work on their game in freerolls I want to express my sympathy. I know your pain. I cannot put a number to the times I feel I have done nothing wrong and have lost to the clock and to chances I have been forced to take. I have scored many points in the Open League, but have never honestly taken a shot at going for a high finish. It has led me to remain unaware of the benefits of taking chances when reasonable chances show themselves. I have taken that to MTTs outside of the league and  it has reflected itself there.

So, let us return to our inital question about whether we can use chance to our advantage. I sumbmit that we can and that we must---but to do so intelligently is to use a balanced approach. If one removes a significant part of the "crazy" chance taking there still is the possibility for a known amount of risk to give tremendous advantage. I think, quite resonably, that the said amount of risk is something you'd eventually have to face eventually.

The great caveat of all this is that it is only going to be reasonable to do so when the end prize can justify the cost. It is why newbies are often given the advice to play just above micro stakes if they want to experience poker that is more celebral. When money is at stake people are less likely to take those chances. Fewer people therefore benefit from outright luck and the whole tournamnet is played with a lot less variance and more skill factor than if it was 10 000 idiots wishing for the best.

I know that, for me, freerolls were necessary to get started and I still play many. I have started to implement more risk taking in my game and have recently reached better prize levels in weekly round twos. I have also really enjoyed not having to ladder around the bubble. Being ahead offers you a wonderful possibility of pressuring people who are playing very tightly to stay alive. You can't be afraid to take a coin toss on forever. There will be days when you win almost every one (still waiting for the big day).

I think everyone should think greatly about chance in poker. Do not focus entirely on skills to understand your results. Understand the chance element that is in the very nature of the game.

A la prochaine,