March Madness

I won’t lie… I’ve been running really good at the poker tables for the last six months. At least that was the case prior to a 10 day March Madness trip to Las Vegas, from which I just returned this morning.

In case you missed it, my prior post captured the essence of the first half of the trip, which wasn’t pretty. And after my previous trip to Vegas, I acknowledged running better than I might deserve, while my wingman suffered.

Now I’m home and reflecting on the overall trip. Here are some of the numbers:

  • 10 days
  • 16 discreet sessions, with 9 winning sessions and 7 losing sessions
  • 62.5 total hours played
  • A net loss of 395 big blinds. My average losing session was a loss of 140 big blinds while the average winning session was a net win of only 65 big blinds.

While I recouped some of the early losses in the final days, the overall results were negative.

The small sample size makes it difficult to do too much analysis, although I definitely mixed in plenty of mistakes with the bad beats and coolers. A couple things stand out, however, that make me feel a little bit better.

Let’s assume the average table plays 32 hands per hour. 32 x 62.5 hours = 2,000 total hands played.

We get pocket aces an average of once per 221 hands. So I should get aces [2,000 / 221 = 9] times over the course of this trip.

With AA, we should win about 85% of the time against a single villain, regardless of whether he or she is getting involved with the top 25% or 20% or 15% or only 10% of all combinations. Against two villains playing 10-25% of all combinations, we should win about 73% of the time.

In fact, I had AA only three times. The first time, I was out of position against a single pre-flop caller. The flop was Q♣T3♣ and my continuation bet also got called. On a turn Q, I checked and the villain checked back. The river brought the K♣, completing a flush draw or open-ended straight draw with J9 if he had either of those hands. I’m also losing to flopped sets or top pair that turned into trips on the turn. I checked the river and the villain put out a fairly large bet. After I folded, he flashed TT in my direction to confirm that I had made a wise fold.

The next time, there were two callers. I bet on a flop of JTx and both called. On turn turn K, the first villain checked, I bet again, the 2nd villain raised, and the first villain then check-raised all-in! An easy fold, but only after pumping nearly 40 BBs into the pot. The 2nd villain called the all-in bet, only to find out the obvious… the first villain has the nuts with AQ.

The third time, my AA won a very modest sized pot. My recall isn’t so great on this one, but I think there was one or two callers to my pre-flop raise, and maybe one caller on the flop who folded on the turn.

To recap, on average, I should have AA nine times and a win-loss record of 7-2. Instead, I had AA three times and a win-loss record of 1-2. If there is data out there on the number of big blinds I should expect to win with AA, I’m not aware of it. But I definitely underperformed.

Another anomaly is hands where AA and KK clash. On average, you will have KK and run into AA about once every 6,000 hands. You will also get AA and run into KK with the same frequency. Over the course of millions of Texas Holdem poker hands, it’s a wash, unless you can find an occasional correct pre-flop fold with KK in precisely these spots (without incorrectly folding KK pre-flop in other spots where you have the villain dominated).

On this trip, I had KK v. AA twice, but AA v. KK none at all. The first time, I actually did fold pre-flop, but only after investing 35 BBs. At a $2/5 game, I raised to $25 and the button 3-bet to $50. The big blind called $50 to return the action to me. It was a fairly new table, and with no prior history with any of the players, accurate reads are difficult. Is the button just trying the seize the initiative with a min-raise, to set the table for leveraging his position with aggressive post-flop play? Or might he have AA and is scared to re-raise too much for fear of losing his customer? Or is he feeling out the situation with a hand like AK, AQ, QQ or JJ? I 4-bet to $175, and the button verbally announced “all-in!” with no hesitation whatsoever. After the big blind folded, I looked at the button and asked him, “do you have it?” And he says, “well, I know I have the best hand right now.” I held my KK up so he could see if before tossing it into the muck, and he obliged by tabling his AA.

The following day, one table over, it happened again. Except this time the villain raised first, I 3-bet wth KK, and he came over the top for $175. And this time, despite a read that the villain simply wouldn’t do that without AA, I convinced myself that it couldn’t happen two days in a row. Could it? Nah, it just couldn’t. So I jammed and lost a much larger pot.

I did have KK several other times on the trip. KK wins ~ 75% of the time against a single villain (compared to AA winning 85%) and 62% against two villains (compared to AA winning 73%). Once again I underperformed.

Once I flopped a set and turned quads, but didn’t get a huge payoff. Another time, I made a K-high flush that lost to an A-high flush. Another time, I folded to a bet and raise on a flop of AQT, only to see a J fall on the turn and the two remaining players end up all-in. Amazingly, one of them put in his entire stack with two pair on this board. At least one other time I had to abandon KK on an A-high flop and overall my KK hands (after excluding the KK v. AA coolers) were unprofitable.

The point of this is that 2,000 hands over a 10-day period is a small sample size. The impact of just a few key hands distorts the overall win- (or in this case, loss-) rate. Nowhere does this show more than in reviewing our AA and KK hands. Most of the time, with these powerful starting cards, we are going to try to make the pot as big as possible with our pre-flop raises, knowing that we should have a huge advantage.

The combination of an AA drought and losing a majority of the times I did have AA or KK, including several large pots, has a very disproportionate effect on the overall results.

March Madness indeed.

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