The Distinct Tournament Edge in Online PokerJul 12, 2012
The Distinct Tournament Edge in Online Poker
What holds true in live poker does not hold true when playing on-line tournaments.
I could go on about random-number generators and algorithms and all the other terms associated with the randomness of computer-generated games but let's face it, most of us are not bio chemists or math majors. However, what is important to know is that although the cards dealt are random, the outcome of the hands are extremely limited due to the number of possible “deck sequences” in a standard 52-card deck. In fact, that number is an astonishing 80,658,175,170,943,878,571,660,636,856,404,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000
,000,000 and no poker software on the planet can even come close to retaining that data and distributing the cards in the same way a live game could. It’s virtually impossible. Furthermore, a computer does not have a brain and somebody has to program it to make it as fair and as random as possible but again, the limitations of the software is a huge factor in determining the outcome.
In extremely easy to follow terms and instructions, you’re about to learn the truth about on-line poker tournaments so that:
1). You’ll dramatically increase your ROI (return on investment).
2). You’ll last much longer in tournaments and dramatically increase your chance of finishing in the money.
3). You’ll learn what situations to avoid, preventing you from getting knocked out.
4). You’ll learn the three stages of tournament play (the beginning, the middle and the end) and how to play each stage with precision that’ll give you the best chance of winning or finishing in the money.5). You will be amazed and excited once you see the information and results at work.
This is NOT a manuscript about how to play poker, it’s a tutorial on exactly how the software works and how you can use it to significantly increase your chances of winning or finishing high in the money. Knowing the tendencies of the software and how it is designed, will give you a distinct advantage over the other players.
There are three key elements:
1). Equal distribution of winning hands.
2). Chip Count
EQUAL DISTIBUTION OF WINNING HANDS
One of the main objectives of the software is to assure that all players win about the same number of hands in order to maintain a degree of “fair play” This also assures that the site will retain players because if you play and don’t win a hand, you are unlikely to return to the site. You often see players at a live game that haven’t won a pot asking for a seat change or change of table, as nothing is more frustrating than sitting there and not winning a single pot. Unless you go all in right away and lose, you can be 100% sure that the software is going to deal you a winning hand very early in the tournament because it’s designed to do that. Want proof? Go to the start of any tournament right now, jot down the names of players at the table and cross them off when they win a hand. It won’t take long to see each player having won at least one hand very early. Again, the software is designed to do this and the secret is to maximize your winning hand when it's 'your turn'. Winning blinds counts as a winning hand so it’s virtually useless to try and steal blinds, or make a big raise and knock everyone out. You want to win as many chips as possible and not “use up” your winning hands on small pots. As you will see later, the number of chips you hold in relation to the other players is the single most determining factor in who will win the pot.
The software used by online poker rooms fails in the respect that it does not take into account the probability and statistics of winning hands. When KK is a 91% favorite over J-2 off-suit, the program is not aware of this. Nor is it programmed in that manner. The program recognizes how many hands each player has won and will issue the winning hands accordingly, regardless of what two cards you hold. In that respect you might as well be playing blind because the dealt cards do not matter and it’s the main reason why big hands get beaten by rags time after time after time.
The next question is how to use that to your advantage and the answer is simple. On every poker site you have the ability to check how many hands you’ve been dealt and how many pots you’ve won. This is known as your Net-Win Percentage (NWP). In other words, with 9 players at the table and with the “equal-distribution” of winning hands at work, you are going to win about once every 9 hands or 11% of the hands dealt. The key is to keep your NWP as low as possible (under 11%) so that when you do get a “good playing hand” you’re chances of winning it increase dramatically. Always try and keep your NWP percentage under 11% and when it gets too high, do not play hands because that’s when garbage will crack your big hands. The worst thing you can do is win a small pot and increase your NWP. That’s a mistake that every player makes that is not aware of how the software works. It gives you a significant edge indeed.
You must use this to your advantage in so many ways. For instance, if you’re the small blind and everyone folds and it leaves you and the big blind only, fold and give the big blind a tiny pot and INCREASE his NWP while decreasing your own. The more small pots your opponents win, the better it is for you. Always keep this in mind when making your decisions. You should never make a large raise with a big hand before the flop because there is a good chance you’ll knock out the field and win a small pot, something you want to avoid at all costs. The better play is to make the minimum raise and induce players with a high NWP to enter the pot and perhaps even have someone go over the top on you and raise you all in. ALWAYS be aware of your NWP and do not gamble when it is high and/or above 11%. Another scenario that can and will occur is that your NWP percentage is high and you’re the big blind. Everyone checks and you see the flop without having to put more chips into the pot. You hit a big flop and are forced to play. Those situations require extreme caution because more times than not, this is a trap that could knock you out. Don’t spring it. There are exceptions to this rule, which will be covered in the next section.
When your NWP is low and you hit the flop, you can almost be sure that you’re going to win that hand. For instance, you hold K-Q and the flop comes K-6-8 with two diamonds. Chances are high that your opponent holds one of three hands and will not complete it. They’ll be holding a weaker K, a four-flush or a four-card open-ended straight. The cards are not random, the software predetermines the winner of this hand and in this case, whether you have one chaser or three chasers, your hand will improve and hold up or just flat hold up. If you’re the 'low NWP' player that’s holding the four-flush or four-card straight, you will complete your draw and win because the NWP is designed thatg way. The software is designed to create action and it reacts to the cards in play and induces those in the hand to continue playing or make a difficult decision.
Maximize your winning hands. Position play means nothing in on-line poker tournaments but you can still use it to your advantage simply because when you’re in late position you’ll have a good idea of exactly how many players are in the pot. When your NWP is low and there are lots of players in the pot, you should try and see the flop, regardless of what two cards you hold. You could be holding 2-8, or 10-10, as it really does not matter because the winner of the hand is predetermined as soon as the software recognizes which players are in and what cards they’re holding. In other words, the flop is not going to be the same if you were in or if you were out. For instance, you’re holding 2-8 and call. The software instantly recognizes you’re in the hand with 2-8 and that you have a low NWP. You might see a flop like 6-7-9 and there’s a high probability that you’ll hit it because your NWP is low and the software has picked this up. If you would have folded this hand, the flop will NOT be the same, so there’s no reason to get upset when you’re holding let’s say, 7-8 and the flop is 7-7-10. Which players are in and what cards they’re holding predetermine the flop, the turn and the river. Of course you still want to play good hands but if your NWP is low and there are “pot odds” early in the tournament, it would be advantageous for you to see the flop with any hand providing you can limp in.
If you have a hand like J-J in early position, the thinking is to make a significant raise to knock out hands like Q-J, Q-K, K-10, A-x, etc, but making a significant raise can hurt you more than help you. First, it can knock out the field and subsequently win you a very small pot and that’s the worst possible scenario. You should raise to knock out limpers with a low NWP and you should raise the minimum or twice the big blind and not more. It’s important to raise because a guy playing A-x or any King or Queen with a low NWP might call otherwise and the software could predetermine it’s his turn to win and not yours.
Note: The sofware will track your NWP. Always be aware of it and also remember to write down the players at the table when the tournament starts and cross off their names when they win a pot. You will see that everyone will win a hand early so try and maximize your winning hand in the first two or three rounds and try not to gamble against a player that has yet to win a hand.
1). Always keep your NWP low and when it is too high (over 15%), DO NOT gamble for you will lose far more often than you will win. This is especially true in the first hour of the tournament.
2). Allow players to win small pots, as that accomplishes two positive results for you. It increases their NWP and decreases yours.
3). Do not make big raises before the flop unless someone else has made a big raise and is already “pot-committed” and has no choice but to call you.
4). When your NWP is low and you hit the flop, you’re going to win a very high percentage of those hands. Conversely, when your NWP is high and you hit the flop, you’re going to lose a very high percentage of those so be very cautious and don’t get “trapped” into a false sense of security.
5). When your NWP percentage is low (under 11%) and you’re dealt a great starting hand like AA, KK, QQ or AK suited, you’re almost guaranteed to win so do not make a large raise before the flop, as it’s already predetermined that you’re going to win this hand. If you lose, it’s because it was already predetermined and you were going to lose anyway so why raise big? Milk it for all it’s worth. Maximize your winning hands.
THE CHIP COUNT
Simply put, the chip count is the number of chips you hold in relation to the other players at your table. You either have a low chip count (small stack), a high chip count (large stack) or an average chip count, which is somewhere between a small stack and a high stack. Before I get into the details of how this works in relation to the software, it’s important to know the rationalization that went into developing the software to work the way it does.
Internet poker is a business. The house does not care who wins or who loses. They care about fair play, making money and retaining players but its #1 priority is making money. Poker sites are a facilitator of the game and have no investment whatsoever in the outcome of any hand or result. They will make the exact same amount of money no matter who wins. However, the quicker players are eliminated from a tournament the more money the house makes simply because those eliminated will enter another tournament or play in a raked game. For instance, if 500 players joined a $10 + $1 tournament the house makes $500 or $1 per entry. If they held six of those a day they would make $3000.00 and if they held two a day they would make $1000.
The next point to note is that in live poker tournaments a field of 750-1000 players can take up to 100 hours to complete and in on-line tournaments a field of 750-1000 players takes about six or seven hours. Sure, the hands are dealt quicker on-line, however, the discrepancy is not that large and again, we have living proof that the cards are not random. After all, someone had to design the program and the program was designed to knock players out quickly to ensure more money for the house. The more tournaments and the more freed up players the more money for the house. Trust me on this one; these on-line poker tournaments were absolutely designed to knock players out quickly. The smaller the buy-in, the quicker players are eliminated. Take a look at a tournament with a $3 + 30¢ buy in. With 1000 players the house makes 300.00 and there’s just no way they’re going to allow a tournament like this to last 12 hours or more. In fact, a third of the players will be eliminated within the first hour, which again is proof that the software was designed to knock players out quickly. This is where the chip count comes into play and remains in play for the whole tournament.
So, the next question is how to use this to your advantage. Using the theory/fact that the program was designed to knock players out quickly, it would only make sense that the players with big stacks have a huge advantage over players with smaller stacks. If players with smaller stacks won hands consistently, it would increase their stack and decrease the bigger stack, thus resulting in players lasting longer and the tourney lasting longer too. The whole key to this is to try and build your stack early, which means playing a lot of hands in the first hour or so. Regardless of what hand you hold, if you’re up against a player with a bigger stack you are almost always going to lose that hand. For instance, if you go all in with K-Q suited and a player with a bigger stack calls you with a much lesser hand you are going to lose that hand about 80% of the time. I don’t care if you have pocket aces and the player with a larger stack has 10-2 off suit, you are going to lose that hand way more times than you should if the cards were random, but they’re not. So, in order to give you a big edge you need to build your stack quickly and then go after players with smaller stacks than your own. You can limp in with just about anything in the first couple of rounds as long as it’s not raised and if it is raised after you call the big blind you can always fold. The key is to see as many flops as possible in the first couple of rounds for as cheap as possible and hopefully get lucky with at least one or two big pots. That will put you in a very advantageous position and then you need to go after smaller stacks than yours. Once you’ve won your first big pot it would be at that time you should go after smaller stacks and try not to gamble. If you’re in first, second or third place at your table you’re in good shape so start going after smaller stacks.
Another key is to avoid at all costs players with larger stacks than yours because those players can knock you out and that’s what the program is designed to do. Of course, as the blinds get bigger you’ll have to be much more selective in the hands that you play but always remember to attack smaller stacks and avoid larger ones. Observe when you’re not in the hand and you’ll almost always see the bigger stack beating the smaller stack regardless of what each player holds. In no-limit poker tournaments it’s rare to see more than two players in an all-in showdown and if you watch you’ll see that the bigger stack will beat the smaller stack almost every time.
When you combine these two vital elements of the software, that is Net-Win Percentage + Chip Count, the absolute best situation for you is going up against a smaller stack when you have a low NWP and you’re going to win that hand a very high percentage of the time.
The Chip Count takes precedence over NWP so be aware of this also. In other words, if you’re up against a bigger stack and your NWP is low, you’re still going to lose that hand a high percentage of the time simply because Chip Count is the #1 predetermined factor in deciding the outcome. The bigger the discrepancy in chips, the higher the percentage the bigger stack will knock out the smaller stack. As the tournament progresses the chip count becomes even more prevalent and your NWP becomes less. Never gamble against a stack that is three times larger than your own because your going to lose that hand 75-80% of the time and the percentage goes up even more when the big stack can knock out the smaller stack.
You have to be aware of this at all times and you’ll avoid getting knocked out in situations you otherwise would not have. For instance you hold AA with 40,000 in chips and a player with 122,000 raises you all in. You have to fold because the software’s #1 priority is to knock out players and it couldn’t care less that your opponent is holding 9-9 or even 5-6 for that matter. You might win if you call but in this situation you’re going to lose way more often than you should because he has three times more chips than you and has the opportunity to knock you out. A good rule of thumb is never to gamble against a bigger stack than your own.
The only time you go in against a bigger stack is when that stack is less than two times the amount of chips you hold and even then it’s still risky. In other words, you have 30,000 in chips with AA or KK and the raiser has 36,000 in chips. You can make this call because his win percentage goes way down simply because if he does lose he’ll be on the verge of getting knocked out himself and the software will recognize this. However, if he had 90,000 in chips and he lost, he still wouldn’t be close to being on the verge of getting knocked out and that’s why he’s a big favorite to win when he holds two times or more the amount of chips you hold.
1). Try and build your stack early by seeing a lot of flops in the first two or three rounds of play or the first 30-45 minutes. If you wait for big hands only, by the time you get one your stack will be small, you’ll be up against too many big stacks and your chances decrease dramatically. When you have a big stack, you’re a huge favorite to win hands over smaller stacks.
2). If a player with a big stack raises your marginal hand you should always fold, especially after the flop and when you’re on a draw. However, if you have more chips than the player that bets out on you and you’re on a draw, you can usually call because you’re going to make your draw a high percentage of the time simply because you have more chips.
3). Always go after small stacks and avoid bigger one’s than your own. The deeper you get into the tournament the more crucial this factor becomes.
4). Play aggressively against smaller stacks and I can’t stress enough how vital it is to be very cautious against bigger stacks.
5). Keep your NWP low and go after smaller stacks than your own and you’re going to win that hand a very high percentage of the time regardless of what two cards you’re holding.
6). Early in the tournament when the blinds are small and thus the pot is small, going after small stacks when you’re going to win a very small pot is not a good idea because it increases your NWP. Always try and make your winning hands worthwhile. Of course, once the blinds increase to say 200-400, everyone at that point should have a stack worth going after.
Folks, this has very little to do with the hands you get and how you play them. It has everything to do with the number of chips you have in relation to the players you're up against. Also remember that this is not full proof. You can be an 80% favorite and still lose and should that occur that’s just the luck of the draw. You’re not going to win every hand you play against a smaller stack but the smaller the stack the better because losing to a very small stack won’t hurt you as much as losing to a player that has less chips than you but not by much.
You have to trust that the software was designed to knock out players quickly and that’s precisely what it does in order to make the house more money. The World Series of Poker that is held in Las Vegas every year had a field of about 1100 players the past couple of years. It took almost two weeks of 12 hours a day to determine a winner. An online poker tournament with the same number of players will take six or seven hours to complete. Incredible, isn’t it, and again it’s 100% proof that the software was designed to knock out players quickly and the only way to ensure that was to have bigger stacks always beating smaller one’s. This is an absolute.
Also note that the more players in the tournament, the quicker players will be eliminated. In other words, if you’re in a tournament with 200 players the software will not work as fast as a tournament with 2000 players. When you’re in a smaller tournament, don’t be as aggressive as you would be in a larger player tournament because early on in the tournament the smaller stacks are going to win more hands than they would if the tournament had more players. The bigger the tournament in terms of number of players, the quicker the software will work. This is especially true if you’re playing the small sit and go tournaments.
THE TIME FACTOR:
Although this isn't as crucial as the other two elements of the software, it's still important to know that all on-line poker tournaments have a time limit and none with exceed that.
In fact, if you note what time a specific tournament starts and note when it ends you will see that it ends at almost the exact time every time or within 15-20 minutes of one another. In other words, if a 30+3 no-limit buy-in starts every day at 3:00 PM, it will end every day at a specific time no matter if there’s 600 players or 1800 players.
You can make notes or keep charts as to how long a tournament will last and be aware of it when you start. This is a typical graph of what every poker site shows when looking up tournaments.
208444314 June 10 14:15 22NL Hold’em $20,000 guaranteed registering 245
In the above sample you have a tournament with a 20,000 guaranteed payout and sites will typically have this tournament every single day, starting at the same time every day and many more like it. Watch one of these tournaments and jot down what time it ends and keep a chart for yourself. You will see that every day this tournament will end at the same time or pretty close each and every time. This too, is proof that the software is designed to knock out players quickly and if that isn't enough, there is more proof in case you need it. Sites always have satellites to get into bigger tournaments and some of those satellites are on the same day as the big one. A satellite that begins at 9:00 AM will get you into a large tournament that begins at 4:00 PM on the exact same day. How do they know the satellite will end by 4:00 PM? They know because the software was designed to end it at a specific time and there is no concern whatsoever of the tournament exceeding the beginning of the bigger tournament.
You have already learned that the above monitored tournament will last about 6 hours because you’ve done your homework and you’re keeping a chart as to how long each tournament will last. You can use this to your advantage by dividing the number of players in the tournament by the hours that a tournament will last. For instance, this tournament will last six hours and has 850 players. Thus, 850 divided by 6 = 141.
The final table of 10 players will take about one hour to play so now the equation is:
840 players divided by 5 = 168
Now you know that roughly 168 players will get knocked out each hour. This is good information because if you see that only 200 players are knocked out after two hours, it is guaranteed that a whole bunch of players are going down shortly. With the knowledge of chip count + NWP, you can gain an even bigger advantage. However, if 400 players are knocked out, you want to slow down and not gamble at all because the software will keep more players in until it “evens out” or catches up.
THE THREE STAGES of TOURNAMENT PLAY
Based on the tendencies of the software, you now have the knowledge of two very key elements. chip-count and NWP, which brings us to the three stages.
We’ve already established that you’re going to win your fair share of hands because of the “equal distribution” factor so the key is to maximize your winning hands in order to get a big edge with your chip count. In the first 30-45 minutes, it is important to play hands. The strategy is to see as many flops as possible, for as cheap as possible, during that time. Ideally, you will win a big pot early otherwise your chances of lasting decrease. So, the best way to do this is to play when there are “pot odds” in your favor. The more people in the hand, the more you want to play it or at least see the flop. A large number of players in the hand will assure you of a nice sized pot should you hit it. Once you’ve won your first big pot you can than apply the strategy of knocking out smaller stacks by going “heads up” against them, picking them off one-by-one. The best part about this strategy is that a smaller stack can’t knock you out because even if you lose you’ll still have chips left. NEVER attempt a steal of the blinds in the early going because it will win you a small pot and increase your NWP!
This is after the first break when likely a third of the participants have already been eliminated. If you have a small stack, you’re very likely in trouble and there’s not a lot you can do except go after smaller stacks if possible. However, because your stack is small, you may not get the opportunity to do that and therefore you just have to hope for the best and hope to get lucky.
If you’re somewhere between a middle stack and large stack, all you have to do is continue to apply your knowledge of the software and the strategies discussed here and you’ll continue to move up the ladder.
THE FINAL STAGES
When everyone has a lot of chips and the blinds are large and getting larger you’re going to see a many players trying to steal blinds and that’s good strategy. However, you really need to be aware of your NWP percentage and if you try and steal too many blinds, you will get caught. The software does not allow a player to win four hands in a row, so if you see someone always trying to steal and he’s already won three in a row, he’s a dead man to your hand no matter what you’re holding. You could be holding 2-7 against his AA and you’ll beat him. The only way a player wins four or more in a row is if everyone folds. This holds true whether there are three players left or 10. Rarely will you see a player win three hands in a row so if you see someone that has won two in a row, you should try and get him heads up because you have an extremely high percentage of beating him after he’s won two in a row.
You always have to apply the chip-count and the NWP throughout the tournament no matter what stage you’re at. Also, the more players in the tournament, the better this works. Playing a two-table 'Sit And Go' is not going to knock out players as quickly as a 3000-player tournament. However, if you’re playing Sit-n-Go’s, pay close attention to the time factor and play accordingly. In other words, if you’re playing a two-table Sit & Go and two three players get knocked out right away, you know the software will “slow down” and therefore you can gamble a little more. However, if after 20 or 30 minutes, one or two players are knocked out the software will “speed things up” in order to ensure the tournament ends in a specific amount of time and therefore you will then go after smaller stacks. Just always apply the theories above and you’ll drastically increase your chances of finishing in the money.
In closing, always remember that the NWP is very important in the early stages and becomes less important as the tourney gets into the latter stages. Chip count takes precedence over NWP, so always apply the chip-count theory. One you’ve won your first big pot, slow down and go after smaller stacks only. The more players in the tournament, the quicker the software works in eliminating players. Don’t expect to finish in the money every time. Use the theories discussed here and your chances of finishing in the money increase dramatically!