Thursday, December 20, 2018

5 On and Off Table Essentials for Tilt Prevention

I recently wrote this for one of my students having emotional issues at the table and thought it could be of use.  There are 5 on table and 5 off table tips/areas that can help prevent tilt.  All of these can and should be applied to everyday life.

On-Table Essentials for Tilt Prevention

Stay involved in the process without focusing on money won or lost

A great way to do this is replay hands that went to showdown whether won or lost.  At each decision point, determine whether we accounted for our opponents shown hand as being in their hand range.  If so, great.  If not, make a mental note of where our hand reading broke down and why.  We've learned something not only about our opponent but where our thought process broke down.  Taking the time to do this carries the benefits of remaining unemotional and solely focused on the game.  The process is analogous to making a slam dunk or throwing the ball out of bounds and then immediately having to run back on defense.

Mike Krzyzewski, longtime head coach of Duke basketball has a great saying he's often shouting from the sidelines to his players, "Next play!".

Mastery is in the moment

It's all too easy to get caught up ruminating about the past or future and to experience anxiety as a consequence.  We're striving to stay in the moment each time a potentially stressful event at the table occurs: missing a value bet, getting bluffed, having a bluff fail, etc.  Maintaining composure and staying in the moment is a victory in itself and part of being a master of the game, and more importantly ourselves.  Every time we're able to accomplish this, it subsequently becomes easier to repeat.

I had a technique for this long before I had heard the word "mindfulness".  I frequently played pool with one of the best players in New England, also one of my mentors.  He'd often yell out, "Take me out coach!" after several consecutive bad "innings" or turns at the table.  He didn't actually have a coach but was stepping outside of his chattering conscious mind to judge his mental state.  Although he was doing this in a humorous way, it's something I adopted with poker.

When I felt emotions creeping into my game or was unsatisfied with my game for any reason, I'd think back to this and pretend I was the coach of myself.  I'd step outside of myself and try to look objectively at my mental state, my emotional state, my fatigue level, etc.  After doing this, I'd try to make an unbiased judgement as to whether I should continue playing.  It was almost as if I'd split into two people.

This not only served to make a good decision as to whether to continue playing, but took me away from the anxiety and stress.

If we do decide to keep playing, we're frequently back in the moment without the stress and anxiety.  There's a certain level of comfort gained in knowing that we've objectively assessed a situation and arrived at a rational decision.  The result of this is regained focus and composure.

Staying in the moment is a constant journey with no end, embrace the journey itself.

Identify things that take us out of the moment or put us on tilt

If we can identify these things, we can plan ahead for them.  Planning ahead facilitates quick recognition, which allows us to momentarily step back and control our emotions.

Victor Frankl, a well known Holocaust survivor, has a famous quote, "Between stimulus and response there is a space.  In that space is our power to choose our response.  In our response lies our growth and freedom."

Detach ourselves from outcomes

The only thing under our control is making the best decision with all the information we have available.  This includes our hand in the context of our typical range in the situation (balance), our opponent(s) range of hands, the position of our opponents, the actions of our opponents, the size of the pot, how we'd expect our opponents to play certain hands within their range, how we'd expect our opponents would expect us to play certain hands in our range (this can be taken to a 4th or 5th level), a plan for the hand including how future turn and river cards can potentially alter that plan, and lastly any past opponent dynamics that could lead to an opportunity to exploit them.

If this seems like a lot to think about in a matter of seconds, it unquestionably is.  All the more reason to keep our emotions at bay and prevent our much needed judgement from being clouded.

Lose our ego

This may be the single most important quality to have as a poker player and relates to the previous four topics.  It's also one of the most difficult things to achieve.

We are trying to make the best decisions which entails strategically outmaneuvering our opponents.  In order to do this we need to understand their thought processes and at times be able to sense or feel their emotions.

Losing our ego when we get outmaneuvered, or when we get caught up in our opponent's emotions after being outmaneuvered, is a very difficult thing.  We're trying to put ourselves in place of our opponents to better understand their mindset and emotional state.  In a sense we're trying to empathize with our opponent.  This can result in difficulty separating our own mind state and emotional state from our opponents.  This can be especially true when we're getting outplayed or taking bad beats.  This is sometimes referred to as emotional mirroring in psychology and is a human behavior that's evolved over millions of years to increase our chances of survival.

All of the aforementioned suggestions aid in losing ego.  We need to stay in the moment, stay detached, and come prepared for situations that can pull our egos into the game.  

Additionally, we need to remain neutral under all circumstances, whether we win or lose.  Imagine someone berating us at the table and giving us bad beats.  The next hand, we cooler them with full house over full house.  It would be very tempting to say something like, "There's justice!".  But to remain ego less, we should say or show nothing.

One problem (of many) with allowing our egos to be baited into this (however satisfying it may be), is that we have little control over future hands.  Chances are we'll take a bad beat or get coolered by this player at some point.  We're setting ourselves up to exacerbate the situation when our egos and emotions get tempted into the game.  Everyone at the table benefits from this except the two people caught up in their egos.

Remaining neutral is victory.  Eventually everyone is put in the same difficult situations.  Even dealing with a belligerent player giving bad beats is something everyone will ultimately encounter.  If we adopt a long-term view, this is an opportunity to separate ourselves from other players.  It's very difficult for anyone to remain neutral in this type of situation, and few people can.  If we can, we win and pick up expected value.

There is a good quote by Buddha that speaks to this, "Everything is based on mind, is led by mind, is fashioned by mind.  If you speak and act with a polluted mind, suffering will follow."

Off-Table Essentials for Tilt Prevention

1. Nutrition

Starting here because it's what I have the most knowledge of.

Disclaimer:  What works for one person isn't necessarily optimal for the next person.  I can offer general recommendations, which on average work best for a group of people, but not necessarily any particular person within the group.  This is referred to as bio-individuality and relates to genetics and epigenetics (environment).

If you don't feel like reading through this lengthy section, there are three things everyone can do to drastically improve their health without reading further:

1.  Eat whole foods whenever possible
2.  Remove as much refined sugar from your diet as possible (doesn't include fruit)
3.  Remove as many processed carbs as possible.  Processed carbs include things like sodas, fruit juices, donuts, cake, canned fruit, etc.

Animals or Plants?

There's a lot of debate in this area but one thing nearly everyone agrees upon is that we should have lots of fruits and vegetables in our diets.  I don't believe in going to the extremes of being a vegetarian or carnivore.  Though for some people with extreme health issues, the ends of the spectrum can literally be life saving.

A whole food diet centered around vegetables and fruits with some fish and meat seems to be the happy middle ground where the majority of people are on board.  Ethical considerations aside, I'm in this camp as well, as humans evolved over millions of years eating both plants and animals.  There are beneficial and even essential nutrients that can only come from plants or animals, so supplementation is likely needed if you do opt for an extreme.

Worth noting that the evidence behind red meat (not processed meats like salami, pepperoni, etc.) causing cancer is shoddy at best.  For more on this, there's a good recent debate between two well respected doctors in the field, Chris Kresser and Joel Kahn, that took place on the Joe Rogan podcast:

Grass-Fed Beef?

Although more expensive, grass-fed beef is healthier than traditional grain-fed beef.  It contains more nutrients including Omega 3, CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), beta-carotene, and alpha-tocopherol (precursors to vitamins A and E).  It's unclear which type of beef has the greater environmental impact.

Recommendation: Go grass-fed if you can afford it

Wild Caught Salmon or Farmed?

The jury is out on this one despite all the claims of wild caught being healthier.

Farmed salmon, on average, has been found to have higher concentrations of Omega 3 (DHA and EPA) due to its higher fat content from farm feed.  The is also true of trout, bass, and cod.  However the farm feed can vary from farm to farm as can the fat content of wild salmon depending on when and where in their life cycle they were caught in the wild.

Wild caught fish have been found to have higher concentrations of vitamins A, B12, Iron, Zinc, and Calcium.

There are environmental concerns on both sides I won't get into.

Recommendation: Eat either one.  They are both great sources of Omega 3 which are lacking in the rest of our diets in relation to Omega 6.  In fact, salmon along with mackerel have the highest source of Omega 3 across all foods.

Organic or Conventional?

Again it may surprise you that the answer isn't so clear.

First, there's little to no difference in the nutritional content between the two despite the many claims organic foods contain more nutrients.

Second, both use pesticides.  The difference being that organic pesticides are naturally derived, with little known health ramifications, whereas conventional are synthetically derived.  Additionally, there was a study in 2009 across 25 countries that found 8 different prohibited pesticides being used across "organic farms".  The bottom line is you never know quite what you're getting.

Third, even though pesticide residues, on average, are found in greater quantities in conventional food, they're still well below the allowable limits.  And given the relatively low amounts found, there isn't convincing evidence to date that they are associated with greater health risk.

Recommendation: Buy organic if you can afford it, otherwise go conventional.  More important to get enough fruits and vegetables in our diets.

Vitamin Supplements?

A resounding yes here.  The benefits of vitamins are numerous.  In particular, Vitamin C, Vitamin B3 (Niacin), and Vitamin D have tremendous health benefits.  All the B vitamins are particularly good for cognition and mental health.  For more on this:

Despite numerous erroneous articles and television reports (thanks Big Pharma), nearly all vitamins are safe even taken in large quantities.  According to the poison control center, there were 10 reported deaths due to vitamins over a 23 year period and none in 2017.  The exact cause of those 10 deaths is even questionable.

Compare this with prescription drugs, where over 100,000 people die each year from properly prescribed drugs.

If you're looking for a quality multivitamin, Thorne Research has them.  They've consistently been rated one of the best supplement manufacturers in terms of quality and healthiest additives (fillers).  They are a bit pricey however.

2.  Time Restricted Eating

I gave this a category of its own because there is a mountain of evidence pouring in, seemingly daily, that points to tremendous health benefits including improved energy and cognition.

Time restricted eating (TRE) is limiting our food intake to a window of 12 hours or less per day.  Ideally we'd like to eat within an 8 hour window as we'll reap the most benefits but there are even benefits being shown in studies restricting the window to 12 hours.  Ideally, we'd like to eat in line with our circadian rhythm, our first meal within a few hours of waking up and our last meal at least a few hours before going to sleep.

In a well known study, Satchin Panda fed mice the standard American diet (SAD) of high sugar and processed carbs.  He split the mice into two groups, one that could eat the diet around the clock and the other was restricted to an 8 hour window.  The mice eating around the clock predictably had a host of diseases including metabolic and fatty liver, and were obese.  The mice eating the same unhealthy diet within an 8 hour window didn't gain weight and had almost no incidence of disease.

There are a number of new studies taking place that involve humans.  The results are mirroring the results found in mice.  People are eating whatever they want, within a small time frame (8-12 hours a day), and are losing weight in addition to reversing chronic conditions.  It's shocking to say the least.

There is a good article on TRE here:

Both of these podcasts on TRE with Satchin Panda are excellent:

And if you really want to go deep on this topic:

3.  Exercise

Not much to say here.  The benefits of exercise are numerous and well documented.

Lift weights and do cardio.  Ideally, 20 minutes a day, 5 days a week of moderate to high intensity exercise.  High intensity interval training (HIIT) is best.

If you hate cardio at the gym, take a walk outside in the sunshine for 45 minutes.

4.  Sleep (Rest and Recovery)

This is an area nearly all poker players struggle in, along with the vast majority of Americans.

We should shoot for a minimum of 7 hours of sleep, ideally 8 or 9 per night.  The negative effects of lack of sleep can't be understated.  It impacts nearly every cognitive ability negatively.

Americans average about 6 hours of sleep.  Worse, they're unable to recognize they're functioning sub-optimally.  They've become so accustomed to sleep deprivation that it feels like their base mind and body state.

Some tips for sleeping better:

-Reduce the temperature in your room prior to sleeping.  Our body temperature needs to drop a few degrees before falling asleep.  The ideal temperature for sleeping is 65 degrees (not a misprint).

-Shut of as many lights as possible at least one hour prior to going to sleep.  If you need lights on, try turning half the lights off.

-Reduce exposure to blue light a few hours before going to bed.  IPhone has a screen setting that will do this.  There are also programs you can download for your desktop/laptop that will do the same.  If you really want to get serious, try blue light blocking glasses:

-Don't consume coffee within 8 hours of going to sleep (the half-life of caffeine is 5-6 hours).  This means that even after 10-12 hours, 25% is still circulating our systems.

-Get sunlight during the day.

-Eliminate all noise.  A sound machine or fan works great for this.  There are also apps or even YouTube videos with white noise.

-Try to fall asleep and wake up at similar times each day.  For more on this, read the Circadian Code that's linked above.

-If you're having trouble sleeping, leave your normal sleeping place and try somewhere different.

-Don't do anything in your bed other than sleep.  We want our subconscious to only associate the bed with sleeping.

This is a fantastic podcast on sleep:

I recommend any podcast with Matthew Walker in it.  He's a professor of neuroscience at Berkeley and founder of the Center for Human Sleep Science.  Incredibly knowledgeable and has lots of interesting insights on sleep.

5.  Meditation

Not much to say here as I think everyone is aware of the benefits of meditation at this point.  In particular, meditation is an amazing aid for all the "On-Table Essentials for Tilt Prevention" listed at the beginning of this post.  It creates that space between stimulus and response that Victor Frankl alluded to.

In terms of Podcasts, Sam Harris has some excellent ones with well known meditation teacher Joseph Goldstein:

Dan Harris (CBS news co-anchor) has a good Podcast series devoted to meditation:

Some apps you can use:

Calm, Headspace, The Mindfulness App, Buddhify

Monday, April 30, 2018

Where Game Theory Optimal (GTO) Fails

I realize this will be a controversial post among poker players but it's a discussion I haven't seen around the topic that I believe would benefit everyone.

Disclaimer: I'm not a game theory expert nor do I possess expertise in the vast majority of its related subject matter.

First what is game theory?

Taken from Wikipedia:

"The study of mathematical models of conflict and cooperation between intelligent and rational decision makers."

And what is game theory optimal or the commonly used poker expression GTO? - Several definitions are listed below to illustrate some of the confusion surrounding this phrase.

This isn't so clear.  The origins of the phrase itself aren't clear either.  However, it seems to have originated from poker.  Google Trends shows interest in the phrase peaked in December of 2004, not long after Chris MoneyMaker won the main event of the World Series and the subsequent poker boom.

Here's one of the first definitions given from a "What is GTO poker?" Google search.   Taken from a PokerNews article:

"GTO stands for "game theory optimal".  In poker, this term gets thrown around to signal a few different concepts.  It refers to thoughts about opponent modeling, and thinking about poker situations in terms of ranges and probabilities, as opposed to being strictly results oriented."

Still isn't clear:

Here's another definition taken from a different article:

"It refers to a decision in some particular situation for which an opponent cannot make a profitable counter."

A little clearer...

The best definition I could find, and also the earliest I came across, comes from a 2003 University of Alberta research paper titled, "Approximating Game-Theoretic Optimal Strategies for Full-scale Poker."

It reads, "Of particular interest is the existence of optimal solutions, or Nash equilibria.  An optimal solution provides a randomized strategy, basically a recipe of how to play in each possible situation.  Using this strategy ensures an agent will obtain at the least the game-theoretic value of the game regardless of the opponent's strategy."

Much clearer and seems to be a good solution for solving poker games until the next sentence.

"Unfortunately finding exact optimal solutions is limited to relatively small problem sizes, and is not practical for most domains."

Although this was written in 2003 and significant progress has been made in overcoming the lack of computing power, it remains today as the primary obstacle in solving poker games.

And still today, Nash equilibrium is the logic powering GTO along with two of the most popular GTO solver programs, PioSolver and GTORangeBuilder.

In the developer's words: Piosolver, "calculates optimal strategies, exact value and plays for every situation."  GTORB goes as far as to say, "It's the holy grail of poker."

But do they?  And is it?

A research paper written by the University of Alberta in January of 2017 titled, "Equilibrium Approximation Quality of Current No-Limit Poker Bots" may cast some doubt on the above claims:

Here's the last sentence taken from the Abstract of that paper that refers to a method UAB developed to evaluate the quality of current bots.

"Using this method, we show that existing poker-playing programs, based on solving abstract games, are remarkably poor Nash equilibrium approximations."

The paper looked at bots that competed in the 2016 Annual Computer Poker Competition (ACPC).  In their words, "These bots are developed by top research teams, use principled AI approaches, and the techniques they use are to large extent well documented."

One of the techniques all bots use is something called abstraction.  Because there isn't enough computing power to handle all the possible permutations such as the flop, turn, river cards, betting sequences, stack sizes, bet sizes, etc. (more on this later), similar things are lumped or bucketed together to put it in the simplest of terms.

However this comes at the cost of accuracy.  And this essentially is what the paper attempts to measure.  The conclusion of this paper... well is a bit shocking:

"Using this method we show that existing poker bots, including the second and the third best performing bots in the ACPC in 2016, all have exploitability substantially larger than folding all hands.  The bots that use card abstraction are losing over 3 big blinds per hand on average against their worst case opponent.  Exploitability can be reduced by not using card abstraction, but that necessarily leads to using a very sparse betting abstraction, which can be heavily exploited as well.  Therefore, we assume that a substantial paradigm shift is necessary to create bots that would closely approximate equilibrium in full no-limit Texas hold'em."

I should stop here and be clear that current online GTO programs like PioSolver and GTORB were not included in this study.  However, to the best of my understanding these programs use levels of abstraction to varying degrees.  And as mentioned above, abstraction leads to reduced accuracy.

If I were a user of these programs, understanding the degree or extent of this accuracy loss would be of concern.  One of many concerns.

Let's take a look at what Nash equilibrium is since this is the engine powering the intelligence behind these programs.

"It's a solution concept of a non-cooperative game involving two or more players in which each player is assumed to know equilibrium strategies of the other players, and no player has anything to gain by changing only their own strategy."

Now that we have some, albeit limited understanding, let's dive into some of my major issues with GTO itself.  We don't have to go further than the definition of Nash equilibrium:

"It's a solution concept of a non-cooperative game involving two or more players in which each player is assumed to know equilibrium strategies of the other players."

The previously linked 2003 UAB research paper also alludes to this assumption when referring to a GTO player:

"An implicit assumption is that the opponent is also playing optimally, and nothing can be gained by observing that opponent for patterns or weaknesses."

When we, human beings that is, play poker, we absolutely can not assume that the other players know and/or are implementing equilibrium strategies.  We can in fact assume the opposite, that no one is playing GTO.  So from the start we're relying on a strategy that's predicated on a false assumption.

The linked Nash equilibrium page from above continues with something called "Occurence":

According to Nash equilibrium if the following conditions are met, then we should adopt the NE strategy.

Sufficient conditions to guarantee that the Nash equilibrium are played are:

     1.  The players all will do their utmost to maximize their expected payoff as described by the 
     2.  The players are flawless in execution.
     3.  The players have sufficient intelligence to deduce the solution
     4.  The players know the planned equilibrium of all other players
     5.  The players believe that a deviation in their own strategy will not cause deviations by any               other players.
     6.  There is common knowledge that all players meet these conditions, including this one.
          So not only must each player know the other players meet the conditions, but they must
          know that they all know that they meet them, and know that they know that they meet
          them and so on.

Do any of these, much less all of them, ring true in the games you're playing in?  These are the conditions or restraints set forth as to when Nash equilibrium should be adopted.

At this point if you're a GTO proponent you may be saying to yourself, "But we still have a strategy that can't be exploited by another opponent."  I won't argue the validity of this statement except to say I'd be willing to bet it's false due to the aforementioned abstraction issues alone.

Notwithstanding, let's take on the assumption we do have a strategy that can't be exploited by another opponent.  As poker players, our goal is to make the most money possible.  The goal is NOT "to not lose money."

We should set out to maximize the expected value of every decision within the context of all our decisions.  Not to strictly ensure we always have some non-zero positive expected value.  If we only care about positive expected value as GTO does, then it's a virtual certainty we'll fail to maximize that expected value.

There was a recent Twitter poll offered by Olivier Busquet that shows just how much confusion there is around GTO and the above statements.

He asks, "If a perfect GTO bot played only live tournaments 25K entry or higher it would be:

-Far and away the best
-Marginally the best
-Among the elite
-A winner but not elite

At the time of this writing the results were 8071 votes with the choices receiving 32%, 17%, 23%, 29% respectively.  That's about as statistically insignificant of a result from a 4 question poll as we'll ever see.

To be fair to the participants, there's inherent confusion with the question itself.  In order to judge whether someone, or something in this case, would be the "best" or "elite", we need to define those terms.  Does "best" mean the person who makes the most money?  Or does best mean that player that is most skilled assuming that could be measured somehow?  Does it mean something else?

Personally, I'd define "best" as having the highest positive monetary expectation.

I do not believe the perfect GTO bot would make the most money.  It would make some money because it would never make a decision that resulted in negative expected value.  But, it wouldn't make the most money because it wouldn't fully exploit the errors of its opponents.  And I'd argue even at this level of play, sizable mistakes are being made with meaningful frequency.

David Sklansky, noted poker author and creator of Twoplustwo poker forums is on record saying the following about Cepheus, the bot that "solved" heads up fixed limit hold'em:

"If the computer is playing a bad player, it will win but it won't win as quickly as a human being playing a bad player."  He then goes on to say, "I will destroy that beginner to a greater degree than this computer program will."

A perfect GTO bot doesn't care about the size of your mistakes.  It by definition assumes it's playing against a group of players that are also playing an unexploitable strategy and therefore plays its unexploitable strategy in response.  Once it's established (incorrectly) the other players are playing flawlessly, Nash equilibrium is adopted, and the other players become irrelevant in a sense.

Again we're back to the issue of the false assumption that our opponents are playing perfectly.

Where the crux of the debate generated from Olivier's poll question lies is in whether best exploitive human being extracts more money from its opponents than the best unexploitable robot extracts from those same opponents.  

There really are two ends of the spectrum here that I think just about everyone would agree on:

1.  A human being will extract more money from a beginner than a robot
2.  A robot will extract more money from an expert player than a human being

So if you agree with the above, there's some unknown place representative of our opponents collective skill level that lies between "beginner" and "expert" that answers Olivier's question.

I have no indisputable proof to answer this question.  I do have a strong opinion after playing over six million hands online.  Tens of thousands of these were played against robots with GTO aspirations.  And hundreds of thousands more against human beings that fell more into the GTO spectrum than the exploitive.  

I think you can guess my opinion.  Perhaps unsurprisingly though, these GTO based opponents were the toughest to play against.  However, they weren't the big winners in the game as evidenced by results on PokerTableRatings and to a lesser extent, the results in my own database.

It's worth noting, we have no idea how many players failed attempting to adopt a GTO strategy relative to how many failed in an attempt to adopt an exploitive strategy.  In other words there's inherent selection bias in only looking at the results of players that amassed a high volume of hands.  And to some degree all players are always playing, or at least striving, to implement some mixture of approximate GTO (balance) and exploitive play.  As it's impossible for a human being to play "perfect" poker.

Let's put all this aside for a moment to discuss what I believe is the most compelling argument against GTO.  Let's assume we don't care about using a strategy that doesn't meet the requirements of the game it was designed for.  Let's also assume we don't care about maximizing expected value but do care about having non-zero positive expected value.

Let's also assume that (insert your favorite GTO program here) *accurately* provides these strategies and they do meet the Nash Equilibrium criteria and have positive expected value.

Note: Accurately is starred above because I'm not sure if there has been third party testing to ensure the accuracy of the output of poker GTO programs on the market.  If I did use them, this would another concern in addition to the aforementioned abstraction issues.

Given these assumptions, how as a human being do we plan on implementing these strategies?

Let's hypothetically take something as seemingly simple as whether we should open T6 offsuit from the button playing limit Hold'em.  We launch our program and input the assumed range of our perfect playing opponent.  It responds by recommending T6o as a profitable open.  So we dutifully open it from the button from that point forward.

There are a host of problems with this even after setting the aforementioned issues aside.

We don't get dealt T6 offsuit every hand, it's one of many hands that get dealt to us.  We always have to think of this hand in the context of our range of opening hands as the program does.  So maybe you're thinking, "Not a problem, I can memorize the actions of every preflop hand that program suggests."

But can you also memorize the ~9 possible betting sequences to take T6o on each of the 17926 flops, 45 turns, and 44 rivers that went into the program calculating the profitability of opening that hand?  If my math is right, that's 25,874,746,920 iterations.  Yes 25 billion.  And remember this is only for T6o offsuit.

Here's the calculation for all hands taken from

That's 319 trillion.  If every person on earth today memorized 10,000 of these possible permutations, we still wouldn't come close to committing them to our collective consciousness.

Essentially what we're seeing when looking at the output of one of these programs is a microscopic view of a drop of water derived from a vast ocean.  We're assuming because we can see say the end result of a shooting star, that we can see the entire universe.  We can't see it, much less understand it.

This short discussion taken from a 2+2 thread I stumbled across a few days ago illustrates the point:

The poster states he's "super confused" when playing against Cepheus.  Cepheus defends Js3s against a button open playing heads up.  The flop is Ac 8h 4s and Cepheus check/calls.

The poster, "can't see how that's possibly in his range" referring to the flop call.

Another poster chimes in with some good information.  "Looks like the bot continues 100% on this flop, check raises 18% with the backdoor outs as a bluff.  When I switch the 4s to the 4h it moves it to a 100% fold.  If I change the Ace to Kc, it again continues 100%, check raising 15% as a bluff."

The poster then points out that Cepheus is check raising 100% of the time on this flop when it holds Ks3s and is understandably surprised at this.

Another poster responds to the fact he's check raising Ks3s 100% and says, "K3s is not a hand you really want to call 3 times with.  Yes better to raise for thin value!"

A simple check of an equity calculator shows this isn't a "value raise" even with the most liberal of assumptions to support the claim.

I could take this haphazard assignment of reason further and surmise Cepheus is combining his equity (derived from the high card value, pair outs, and backdoor draws) with his opponent's potential fold equity gained by raising.  Maybe the 5c comes on the turn and Cepheus gets his opponent to fold 22 or 33 as one example.

The reality is, we have little idea why Cepheus is making these plays and as to why with these specific frequencies.  Sure we can evaluate the strength of his hand in relation to the board and his opponent's range by observing things like he has a backdoor flush draw, backdoor straight draw, and some high card value.  

But why are we check raising Js3s 18% of the time and Ks3s 100% of the time?  Why not 14% and 91%?  Why are we check raising or calling at all?  Why aren't we leading?  Why didn't we 3Bet preflop?  Maybe we did 3Bet preflop 72% of the time an are unknowingly looking at the other 28%.  The questions are numerous and unanswerable.

Only Cepheus who has examined every possible turn and river card in addition to every conceivable betting sequence hammered out via trillions of hands against another presumed omniscient opponent "understands" why it's doing that.

I have to reiterate this point because it's an important one.  This is just one hand in a range of hands.  In fact, it's possible to make plays with negative expected value in a vacuum that increase the overall profitability of all our hands in the same situation.

When I refer to it being "just one hand in a range of hands", I'm talking about this:

Not only all the hands we have in this situation. "Situation" being defined as our range that calls versus a button open.  But, also to all the different action sequences that can arise on the flop, turn, and river.  And this is in addition to all the flop, turn, and river cards themselves.

For example, we'd like to have hands that can bet/3-bet, bet/call, bet/fold, check/call, check raise, check raise/fold, check raise/4-bet, check/fold, etc. etc. on the flop.  And not only the flop, but the turn and river as well.  So we're targeting balance within all the conceivable action sequences on all the conceivable turn and river cards within the context of our entire range.  Even this paragraph is an oversimplification of the immense complexity involved.

You can view a range of hands like the instruments in an orchestra, all working in harmony to produce a beautiful melody.  To take one hand like Js3s out of a range on the flop might be analogous to walking over to the flute player, listening to he or she play a perfect note or two, and concluding you're ready to conduct the symphony.

The answer as to why Cepheus is doing this is unknowable for a human being.  This can be proven at the most basic level because Cepheus is making these plays in response another assumed perfect playing opponent.  To even begin investigating the true reasons behind these plays, we'd have to fully understand how its opponent is playing.

I'd like to end on a bit of a positive note towards GTO.  I'm not opposed to the idea of GTO itself and we should all strive to have a better understanding of it.  In simple terms, we want a firm grasp of balance particularly against more skilled players and in more common situations that arise at a poker table.  And examining GTO programs can certainly help point us in the right direction, particularly in seeking answers to more theoretical questions.  Though I think there are simpler and more effective ways.

I look at balance like the volume knob on a stereo.  The better my opponent and/or the more common the situation, the higher I'll dial the balance knob up. The worse my opponent or less common the situation, the lower the volume.

Granted the volume on my stereo doesn't go nearly as high as say Cepheus' but neither does my opponents.

-Tony Pirone
I will make a post in the near future that goes into a lot more detail surrounding
balance and the practical implementation of it.

Monday, April 23, 2018

A Return to Blogging

I'm not sure if anyone reads this blog anymore but there will be more posts in the near future.  I'm back playing live poker and immersing myself in the game.

The posts from here on out will be strategy and psychology related.

Hope you enjoy.

Thursday, February 16, 2017


It's been a long time since I last posted here.  I played Fantasy Sports for about a year and a half, came to the conclusion I could make more playing poker and went back to live poker for about 20 months.

Although both endeavors were successful, it's time to move on to something else.  The live poker environment is unhealthy and chaotic to say the least.  Throughout the years I had mentioned here on more than a few occasions that I didn't know how live poker players did it.  I'm still not sure how they do it.  The drama, the angle-shooting, the general chaos is all something I don't want to be a part of if I don't have to.  I'd like to limit my time to ten to twenty hours a week at this point.

My focus now is on coaching and eventually writing a book, hopefully the best book that's ever been written on LHE.  I'd anticipate this will take 5-10 years to complete but I've begun the journey.

I started a coaching thread on 2+2 about two weeks ago.  So far I'm up to 5 students.  Ideally, I'd like to coach 10 at any given time.  So there are spots open at this point.

All the information and specifics can be found here:

Feel free to ask questions via the thread or email.

I plan on updating this blog more frequently as well.  It'll probably relate to topics being covered in my book along with a new spiritual journey I'm on in life.  More on the latter to follow.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Fantasy Sports Links

I feel a little guilty even posting these but at the same time I think it's kind of stupid not to.  I'm posting links for the various fantasy sites so if anyone that reads my blog wants to sign up and signs up through the links, I'll get a portion of your rakeback.  It's basically the same deal as how affiliates work with poker.

I actually received several offers through the years to post links, banners, etc. in my blog in return for a fee and always refused.  I've never really done the whole affiliate thing but with all the interest in Fantasy sports and all the people contacting me with questions and interest I think it would be dumb not to post them.  So if you are interested in Fantasy Sports, have liked my blog, and would like to give something back to me, the links are below.

I also linked the 2+2 "Well" in case you haven't seen it - you can ask me anything there and I'll be happy to respond.  Also I linked a PokerFuse article that was written the other day about my transition to Fantasy Sports.

I actually had decided a few months ago that I wanted to keep my decision to transition to DFS kind of low-key.  Oops.  Well that's all out the window at this point.  I really wasn't expecting so much attention and interest.

DFS Links:




If anyone has any DFS questions regarding the sites, feel free to email me at

2+2 Well: