True EV: Ramblings on Causality in Poker
I was recently listening to an old Bart Handson Podcast where he interviews Tommy Angelo (shocker - Scourrge citing Tommy Angelo ). They bring up the idea of an action being +EV in a single, isolated hand, but -EV in the context of a session. The specific example was a pure hypothetical, in which a player can take a wager (he has to call a bet) in which he knows the villain's range, and if he called, he'd be a 51% favorite (or even better, let's just say his EV is 1bb). In a vacuum, this is a pretty obvious call. It's +EV mathematically against the villain's range, and that's all that matters... Right?
But what if you have to call off 400bb and the resulting pot will be 1,000bb? If the EV in a vacuum is +1bb, then the swing you will experience in this spot is enormous. What effect does this have on your mental game? If you lose, will you be unable to continue playing +EV poker in what otherwise would have been a profitable game? Will you continue playing in a now -EV game, making poor decisions, and costing yourself more EV than what the play gained you?
Causality: The Problem With Vacuums
Many items that we discuss in poker are discussed in very definitive, limited units. We talk about a single session, a single hand, and even a single street. But this presents us with a number of problems. Very often, in particular when discussing betting strategy, we forget to mention recent (or ancient) history that affects the EV of a given situation. Perhaps we're posting a hand analysis thread on CC, and we neglect to mention that we had just seen villain stack off for 150bb with 98o on a QT3r board. Or we forget that we have more history with a certain reg - it's in our heads, but subconsciously.
But the podcast interview I was listening to got me thinking more about vacuums in relation to the future. In that example, the EV of the situation is different than we would expect, because there is a 49% chance that we lose the pot, which would cause us to tilt
. The tilt (in a vacuum) would cost us more EV than the play (in a vacuum) would make us.
The EV of the so-called +EV mathematical
decision is actually -EV because of the events it causes. Causality implies that a vacuum-based decision with some EV may have a higher or lower True EV due to future events caused (all or in part) by the decision in question.
This might strike you as highly theoretical, but to me it's the exact opposite. The first example should show just how practical this really is. How many of us have NEVER been in a spot where we made a +EV call, lost, and then proceeded to go on monkey tilt and spew away money? If this is you, then cast the first stone, my friend. For the rest of us, these types of decisions are never made in a mental game vacuum, so discussing the EV of those decisions as if they were means that we're missing something fundamental in how we dissect our own decisions.
There Is No (Causality Vacuum)-Spoon
Mental game is not the only decision-caused or decision-causing factor that can affect the True EV of our poker decisions and overall profitability. The tricky thing about life is that pretty much everything affects everything else. A simple example is what we eat. Most people would agree that how we eat affects not just how we look, but how we feel emotionally and mentally. Taking this just one step further, we see that it follows directly that how we eat will affect our poker performance, whether it be through mental game considerations, or deeper health issues. Sleep is another health-related concern that affects the True EV of our poker game
. It seems obvious that playing tired is hugely -EV for most players, or at the very least, less
+EV than playing at peak alertness.
Studying the game is another big factor in True EV. Most people realize on some level that study affects their profitability in poker. But I think that most people don't actually think about the long-standing effects of study on their EV in the game. If you play poker at your current limit and make $20/hour, then your EV/hour is $20 in the short-term. Maybe in the long-term, you're able to move up and make $30/hour simply by playing the game and thinking through your decisions at the table. How does studying factor into this though? Some possible ways include:
- Increasing your win-rate at your current limit
- Allowing you to move up faster
- Increasing the highest limit you're able to reach long-term
- Stopping you from burning out by making a balance between play/study
We can make the list even more complicated by trying to factor in enjoyment of the game, and how that factors into EV, but I'll keep this focused just on the money here. Just keep in mind that what you care about in poker (making the most money, playing the highest limits you can, being the best in the world) also must factor into your own personal EV equations.
Short-Term EV, Long-Term EV, and You
How does this all help you though? Well, it doesn't really. At least not inherently. What it does do is allow you to make more-informed decisions, and evaluate your EV in a deeper way than you probably did before. It gives you a way to think about your decisions that takes into account both immediate and future consequences. Whether you choose to think about any of this is of course up to you. But I think that starting to consider your True EV - without any causality vacuum - will be decidedly +EV.