Warning PLO Variance May Cause Insanity

Warning PLO Variance May Cause Insanity

Thursday, 3 January 2013

How to avoid a PLO-induced breakdown

A regular who has been crushing you day in and day out over the last month opens in late position and you pick up double-suited aces in the big blind. You make a standard pot-sized three-bet from the big blind, knowingly giving him position.

The flop rolls out seven-high with two hearts. What a relief! At last you have an easy decision. With an over-pair and the nut flush draw you c-bet half pot, hoping to induce a raise from the regular. As you had hoped, he raises your c-bet and you instantly move all-in. He calls with a pair of sevens and a worse flush draw, making you a significant favourite to win the hand.

As you calculate your equity in the hand, your heart begins to race and an all-too-familiar knot begins to slowly move from your stomach up into your throat. Even with nearly 75% equity in the pot, the 20 buy-in down swing you are on, stacked on top of the five more you are stuck on today’s session, has you wondering if you will ever win another pot. As the turn rolls out, you begin to think to yourself, “If I could win just one big pot, my momentum would surely shift. I just can’t run bad forever, can I? He couldn’t really come from behind again here, could he? This has to come to an end sometime, doesn’t it?”

You dodge a bullet on the turn but the river gives him two pair for the win. Once again, the sound of chips being shipped away from you becomes the bridge between yet another lost buy in and the subsequent psychoanalysis you put yourself through. After contemplating the possible causes for your struggles of late, the only explanation that makes sense is that you are cursed to a life of running bad. Could it really be true that the black cloud of negative variance will hover over you forever? If that seems like a pretty irrational possibility, that’s good, because it is.

The truth is that in the midst of a PLO downswing, with no end in sight, your perceptions can become distorted and cause you to make things worse with irrational thinking. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to regain control of the situation and stop the bleeding. Before I reveal these variance-minimising adjustments – and how to put them in place – I'm going to remind you of something, just in case it slipped your mind: PLO is a HIGH-VARIANCE game.

The fact of the matter is that variance, both negative and positive, is inherent in this crazy four-card game. The sooner you learn to embrace it, the sooner you will be able to minimise negative variance and tap into the insane profit potential of PLO.

I am going to be completely honest with you. Talking about PLO without talking about downswings is like talking NLHE strategy without saying “all in”. If you’ve not yet been through one, it’s only a matter of time before you get hit over the head with some negative PLO variance. Due to the simple fact that the equities run much closer together on all streets than in other poker variants, sizable downswings are inevitable.

Now that you know that no one can completely avoid negative variance, your mission is to learn to minimise your time in a downswing so you can MAXIMISE your profits. Downswings are caused by more than just running bad. A lot of players, especially beginners, unknowingly approach the game in a way that makes them more susceptible to unnecessarily long downswings, only to shrug them off as “running bad”. This kind of thinking prevents players from seeing their play objectively, causing them to do the SAME things over and over again, only to be dumbfounded when they continue to get the SAME RESULTS. That seems insane. I mean, you’re doing the same things over and over again and you just keep getting the same results over and over again. Wait! Hold that thought. Could that be the answer? Could insanity be the real reason you and other players experience significantly more negative PLO variance than necessary? I want you to entertain the possibility of “downswing induced temporary insanity” as the real reason why you and others struggle to minimise the bankroll-brutalising downers of PLO.

I know I’m asking you to consider something that may at first glance seem a little heavy and even weird. After all, we are talking about your sanity here and we only just met. That’s exactly why I decided to get the perspective of a guy who may have a bit of an intelligence-edge on me, Albert Einstein. Mr Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. Sound familiar? Could you be guilty of a little downswing-induced insanity? It’s okay, you can admit it. Your secret is safe with me.

All poker players (especially in PLO) go through stretches of frustration-filled temporary insanity when they continue to do the same things over and over with the expectation of somehow achieving different results. But you can regain the clarity and confidence you need to begin winning again by checking your actions, in poker and in life, against Einstein’s insanity definition.

The point is, as Einstein pointed out, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”. If you want to learn to minimise your time in a downswing, especially in a high-variance game like PLO, you have to begin to think about variance and the game in a whole in a new way.

After working with a lot players, both beginners and successful professionals, I have found that the underlying cause of over-extended downswings is almost always a lack of confidence. I know that may seem like a bit of a hollow solution to a heavy-duty concept, so let me explain. By confidence, I mean the certainty that comes only from knowing that you know. You MUST know that you know what’s optimal if you want to remain confident enough to make the best decision in the midst of a downswing. In fact, the PLO graveyard is full of players who failed to grasp this critical concept. On the other hand, when you take action and make these confidence-building shifts in your approach, you instantly put yourself on the fast track for PLO success.

Play within Your Roll

The majority of players (especially beginners) play stakes that are above the recommended bankroll requirements of a high-variance game like PLO. In a game where stacks are constantly being won and lost in coin-flip scenarios, any hesitation that may stem from your attachment to the money will dramatically decrease your profits. Someone once asked Doyle Brunson what stakes he played, and his reply was, “Whatever is enough to makes you nervous”. The most successful players understand that, to play optimally, you must see the chips as units instead of dollar signs. Many players disagree on the number of buy-ins that is needed to comfortably play the low and mid-stakes, but something between 50 and 100 is generally considered enough play comfortably. This one change will instantly inject your game with the confidence necessary for making the best decision time after time, regardless of the immediate results.

Record and Review Your Sessions

Transform your downswing into an opportunity to revamp your strategy and extract some EV from your monetary losses. You will instantly decrease your susceptibility to excessive negative variance with the added confidence that comes from knowing that you have paid your dues away from the table. From my own personal experience and from observing my students, I have learnt that the most effective way to analyse your decision making is to record your sessions and review them with another player.

There is a common misconception that recording a session is only necessary if you’ve hired a coach to analyse it with you. The truth is, recording your sessions is beneficial to your development as a player in several ways. First, the mere act of recording your play on camera forces your brain to perceive your game more objectively. Second, you force yourself to assume some accountability for your level of play. Players tend to lower their level of play if they know that no one will see their results or critique their actions. If you don’t have the funds to hire a coach, ask a friend or someone from the forums whose game you respect to swap videos with you. Think of it like having a work-out partner. It’s much harder to skip out or give a sub par effort if you have a partner that you’re accountable to.

Revamp Your Post Session Review

I have found that the majority of players have very poor post-session review strategies. It’s quite common for players to look at their actual winnings instead of their adjusted EV winnings to prove to themselves how bad they are running. This will of course show you how “unlucky” you have run in select spots, but it reveals very little about the real reason why you are losing.

Another common mistake players make when reviewing a session is to review only the biggest winners and losers of the day while neglecting to analyse the other hands that weren’t as climactic. It’s almost impossible to achieve any significant transformation by only analysing the big pots. In PLO, stacks are frequently traded in standard spots where the equities are so close together that players are forced to put the money in the middle, regardless of stack size, position, or history. A common example of this is when the player who flops a set is up against a big wrap or similar combo draw. Since most of the big pots are standard, the small and medium sized pots are where the battle is truly won or lost.

Ask and You Shall Receive

If you want to uncover new information about a situation, begin to ask new questions. The following are good examples of questions that you can ask yourself in a post-session review that will help you probe your brain for critical improvement opportunities.

Did I three-bet a hand that I should have folded?

Did I miss a continuation bet?

Did I fail to bet the river for thin value?

These simple shifts will help you say goodbye to downswing-induced insanity by thinking and acting in new and improved ways that dramatically decrease your variance by increasing your confidence. The best way to get the most out of these variance reducing strategies is to take immediate action and implement them right away, so get in there and good luck.

Tags: PLO, variance, strategy