Tuesday, December 01, 2009

On MTT Grinding

I got an interesting comment to my last post last week where I did a pretty complete and robust recap post of my 2nd place in the nightly $30 rebuy tournament on full tilt a few days back. If you haven't read that post, #1 go back and read it now, and #2, in a nutshell, I ended up winning over $5100 for 2nd place in the $30 rebuy with a 25k guarantee on full tilt, getting sucked out on three times in a row in succession to eventually lose in heads-up play, but only even being alive for heads-up play after a series of lucky events in my favor along the way throughout the 6+ hours I played in this tournament. The comment, from OES as I recall, was essentially to say that it's just so demoralizing to many readers to see all the luck that had to happen just for me to end up in second place in this thing, with the implication being that this is what it takes to succeed in mtt play.

I have a few responses to this. First and foremost, it should be noted that this is only the way that some of my big tournament scores have gone down. I've had plenty of deep mtt runs where I got lucky -- either early, to build a big stack, or late, to survive and chip up at the final table -- all of which I have detailed here. I recall winning countless blonkaments after getting lucky at some point from behind with all my chips in the middle. Christ, my one and only WWdN win in fact saw me double up from dominated position allin preflop with 14 runners left, go on a massive tear, and an hour later I was the victor. So it happens. Sometimes it just takes massive luck to get you to a final table that you would not otherwise have been at.

And so what of that? I mean, how many times have I been sucked out on on the tournament bubble, with 50 runners left, at the final table bubble or even early at the final table when I am just short of the really big payouts? For all those times, shouldn't there be a tournament every once in a while where I hit a couple of lucky hands along the way and end up at a final table that I maybe should not otherwise have been at? Big deal. It happens all the time. But not always.

Looking back over all the tournaments where I've won, say, more than $2000 or so in my day, it should be noted that it's really a distinct minority where I got luckier than average to get where I ended up. So it really shouldn't be demoralizing to see how much luck it took me to get to 2nd place in this thing last week. This time it happened to take a lot of luck, as detailed in my post. But not always. I've had many, many deep runs where I did not get abnormally lucky at all -- the vast majority of my 2k+ scores in fact. Just think about my Venetian score last summer. In that thing as I recall I played 27 hours of no-limit tournament poker over two days, and I didn't get it in bad even once. Now maybe that's the other extreme, but my point is that, there are all different kinds of ways to find yourself at a big mtt final table.

It should also be noted that it's not like I just sat there in the $30 rebuy last week, bought in and rebought, and donkeypushed 18 times with every 74o I saw as if this were the now defunct Friday Night Donkament. Sure, I cracked a couple of AA with flopped sets. Sure, I made a straight on the turn against a guy who flopped a set. Sure at the final table I doubled up with K6 vs A6, JT vs AK and 43 vs AK. But thinking of it only in that way denies the very real fact that I played some pretty great poker in that $30 rebuy tournament along the way. Even in some of those 'lucky" situations that I mentioned above, there was some serious skill on my part to have gotten into that situation in the first place, such that perhaps many of you out there reading this would nebver even have been involved in those spots to begin with. For example, take that hand where I turned the straight against the guy who it turned out had flopped a set against me. In that case, as I recall, the guy had bet something ridiculous like a quarter of the pot with his flopped set. I had 8 outs, and I knew that the guy had just given me express odds (let alone the implied odds that were obviously there) to draw a card at my oesd. I imagine that many people in my spot might have folded to that bet with no made hand at the time. But it was only due to my knowledge of pot odds that I quickly made the calculation in my head and knew how obvious of a call this was. In fact, in that sense I totally outplayed my opponent there, who made a truly hideous play with that tiny bet with the flopped set, essentially forcing anyone who understands math to stay in and try to take one off and beat his set with a draw of some kind. Similarly, I don't even mention the other 50 times I could have raised on the flop -- either with top pair mediocre kicker, some kind of a draw, or even with air for that matter -- but chose not to because the math, my instincts, whatever told me not to. All of those were more examples of good play by me. Shit, even when I open-pushed JTs under the gun down to the final two tables and got called by UTG+1 with AK, I have no doubt whatsoever that I made the right play, a play that someone worse at poker than I might not have made, therefore not doubling up, and probably would not have won as much money as I did in this tournament. But if you aren't open-pushing with JTs and 11 players left in an mtt, when you are now down to 11th out of 11 remaining stacks, then I'm not sure you really understand how to play mtt's to win.

My point in all this is not to say that I actually didn't get lucky at all in last week's run in the $30 rebuy. You can see my post, and I've never been one to deny that I got lucky in those few times I was able to turn some run-goodery into cold hard cash at the mtt tables. I managed to prevail in a number of spots where I was not a favorite to survive at some point in the hand. But my point is that, regardless of the way I portrayed it in my recap post, there was a ton of skill that went into that win in addition to the few lucky hands I benefitted from. There always is. Even being allin there with the JTs to be in a position to double up and end up taking second for 5 grand can be thought of as skill-based, in that a lesser skilled mtt player might not have gotten in in that spot, and thus would not have doubled up and probably not been around at the end when we moved to heads-up. And notice, I was in there with JT and 43 in those times when I held up in key spots to stay alive at the final table. I wasn't in there with A4 or K7, the kinds of hands that are likely to be dominated against a preflop raiser or a caller of a preflop raise from me, and that was also based on skill. In each of those three spots, I got in as an underdog, but only a roughly 40% underdog (in some cases even better than that). If I call allin reraises preflop with A4 and A6, I'm going to find myself a 20% underdog a whole lot more frequently, and it's going to be hard to survive very many of those 4-to-1 against shots until the last couple players of these tournaments.

So no, it does not by a long shot take massive amounts of luck to win an mtt. As I mentioned, the vast majority of my big mtt scores have come in situations where I played pretty much great on the night, had minimal suckouts and minimal situations where I needed a particular card to hit in order for me to stay alive. Those of you who took from my post last week that I played like a fonkey but kept getting lucky again and again after making bad play after bad play, are sorely mistaken. To be clear, I played pretty much great poker that night -- most of it in ways that are not illustrable via screen shot like I like to do -- and in the end that great play combined with some mathematical luck in some very key spots to keep me alive, build me a stack and eventually carry me well into four figures for my tournament payout. But it shouldn't be disheartening to anyone who might think that the only way to make a deep run like this is to get extremely lucky, multiple times. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Moreover -- and this is the other point I've been struggling to put into coherent words over the past week or so -- is that luck plays a huge factor in almost any mtt anyone ever plays in. If you don't realize that, then you probably don't play a ton of mtts, or at least you don't run deep in a bunch of them. But it's true -- you have to get lucky to win the big money any mtt, period. "Lucky" in some form in the poker context, anyways. You don't need to be dealt AA and KK 85 times, you don't need to flop a ton of sets (though that doesn't hurt) and you don't need to suck out on someone at the river three times at the final table either. But you do need to avoid picking up KK vs AA, pretty much all the way from the first hand of the tournament to head-up play at the final table, and you do need to avoid losing a key 80% dominated favorite all-in at the final table. You do need to avoid reraising a late-position stealer into his pocket Aces, and you do need to avoid picking up TPTK against an overpair late in the event when the blinds are getting big enough to make it hard to lay down in such a situation. There are simply wayyyyyy too many ways to lose a big tournament like this, and you have to avoid essentially all of them in order to be the guy still alive at the very end when the big money is in play. It's impossible to do this without luck, a good deal of it, at least the situational kind of luck I am describing above. Again, this is something which any true mtt grinder knowns right down to his soul. It doesn't mean you didn't play well, and it doesn't mean you don't deserve to be where you ended up getting in the tournament, but luck is just an ever-present obstacle that completely permeates through the results and play of all mtt grinders. It's always there, waiting to pounce if you make just one misstep, and personally that's what always seems to make it feel so special in those times that I do persevere through and last all the way to the end of a large mtt.

After countless tournaments -- live and online -- over the past, say, five years, and after limitless hours sitting at the computer and playing this game we all know and love, one thing above all else has become clear to me regarding the nature of griding mtt's, one of the many ideas addressed superbly by Arnold Snyder in his tournament poker books: When it comes right down to it, all you can do with tournament poker skill is increase your advantage over the rest of the field. That's it. So in an mtt with 1000 runners in it, for example, if everyone was of equal skill and there was no luck involved, each player would have a 1-in-1000 chance of winning the first prize. But of course, everyone has different skill levels, such that the best player in that tournament might be able to lower his odds of winning from 1-in-1000 to, say, 1-in-500. And that's only for a really good tournament player. But luck plays such a huge factor in any large field mtt that there's just no way that anybody, in my view, can really get more than that 200% advantage over the rest of the field in a big tournament. There's just no way. Phil Ivey might be the best player in the world, and with 6300 entrants in the WSOP Main Event, he might have a better than the 1-in-700 chance on average of making the final 9 spots for the November Nine. But it's not like Ivey's chance is 1 in 20, or even 1 in 100 or anything close to that to make the final table. Nobody is that good at mtt's that they can overcome poker luck in all its various forms, from the starting cards you get, to the starting cards your opponents' get, to the cards you and your opponents get in the same hands, to the seat assignments, to the suckouts, to the races you win, etc.

Being able to increase your raw odds of winning a tournament at the expense of a bunch of other lesser players in an mtt is the best you can hope for, and even for the best players in the world, they can only realistically expect to have 200% or so as good of odds of winning than everyone else. And if you accept that as fact like I do, then it stands to reason that luck is still going to play a massive part in any deep mtt run, because even the best players in the world are only going to be roughly twice as likely as "average" to win. The best players will just be the ones who take best advantage of that luck when it does happen, and those who most consistently put themselves into positions where if they do get lucky, they can really make some noise with it.

As a rule, the very best large-field mtt players in the world make consistently better poker decisions in the moment than the rest of us. That's what gives them that 200% advantage in lasting through these large fields to the big money payouts at the end of poker tournaments. But the fact that their advantage is still only maybe twice as great as the rest of us leads to the one other thing you will note about any professional who is widely regarded as being a tournament specialist -- they run a lot of mtts. They have to. That's the only way to really get that 200% advantage over the field to work for you. In the end, the trick with these things is to consistently get yourself into positions in these tournaments where you can make some real noise if you get a little bit of luck. And then, play that way as many times as you possibly can. If you consistently get yourself into situations in large-field mtts where you can make a deep run if you get a little lucky, then the frequency with with you can get yourself into such a situation will have a direct correlation with your mtt results over the long haul.

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Blogger OES said...

Well I don't know where to begin. That post was incredibly chock full of insightful mtt knowledge, which I hope I can reference when I can play again during winter break.

Yes, I made my comment using the word "demoralizing" to reference the incredible luck one must need to get where you got. Of course I know you got the skillz. I ghost enough and have read your later posts and screenshot analysis to know that anyone who takes the time you do is a pretty solid, cognizant player.

But, it's just disgusting to me that on an individual tournament, even if you're skilled, you have to face that kind of adversity. At any time, one of those bad luck scenarios you listed or... god forbid you lose a 6040, you win a HUGE two buy-ins for your mental effort.

The great MTT grinders, like MoormanI, psutennis11, S-Dott, bigdogpckt5s, gboro780 etc are exactly what you said: they grind a shitload of tournaments to get themselves in those spots. Statistically, all of those players only cash 14% of the time. With them, getting in those "spots"like 6040's 5050 is standard. However, they are soooo good at just taking advantage of every little thing.

We are not grinders. We are not the top 20 in the world. So when I play my MTT's and consistently make one mistake or lose one 6040 and make three small buy-ins and never really the top 3 in a large MTT, it obv sucks a lot. So when I see someone actually run like a Kenyan, it makes me see how unlikely it is to be successful-- even if I feel I play better than most players.

For a game I love so much, it sucks to see how much luck is involved. Demoralizing.

3:55 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3:57 AM  
Blogger Chad C said...

So what you're saying is waffles is about .0002/1000 to win a 1000+ player MTT? Nice lucksacking in that $30r, now everyone thinks that's how everyone wins their tournaments ahahaha

3:59 AM  
Blogger 5/6C said...

Hey Dude, did you do a post about this Venetian score you keep refering to?

If so, could you post a link a link, I don't recall reading it and I can't seem to find it...

9:56 AM  

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