Poker, EOU, and Life -
Advantage Theory
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.

     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.  Basically,
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.

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 EVERYTHING 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

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.