I’m writing this note at the end of January and there’s an obvious topic to write about. It’s the Doug Polk versus Daniel Negreanu Grudge Match. For a number of reasons, which I won’t get into here, this match and the surrounding goings-on have been far more interesting than I would have thought was possible and there is no question that most poker players who are watching this feel the same way.
But there’s another aspect of this match which I find interesting and which in my mind is the real culprit to the bizarre side show that everyone is watching. And that culprit is the statistical fluctuations that are present in the game of heads-up no-limit hold ’em. And I suspect that Negreanu, who in my opinion and based on his many comments (some in extremely colorful language) about how lucky his opponent has been, is probably weak in this area, or at least weak in the understanding of the statistical theory that governs a game like heads-up no-limit hold ’em or virtually any form of poker.
At the end of 2015, on another website Negreanu in an interview stated:
I got into it, not for the first time but for the millionth time, with Mason Malmuth who’s writing a book on psychology and I thought to myself that there isn’t anyone more unqualified to write a book on the subject than he is.
And from page 6 of my book Real Poker Psychology:
But there’s another aspect to this. It turns out that the expectation is proportional to how much you play while the standard deviation is proportional to the square root of how much you play. And this means that the luck factor, which can dominate your short-term results, will in time have much less impact on your overall results. Put another way, the expert player may lose tonight, but he will almost certainly be ahead after a much longer period of time, 1 and the weak player will just have his winning nights to remember as his long term expectation is negative.
So why is this important and what does this mathematical relationship have to do with poker psychology? Well, it turns out that this idea is the source of all good and evil in the world of poker psychology. In fact, and as we’ll see in this book, it’s almost impossible to think of anything in this field where the mathematical relationship between the expectation and the standard deviation, (along with a couple of other attributes that we’ll get to — poker can be counterintuitive and you need to play poker well) isn’t the explanation.
It’s hard to make this stuff up.