Friday, October 25, 2013

If You Never Go All In, You Cannot Lose

“Tournaments are like plus-EV lottery tickets... or in some cases, minus-EV lottery tickets.”

That was an idea tossed out by Phil Laak this week while helping with the commentary on the WSOP Europe live stream. Kind of an interesting observation, I thought, about tournament poker that highlighted how much luck is involved in winning a tourney while also noting that some players can via their skills and tourney know-how lessen that chance element -- or, with a lack of such know-how, increase it.

During some of the breaks this week on the WSOPE stream they’ve been showing clips from last year’s WSOPE Main Event final table won by Phil Hellmuth. Saw the finale again a little earlier today, including Hellmuth’s coming over to the rail after winning and saying something about having been all in and at risk only a single time throughout the entire tourney.

We take him at his word, I suppose, but in truth I think that is one statistic Hellmuth can be counted on to keep track of as he plays -- namely, the number of times he’s been all in and at risk in a tournament. He’s famously pronounced in the past with pride his ability to avoid such spots in tourneys. Of course it is an inarguable truism that if you never go all in versus a player with more chips, you cannot possibly be eliminated. (Easier said than done.)

Was kind of setting those two ideas beside each other today while watching what has turned out to be a long heads-up battle between Fabrice Soulier and Adrian Mateos, thinking about how that strategy of avoiding all-ins -- when employed in conjunction with a lot of other poker skills, of course -- can work to improve ones chances in the tourney “lottery.”

Especially in a relatively small field tourney like the WSOPE Main Event usually is -- Hellmuth topped a field of 420 last year; there were 375 entered this time -- the chances of making one’s way all of the way through it without being at risk more than once is better than is the case, say, in the WSOP Main Event where I have to imagine all nine of those who made this year’s final table were at risk somewhere along the way, perhaps more than once. Would be interesting to sort that out regarding this year’s November Nine (if possible).

In any event, it’s interesting to think how playing a tournament is on one level a willing acceptance of risk (especially from the perspective of a cash game player), a primary strategy of the tournament itself is to avoid risk.

Have a good weekend all. And whatever you do, manage your risk appropriately.

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