The Hot Seat

Horrible day at work today. I’m not going into details, lets just say it was straight out of Dilbert. By the time I escaped my cube for lunch it was 2 o’clock, and I only had time to grab 2 pieces of pizza. I don’t think I could handle the grind and pressure of playing poker professionally, but at least you have no bosses, and make your own schedule. On days like today I dream of mucking hands all day and winning my 2 big bets per hour.

So I don’t feel up for playing poker, but I did read something last night that sparked some thought, and I figured was worth writing about. I played some $3-6, but it was pretty unevenful (losing to flushes on the river, or the ugly loss when some guy hits his kicker on the river to beat my top pair-top kicker), the usual Party stuff.

What I read last night was John Feeney (2+2’s resident psychologist) on rushes and “independent trials”. Feeney says rushes are non-existent, and uses the “coin flip” analogy to illustrate the inherent variance of every single hand. Here’s Feeney’s example, from “Inside the poker mind”:

“Say you begin to toss a fair coin over and over. Beginning on the 458th toss you happen to have a streak of 17 tails in a row. Would you be willing to lay odds that it will come up a tail on the next toss?… To do so you would have to be convinced that the next toss is no longer 50 percent. You would have to believe that it has somehow risen to over 66 percent… As you looked at the coin sitting in your hand prior to the next toss, you would actually have to believe that some force was present making it over 66 percent likely to come up a tail.”

Feeney’s point is that each hand represents an independent random process, and we are equally likely to receive a good hand on the 459th deal as on the 1st deal. I believe that in the B&M world, this is a false assumption. I think we can safely say that the standard B&M shuffle does not generate a completely random distribution of the cards. It has been conjectured that it takes at least 6 standard shuffles (cut, riffle, join) to ensure that the next hand dealt represents a truly random distribution of the cards. The standard B&M deal usually is composed of mixing the cards on the table, followed by 2 standard shuffles. This means that hand t+1 has a reasonable dependence on the card distribution of hand t.

The best blackjack sharps are called “shuffle trackers,” and are able to follow a “slug” or group of high cards throughout the deck. For example, if we notice that 6 aces have come out in 2 hands, we would identify that slug as a profitable one, and memorize its location when the dealer performs his shuffle. We are more likely to get a blackjack (or a winning hand) during this slug, and our expected return is much higher than it would be for a completely random deck.

The point here is that each deal does NOT represent a truly independent trial, but rather, is dependent on the previous deal. The deck (or rather the shuffling process) “has memory,” and if we were dealt pocket Aces, we are slightly more likely to receive an Ace the next hand. Only slightly, but as positive EV gamblers, we know these percentages add up in the long run. Of course, the shuffled deck is very different than the last one, and we are still very unlikely to receive any of the cards we held in the previous hand. However, I or one of the players to my immediate left or right may have a significant probability of receiving one of the Aces that composed my pocket rockets.

What I’m getting at is that although I don’t believe in “rushes” in the traditional sense, I do believe that a group of seats can get “hot”, winning a significant number of pots in the short run. This means that some seats are “hotter” than others, since players in that group have a slightly higher probability of receiving a good starting hand than players not in the group.

How can we use this information? Well, it’s not very useful, but I’ve gotten in the habit of moving seats when one side of the table becomes chip heavy. If three players are accumulating a lot of chips, and my side of the table is getting killed, I’ll move to a “hot” seat if one of the players leaves. Besides that, it’s pretty much useless. The B&M shuffle is more or less random, and we don’t have a chance of using the previous hand to predict what one of the players next to us has, or of predicting what the turn or river will bring.

This bring us to online play– if we discount the action flop theory, we would expect to see a truly random distribution of cards, and we should agree with Feeney– each hand is completely independent of the previous one, and there are no “hot seats”. This is one explanation of veteran B&M players screaming that online hands look nothing like they’ve seen in a B&M. They’ve never seen a true random shuffle before.

Alright I’m running out of steam here. I’d love to hear other people’s opinions about rushes and hot seats… Not sure if this theory was worth anything, but it did make me miss the B&M. The visual input of seeing players with chip pyramids up to their chin, and seeing the eyes of the player on a rush is missing from the Party avatars.

Happy holidays to everyone… hopefully Santa will give us all a couple 25 big bet win sessions when everybody is full of turkey and alcohol…

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