An insight on Luck/Running Good or Bad/Sklansky Bucks

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An insight on Luck/Running Good or Bad/Sklansky Bucks

Postby vaevictis » Fri Apr 18, 2008 11:17 pm

Cross posted from:

It is very common to hear that poker is a game of skill and that the better player will win in the long run. To a consistent winner, luck matters in the short term and what matters most is playing well over the long run. This statement, though albeit general, is pretty much the law of poker. Yet many people fail to understand this aspect of poker and start blaming their bad run for their bad results. And before long, their mental attitude towards luck becomes an increasing large hurdle for them to overcome, before they can even start to become a breakeven or marginal winner in the stakes they play.

The objectives of this article is to provide the readers with a clear and theoretical insight of what the "luck" element in poker is all about through the use of this tracking program called PokerEV. This program (working in hand with pokertracker) calculates your actual equity whenever you are in an all-in situation(showdown), and compares this calculated value with the actual Sklansky bucks you have won/loss in the all-in situations(showdown) you encounter. It also shows your actual total winnings inclusive of the non-showdown pots you play. What this program does is to give a graphical view of how well/bad you actually run in all-in situatins. Through the use of this program, there are a couple of implications and takeaway lessons that can help improve your poker game in general.

Sklansky Bucks
Lets introduce Sklansky Bucks before we go deep into the program. Sklansky bucks is a theoretical value that shows your actual equity that you will earn/lose over a long run. For example, if you have AA and you got it all in preflop aganist KK with effective stacks of $100, the actual odds to win are 80% and 20% respectively. When you win the hand, you actually net the entire pot of $200, giving you a net win of $100. In Sklansky bucks, you have only won $60. Lets do the maths.

For a run of 5 hands, assuming you win exactly 80% of the hands with AA (and 80% of the time you will win in this situation over the long run).

4 wins x Net won of $100 = $400
1 lost x Net loss of $100 = -$100

Total net won over 5 hands = $300.
Average won per hand = $300 / 5 hands = $60 Sklansky Bucks.

You will see this $60 sklansky bucks/hand is the actual amount you will win in the long run if you keep getting AA vs KK preflop, instead of the usual $100 you have won.

Now lets see how KK fares in its Sklansky bucks.

4 lose x net loss of $100 = -$400
1 win x net win of $100 = $100

Total net loss over 5 hands = -$300
Average loss per hand = -$300/5 = -$60 Sklansky Bucks.

So obviously if you have KK and you know you are aganist AA everytime preflop and you get it in, you will lose $60/hand in the long run.

The Sklansky bucks is applicable to all hands and all situations as in every holdem situation, the exact EV can be determined. The concept of not drawing when you do not have a good price (pot odds) is because everytime you draw when the price is not right, you lose Sklansky bucks! And losing Sklansky bucks in the long run = losing money!

A Graphical Illustration

This is the actual PokerEV software analysis graph of my hands since December 07.
The blue line shows the actual winnings of your hands that get to showdown (inclusive of all-in situations).
The red line shows the calculated Sklansky Bucks dollars you should have made. Do note that in this program, the calculated Sklansky Bucks dollars is ONLY for all-in situations. The reason why it does not calculate S.Bucks street by street is that it does not provide a conclusive value when hands do not get into showdown. The delicate reasonings can be found in forums posted by the author of the program.
The green line tracks your actual total winnings (inclusive of non-showdown pots).

Implications of Graph
There are several implications that the graph can tell a player about his game.

1) A constantly rising Sklansky Bucks is a sign of a consistent winner. It means that you are consistently making +EV plays and theoretically you are suppose to win. Vice versa, if your red line is always going downwards, then you are always getting your money in bad (not running bad mind you, but getting it worse with much less than 50% equity)

2) When your blue line (all-in showdown winnings) is above your red-line, it means you are running good (winning more $ vs theoretical Sklansky Bucks). Likewise if your blue line is below your red line, it means you are running poorly and you can proudly claim that lady luck is not on your side.

3) Over a large hand sample, the blue line always converges to the red line. What this really means is that the times you run good = the times you run bad, and that the notion of luck is in fact short-termed. Hence the better player who wins sklansky bucks in the long run will win in poker.

4) It is very possible to run good for a good sample of hand, and this gives you the illusion that you are a winning player. It is also very possible to run badly for a good number of hands too! This is probably worse and it drains confidence off the good players.

Some takeaway lessons

1) The first and most significant point is that your blue line converges into the red line, showing clearly that when all your chips are all-in and you can't really do anything about the outcome, the results always converge to a theoretical number. Luck is indeed short-termed and over time it will even out.

The implication of luck being short termed is that if you have been running good for a number of hands, you should expect your luck to run out in the near future. Say you have a +$500 luck-adjusted equity, you should expect to lose this $500 in the future. This means that your AA will not hold up that often, your sets may run into high flushes and straights, your flushes will run into fullhouses and so on and so on. The reverse is also true, if you have -$500 luck equity, you should expect to win more in the future, either by sucking out on others, or having your strong hands hold more often. (For the AA vs KK hand, whenever your AA holds up, you win an additional $40 dollar more than your theoretical Sklansky Bucks).

2) The understanding of this notion of luck is a key component in any successful poker player. He has to have the emotional stability and mental ability to understand how luck works in poker, and continue to play his A game consistently. Yes it can be very irritating when a donk sucks out on you when you have a very strong hand, but that does not reflect on your true results in the long run. As poker players, results of individual hands rarely matter, but rather, poker players should see and gauge their results over a long sample, in terms of hands or weeks/days/month.

3)The concept of variance is partly entrenched in this discussion of luck. We hear of "Oh, I'm having a 10 buyin downswing currently" pretty often. A good part of it could be due to results converging as well as bad play. Likewise when we run good, we usually play better and win more as a result. Being aware consciously of what short-termed variance actually is will do greatly to improve your mental stability in Poker.

4) The idea of having mental stability in the face of potential variance swings is easily the most under-rated skill to possess in poker. As all poker players start off by learning the correct moves to make, making the right plays at the right time, taking the best optimal line, we realise that most of us are more concerned with the technical aspect of the game. When in reality, intangible aspects such as luck plays a huge role in poker. Having the mental aptitude to understand the intangible aspects of poker will definitely do more good compared to having the aptitude understanding all the technical aspect of the game but having a weak mental game.
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