Objectivity In Poker

By Kyle Garner

5 Dec, 2011

This is a guest post by Kyle "SHIPIT2KG" Garner. He was a coach at Jack Wilcox's old HigherLevelPoker.com training site. I decided to transfer Jack's articles to this website in August 2020, and thought I'd include the articles by other coaches whilst I was at it.

I recently endured the roughest 200k hand stretch of my career. It caused me to reflect, and to try and gain as much objective knowledge as possible for future events, similar in nature.

Objectivity is our most powerful tool to combat variance and downswings. Humans have a natural tendency to be results oriented — it’s the primal method for learning. If we are rewarded for certain behavior, we replicate it. If we are punished, we stay away.

Objective (adjective) — Expressing or dealing with facts or conditions as perceived without distortion by personal feelings, prejudices, or interpretations.

But in the game of poker, variance is a misleading factor.

Depending on which end of variance you are on, the false punishments and rewards skew our decision-making. We feel it the most during long stretches where we are consistently running into the top of our opponent's range, and getting caught by bluff catchers. In these situations, being objective is easier said than done.

Interpreting results that suggest you are making sub-optimal decisions and remaining objective is counter-intuitive. You could say that being results-oriented is genetically engrained in to us; if you put your hand in a fire, your hand will signal pain to your nerves, and you will learn to not do it again. But in nature that event is absolute, while in poker it is not.

In the game of poker, we are often punished for behavior we should typically be rewarded for, and vice-versa.

To begin understanding this, you must try and understand the different forms of variance, and how they can distort your perception of what's optimal. The most widely recognized form of variance is AIEV; running above or below. This is one of the most tangible forms of variance we can measure.

Another form of variance would be standard deviation plots that rely on mathematical variance. These graphs are given a base set of information to operate from, and reflect the sheer vastness of the differentiating results (see graph below). Ultimately, you want to remove yourself from short-term results-oriented thinking, and apply yourself more effectively.

One method I use in my attempt to approach poker objectively is through hand history reviews.

Relatively soon after a session, I will go to my "hands" tab in HEM and sort by pot size and review the top 30 or so HH's. As I run the replayer, I will predict my action and assess what should have been the most +EV action. If my action differs from that line of thinking, and I don't instantly remember the reasoning in my head (i.e., some sort of game flow/dynamic), then I know for at least a moment, I was just clicking buttons.

Another useful method is marking hands where I feel like the EV of all my available options in a specific situation is relatively close, thus requiring more analysis away from the table. I will show these hands to players/coaches I respect, and give them the appropriate background and discuss our choices from there.

These are just a couple of ways to apply an objective thought process. The more, the merrier. Forums are at your disposal. : )

Graph of various winnings at a winrate of 6bb/100 over 250,000 hands due to variance.
Poker Variance Calculator

The chart above is representative of a 6bb/100 winrate with a standard deviation of 100 over a 250k hand sample. It's to help show you how often the same player can encounter opposing results due to mathematical variance.

This is truly an awesome representation of the variance in poker, yet many people will glance at this and think "yeah, that’s crazy" and not think much about it again. But that’s because they're running near the mean, and aren't able to fully grasp the gravity of what this graph represents.

Sometimes humans need to experience something to understand it. Other times, things can be understood if they are examined in technical depth, usually a depth that makes a profound impact on that person's understanding, even without experiencing it themselves. Emotional events are somewhat excluded for obvious reasons, but events in which we have an empirical body of data are prime examples of ones we can understand.

So why would this matter to you?

Because unless you are Nanonoko, you've probably played a fraction of the hands needed to make anywhere near an accurate assumption about your winrate. Your biggest downswing could be right around the corner, as could your biggest upswing. But in either case, we want to remain as objective and unbiased as possible.

Learn to think in terms of ranges, EV, image, etc., instead of "right" and "wrong". Try to remove yourself from your results, leaving nothing but a constructive and objective thought process.

The results will follow. And if they don't, so be it. Someone has to be that dark red line that deviates furthest from the mean.

It's a harsh, yet freeing truth. Once you think in these terms, you won’t be checking HEM every hour while playing. You won't stress your results as much away from the table. You will enjoy poker more, and more than likely, make +EV decisions with a higher frequency, which in the end is all we can do.


About The Author: Kyle "SHIPIT2KG" Garner

Higher Level Poker

I started playing almost 2 years ago, figured out how to mass table and get tons of rakeback, back then I thought I would be rich 16 tabling 100NL with a 1bb/100 WR. Then I got coached for the first time, realized how horrible I was and began working on improving.

I met a couple of other online guys and chatted strategy with them, improved a bit more. I was then mediocre but still not very good. Then I started working with my current coach who absolutely changed the way I think about NLHE entirely, playing the game with a new perspective.

Currently I play a mix of 200nl/400nl Rush and do very well for myself. Rush is my area of expertise and I haven't really played hands outside of Rush Poker except when taking shots at higher stakes which are not offered at Rush currently.