Monday, February 28, 2011

Pattern Matching

Babar and I had a long heart to heart over skype this morning, something we do from time to time when he's more worried about me than usual. A lot of the talk was fairly private, and he suggested a lot of ways for me to improve and proved once again that is a grade A compassionate and caring friend. We discussed some parallels between my software and poker careers (there are many) and eventually I had what could possibly be construed as the beginnings of an epiphany.

I learned to play poker by pattern matching.

And there you have it. Often times when you enjoy something or get good at something you don't really ever take a step back to decide why you're good at it or how you've managed to build your skill. You just kind of keep going until all of a sudden it doesn't work or isn't fun anymore. But I got to thinking about things I've been really good at in my life this morning, and invariably most of my successes have been built around some form of pattern matching. Some concrete examples are doing very well on standardized tests, getting very good grades, serving as a reasonable software developer who often cringed at learning about new technologies (which admittedly could be mostly the fault of Oracle, since at that company the word "new" really just means "doesn't work yet"), and perhaps even becoming a pretty high level swimmer despite boasting at best modest physical talents.

The theme throughout those endeavors is that after a few years I got bored, and was unable to rise past the level of "good". Obviously at this point I'm stretching a little to make a point, but it doesn't seem unreasonable to think that I've gotten as far as I have in poker basically by pattern matching, and that the number of patterns I'm now trying to match when determining the strategically correct decisions in a hand has grown too vast for me to deal with. It makes sense. Live full ring 6/12 really only requires you to do 3 or 4 things correctly. Play tight preflop, value bet relentlessly, and push your edges in strong draws. That's about it. When I first started playing live 20/40 I really wasn't capable of much more than that, but through a combination of running good and being in games where little else was needed I was able to thrive for quite some time. But eventually things kind of got hard. I started having to deal with trickier opponents. I started getting more math based and to think about not only my cards but my entire range of holdings and how I would proceed with all of them. And eventually somewhere along the way I think the physical machinery of how I think during the actual play of a poker hand may have broken down. There are just too many things to pattern match, and it doesn't work if you want to move past crushing retards.

So what am I going to do? I'm going to focus on context, specifically on loading the correct context into my brain during the course of a hand. I used this simple example with Babar today, but it makes sense. All of a sudden you see a large man with a baseball bat. What's your line? Well obviously the events of the last 2 to 60 minutes play a huge roll in making that decision. A poker hand can be thought of in the same fashion. OK, you just got check/raised on the turn. What do you do? Well, you need to have the right frames loaded into memory so you can easily access all the information you might need. Is the pot small? Big? Huge? How many players are there? Does this guy like to bluff? All sorts of stuff like that is important, and while it may seem obvious that I need to be thinking about stuff like that, I am pretty sure I have been guilty of making snap decisions based on simply matching variables to patterns rather than trying to evaluate as much information as I can. So hopefully this process will be helpful, or at least enlightening, and enable me to keep my poker career somewhat on the rails.

In a bit of results type news....I'm not going to check my online results for a month. You heard peeking at win rates or anything like that until April Fool's day. Live results obviously can't be hidden, and so far for the year have been good. My winning ways have slowed considerably in the past 3 weeks, but still the first 2 months of the year have turned out well. And I'll leave with an interesting finding. I have spoken with two pretty solid winners who have logged a fair and massive (respectively) number of hours in various LA area casinos, specifically casinos A and B. Both told me that they have won far and away more money at casino A than casino B, which to me seemed a little odd. So I checked my results since I moved down here for A and B, as well as C, and found an astonishing truth. I won a lot more at A than B, and I even won a lot more at C than B. Like 4 times more, per hour, in the same structured game, and over a total of like 1200 hours (my co-conspirators on this one had probably a little less than this number in one case and a whole lot more in the other). And if you'd asked me to rank the quality of the games, I would have put them in the reverse order of how much the three of us had won. So perhaps at this point I don't even know what a good game looks like :)


Captain R said...

I really really like this post.

Alan said...

I really don't know what a good game is either. Small sample (<700 hours), but i do better in the games where i label it "tough", "not good" vs those that are labeled "yummy" "God-like".

4 of my 5 biggest wins (in BBs) are in games labeled "tough".

Go figure..

VBCurtis said...

Nice post, Jesse. Your 6/12 description nails my game- and speaks to why I struggle at 20 in LA also.