Poker, EOU, and Life -
A. A. Tovar, Ph. D.
During the Winter '04 quarter, I participated in a no-limit Texas
Holdem (Poker) League with the students of the Pocket Aces Game
Club. Like most people, I was vaguely familiar with the rules of
Poker, but I had never played Holdem before. Each week there was
a tournament game which garnered you points. The player with the
most points at the end of the quarter won the tourney. Going into
the last week (which counted double), I was in second place (out of
24). How did I get there, when I'd never played Holdem before?
Then, the best thing that could have happened, happened - I got very
sick and lost. Not only that, I LOST BIG (Playing a competitive
game 45 minutes after you've had diarrhia for 2 hours does not lead to
good times), finishing 10th. This was a good thing because it got
me thinking. I starting to read a few web sites. Nothing
was really too enlightening. Then I stumbled onto one line that
said something like "good poker players don't only win when they had
the best hand." I immediately understood how truly awful I'd been
playing, and how much better I could be.
- I played conservatively, understanding that playing too many
hands would cause me to lose a lot.
- I made people think I didn't have anything (encouraging them to
raise) when I had very good hands.
- I understood that, over the long haul, luck was not the dominant
factor, i.e. Strategy is important.
Before we talk about what I call "Advantage
theory," let's talk about my "strategy" above. But before I do
that, I need to talk briefly about the rules of Holdem.
Now we can talk about why my strategy was so bad. I let my
opponents see not
only the flop, but all 5 of the community cards. (What? Don't you
have to let them see all of the cards? No, you don't. By
raising properly, any mediocre hands will be folded.) Basically,
the only rounds I won were those in which I had the better hand.
Of course, assuming that I'm no luckier than my opponents (I'm
definitely not), I should finish about in the middle of the pack.
The only thing going for me was my ability to eek out a little more
gain, than when I lost, by essentially bluffing that I had a bad hand
when I had a good one.
- Only the 2 people to the left of the dealer put in their ante
- each player is dealt 2 cards
- Betting occurs, one may fold a bad hand without putting any money
in the pot. Otherwise, you may call or raise. (This is called
the Preflop round)
- The dealer deals 3 cards face up which may be used by all
players. (These cards are called "The Flop").
- Another round of betting occurs.
- The deals deals 1 card face up (4 total community cards exposed)
- Another round of betting occurs
- The deals deals 1 card face up (5 total community cards exposed)
- Final round of betting occurs
Here's a concrete example. Suppose I am dealt two aces - the best
hand in Texas Holdem. By not raising before the flop, I'm
allowing all of my opponents to stay in (seeing the flop) without much
penalty. Suppose that there are 8 total players at a table, and
that the flop is 7, 7, King. With 7 other players at the table,
it is likely that someone has a 7, and their hand would become better
than my Ace, Ace. Now suppose that someone at the table raises
BIG, what do you do? Well, someone likely has you beat, you
should probably fold. Basically, I had Advantage and I didn't use
it. Now, suppose that I had raised before the flop (as I would do
now). The random person with a Jack and a 7 should fold. If
they don't fold you'll have a humongous statistical advantage against
them. In fact, everyone but 1 or two players fold. It is
unlikely they will keep a 7, so that when the King, 7, 7 is flopped,
you can raise again, and probably win the hand. In the first
case, you had Advantage, didn't use it, and you lost with the best hand
Holdem can offer. In the second case, you had Advantage and you
used is to rid the game of "limpers" and took the pot.
Another example. You have a pair of 5's and the flop is 3,4,5.
What should you do? Let's assume that some player has a 6 and a
Queen. If you don't raise, then you are giving him to free
opportunities to get a 2 or a 7 completing his straight. By not
raising you are turning a winning hand into a losing hand. Don't
wait until the last card is on the table to raise.
Can you see how I badly I was really playing? By
not using my Advantage, I was losing hands that I should have
one. This makes it seem that I was "unluckly," when what was
really wrong it that I wasn't aggressive enough. I did not force
the position when I had Advantage. One can get carried away with
this, however. You should USE Advantage, but you should NOT ABUSE
Advantage. Let's look at an example of this:
You have 2 Queens (probably the 4th best possible hand), and you bet
all of your money before the flop. If they want to play, then you
will make them pay! Hah! Well, if everyone folds, then you only
won the blinds. This isn't much return on a hand you'll only get
1 time in every 100 or so hands. The other possibility is that
you are called, which will only happen if your opponents has a pair of
Kings or a pair of Aces. In this case, you are likely to lose
(everything!). Some poker authors have called this "turning
pocket queens into 7-2 off suit." I call it Abusing Advantage.
OK, you get it. When playing Holdem, you need to use (but not
abuse) Advantage when you have it. What does this have to do with
anything else? Well, it actually applies to pretty much
else. Suppose you are a student at a small university such as
Eastern Oregon University. You are about to graduate and you
apply for a job that you really want. Fortunately for you there
are only 4 other applicants - 2 from Oregon State University, 1 from
University of Oregon, and 1 from Southern Oregon University.
Other things being equal, you just LOST the job, because 70% (or so) of
the employers in Oregon graduated from OSU or UO. What do you
need to get the job? ADVANTAGE. You need to give the
employer some reason why you should be hired, and not someone from the
school they graduated from. In this case, what does Advantage
look like? You can gain Advantage by
Some other important methods of gaining advantage are
- Getting an internship, and having them as one of your references.
- Being an officer in a club relating to your field.
- Being a woman.
- Being a minority.
- Competing in your field (e.g. COMAP math modeling competition)
- Doing research that results in publications
- Doing research that results in presentations
- Having a good GPA
- Teaching labs/classes
- Writing a good resume. Note that most students don't know
what a good resume is, so you should ask someone who does (like me!)
- Writing a good cover letter. Some students are confused
about what type of info. should be on a cover letter and what should be
on a resume. If you're not sure, ask.
- Have a good interview. This is done with PREPARATION.
You will not be able to answer questions intelligently such as "What's
your biggest weakness?" if you haven't thought about it BEFORE
If you own a small business, you need all of the advantage you can
get. Location, advertising, meeting a demographical
need, doing something other businesses don't (i.e. creating a niche),
are all forms of advantage for a business. Let's take an example
from basketball. If Shaquille O'Neal started shooting a lot of
3-pointers, he would be ignoring his physical advantage.
Understanding and making use of advantage can be helpful in many, many
situations. But what about ABUSE of Advantage?
Simple. To become a professional Holdem player, I could read and
reread books, play online nightly, go to casinos regularly, get my
friends interested... Call me egotistical, but I really believe I
could become a professional Holdem player (I would currently have a
VERY long way to go, though). However, it might cost me my
marriage, my career as a professor, time with my kids when they're
young. It would also cost me a lot of other things as well.
This brings about an important question -
What am I trying to do in my Life?
Again, I'm going to be egotistical enough to tell you what you should
be trying to do with your life. Your life's goal should be to....
Become a Better You (as YOU define it)
Maybe you believe, like one of my brother's, that being a better you
involves being active at church and having religion permeate your
life. Though I don't agree with his Baptist perspective, good on
him for becoming what he defines as the better him. So, Dr. T,
what do you define as the better you? Well, I think the better me
would be a good father, a good husband, someone who teaches his
students about physics and the bigger picture (which is ultimately what
this document is about), someone who understands conveys to others that
recycling is really minimalistic and that reducing and reusing are
vastly superior, and someone who has fun and facilitates fun along the
way. That's the better me. I'm getting better and
better. Hopefully, it's clear why becoming a Professional Holdem
player would be, for me, a bad idea. Ultimately, I can't gain
advantage if it doesn't help me with my life's goals. Life -
Bring It On!!
I've been asked how to pick a mate. An interesting question - but
the answer is obvious. You should marry someone who will help you
become the better you (and someone who you can help make a better
them). Again, as YOU define it.
If there are things that can be done to gain Advantage, there other
types of things that can be done to lose Advantage. Obviously,
having a bad attitude will lose you advantage in pretty much every
situation. Whether trying to succeed as a poker player, a
student, or in life, mindset is critically important - your success
depends on it.