Back to Books: The Theory of Poker (Sklansky)

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scubed

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I read The Theory of Poker by David Sklansky several years ago. Other than the fundamental theorem of poker (simplified: playing the hand as perfectly as if you could see all cards), I -vaguely- remember other lessons from it. My opinion is that, though the techniques of playing poker have changed, this book is still relevant in terms of foundation knowledge.

I am going to re-read the book, get back to the basics that helped me love and be somewhat successful at poker in the first place. Grab a copy and re-read The Theory of Poker with me OR instead of book-clubbing everyone I'll post the main take-a-ways from my perspective. I would love to get discussion/review/learning (re-learning) going with the CardsChat community!

Chapter 01: Beyond Beginning Poker

Poker has many variations (i.e limit/pot limit/no limit & high/low/high-low split) but there is an inner poker logic (not tricks) that runs through all of them and there are precepts, concepts and theories that apply to all of them.

Whether playing poker for fun/living and regardless of the environment (friends/casino) or frequency (once a week/month) our objective in playing poker is to MAKE MONEY! Making money means saving it on bad nights (leaving a game that is not profitable, where we are the underdog) and earning it on good nights (drinking caffeine to stay awake at a game that is profitable, where we are a favorite).

Long Term Thinking is Important! It is important for a player to be disciplined enough to play every hand correctly, EVERY TIME.

  • Do NOT think in terms of individual pots; do not chase money contributed to an individual pot.
  • Do NOT think in terms of individual games; an individual game is part of one BIGGER poker game.
Winning or losing on a given night is not important, focus on long term profit/loss (monthly/yearly) to measure success. Ideally a player wants the winning pots to be as big as possible and the losing pots to be as small as possible (ante/blind only).

  • A good player develops the patience to wait for the right situations to play a pot.
  • A good player develops the discipline to release a hand judged to be second-best.
  • Never quit a GOOD game as a small winner just to ensure a winning session.
  • Do NOT continue playing in a BAD game in an attempt to get even.
 
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scubed

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I have been reflecting on my play throughout the last year as related to the information quoted below from Skalansky's Ch 1.
Making money means saving it on bad nights (leaving a game that is not profitable, where we are the underdog)
  • Do NOT continue playing in a BAD game in an attempt to get even.
I personally have gotten stubborn in many games and stayed a long time in order to get even, or just a little bit ahead. I've exhibited this behavior in two distinct themes...

  1. Taken a bad beat (gotten stacked on AA/KK losses) and wanted to play back to even (or ideally up)
  2. Sitting in a seat where I had trouble with the aggression of the player directly to my right or left which caused me to tighten up so much it was difficult to make a profit.
Do any of you exhibit this kind of behavior? What are the themes when you stay in a BAD game?

Cheers! scubed
 
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FailX21

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Will you do the same for every chapter of the book ? If yes, this is an awesome idea !

To answer your question :
1. I wouldn't necessary stop playing. Loosing with AA/KK happens, and if you can keep playing the same after that, there is no reason for stopping. However, if you get tilted by it and it affects your way of playing, then stop.
2. If you are not comfortable at a table, I think you should find another one or stop.
 
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scubed

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Will you do the same for every chapter of the book ? If yes, this is an awesome idea !

Yup, I plan on doing a summary of each chapter! I started working on Chapter 2 last night, I plan to post it later this evening. Thanks for the encouragement of the awesomeness!

scubed
 
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scubed

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Chapter 02: Expectation and Hourly Rate

The Theory of Poker, David Sklansky
Chapter 02: Expectation and Hourly Rate

Mathematical expectation has nothing to do with results! "Anytime you make a bet with the best of it, where the odds are in your favor, you have earned something on that bet whether you actually win or lose the bet. By the same token, when you make a bet with the worst of it, where the odds are not in your favor, your have lost something, whether you actually win or lose the bet" Skalansky, Theory of Poker p10

Poker decisions based on positive mathematical expectation (+EV) will ensure long term winning (positive results) regardless of the immediate result (i.e. getting sucked out on with runner/runner). Understanding mathematical expectation provides a sense of calmness/composure toward winning/losing; making a good bet or a good fold a good player will earn/save an amount which a lesser player would not have earned/saved.

Maximize your hourly rate by always trying to make the play that will maximize positive mathematical expectation and minimize negative mathematical expectation. Do NOT sit in a game with an insufficient hour rate projection unless you think the game will become better (i.e. weaker players on the way to the game OR good player on tilt).

Short Bankroll Consideration! It may not be correct to push small mathematical edges to the maximum (optimizing positive mathematical expectation) when a player has a short bankroll. Though your hourly rate will be reduced it might be wise to play a few more hours instead of taking big risks with marginal advantages on a short bankroll. Money will still be earned (to increase the bankroll) it will just take more time.

----------

In the closing paragraphs of the chapter Sklansky suggests that when a player has a short bankroll that they consider NOT pushing marginal +EV decisions and instead play more hours. I'm wondering if this strategy is dated... that in today's game even a marginal advantage should be leveraged.

Do you agree with this risk adverse approach when a bankroll is short or would you advocate that ANY time there is a mathematical advantage more chips get in the middle?

  • less than 40 buyins?
  • less than 20 buyins?
  • playing freerolls to aquire a bankroll?
 
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FailX21

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Nice, thanks man !

Yeah I agree with him. If you have a good bankroll, you can always face a bad run, you are prepared to the possibility that variance might **** you up. If you have a small bankroll, variance could just kill it, so you have to be more careful. So, I would play when EV is not only positive, but also above a certain value.

For freerolls, I think you can just play as you would normally, as it doesn't affect your bankroll if you loose.
 
Eric Salvador

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I'll check this book out. I posted a thread asking for recommendations for books and how it helped people. I'm trying to understand as many aspects of the game as possible. Some are a bit advanced but I'm trying to build a solid foundation. If there's any other things that have helped you gain knowledge away from the table I'm all ears!
 
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scubed

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Hi Eric - Like you, I'm trying to study all aspects of the game. I learned to play NL several year ago, but I just jumped in, so I don't have the foundation "book knowledge." I bought a lot of books, but to be honest, I only skimmed the parts that were interesting to me, I didn't actually study them. Round 2 of reading the books, I'm going to study!

If there's any other things that have helped you gain knowledge away from the table I'm all ears!

I personally use a lot of mediums to learn: books, this (and other) forums, subscribe to learning software (i.e. Advanced Poker Training), and watch videos. For me, getting a lot of perspectives then being self-reflective on how/if I can apply them to my game seems to help me most.

If you are reading through The Theory of Poker with me, my plan is to complete one chapter per day.

scubed
 
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Chapter 03: The Fundamental Theorem of Poker

The Theory of Poker, David Sklansky
Chapter 03: The Fundamental Theorem of Poker

The Fundamental Theorem of Poker is a theoretical proposition articulated by David Sklansky that he believes expresses the essential nature of poker as a game of decision-making in the face of incomplete information. The Fundamental Theorem of Poker ALWAYS applies in a two-way pot; however, in a multi-way -3 or more- pot there are exceptions (Skalansky addresses this briefly, Morton's Theorem expands upon Sklansky's observation). A mistake, per The Fundamental Theorem of Poker, is not necessarily a player playing badly, it is a player playing differently than the way that they would if the opponents' cards were known. You WANT your opponent to do whatever is MOST profitable to YOU!
The Fundamental Theorem of Poker

"Every time you play a hand differently from the way you would have played it if you could see all your opponents' cards, they gain; and every time you play your hand the same way you would have played it if you could see all their cards, they lose.
Conversely, every time opponents play their hands differently from the way they would have if they could see all your cards, you gain; and every time they play their hand the same way they would have played it if they could see all your card, you lose."
You are hoping...

  • An opponent folds when he is getting proper pot odds
  • An opponent calls when he is NOT getting pot odds (even if has a chance to draw out on you - because the decision has a negative expectation)
Litmus Test: A player has failed the Fundamental Theorem of Poker when the opponents's cards are revealed (showdown or for some reason) and a player thinks/says "Damn, I would have played the hand like this or like that (differently) if I had known my opponents' cards." The reason is this kind of realization will cost a player $$ and has made (or saved) an opponent $$.

----------

Players are often afraid to get sucked out on so frequently over-bet a pot to get their opponents to fold when a draw (especially a flush draw) is on the board. Assuming you are heads-up (2-way pot), are you aligned with The Fundamental Theorem of Poker? Do you take the time to work out the pot odds on making the call with a draw or do you instead call with the thought process of "I have a lot of outs" and hope to get lucky?
 
guicor30

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interesting..
I have not read the book yet, I'm going to look for it and I'll read it. Do you know if it is available in playstore? and if it is in Spanish ?.
I hope to see your results hopefully you will succeed well.
 
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scubed

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interesting..
Do you know if it is available in playstore? and if it is in Spanish ?.

I know you can get from TwoPlusTwo/Amazon/iTunes/GooglePlay etc. I am not sure if it is available in Spanish, but you could probably use Google Translate or similar to turn the eBook into Spanish. I have not ever tried this myself.


You might do a Google Search - I was able to find a pdf file which has the first few chapters for free as a preview.
 
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AlexTheOwl

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In the closing paragraphs of the chapter Sklansky suggests that when a player has a short bankroll that they consider NOT pushing marginal +EV decisions and instead play more hours. I'm wondering if this strategy is dated... that in today's game even a marginal advantage should be leveraged.

Do you agree with this risk adverse approach when a bankroll is short or would you advocate that ANY time there is a mathematical advantage more chips get in the middle?

  • less than 40 buyins?
  • less than 20 buyins?
  • playing freerolls to aquire a bankroll?


Like most of this book, I doubt that this idea will ever become dated.

It's +EV to put all or most of your chips in the middle when you have, for example, a 55% chance of winning. But if you can't reload (or can only reload a few times), and you are likely to find better spots later, it is even more +EV to wait for those better spots.

The tricky thing is quantifying:
- How small your edge needs to be
- How short your bankroll needs to be
- What size the pot needs to be

in order for it to make sense for you to pass up marginal spots. The answer partially depends upon your skill level compared to the skill level of the other players.

Realistically, the best you can do is make a very rough estimate.

Ideally, play games for which you are properly rolled!

The question of whether to pursue small edges in tournaments is closely related, and comes up no matter what is the size of your overall bankroll. Having a huge bankroll doesn't matter if you have a short stack in a tournament, especially if the tournament doesn't allow you to rebuy or re-enter for a competitive-sized stack. ICM helps determine what risks are worth taking in those situations.
 
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gon4iypes

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Hi Scubed, well I think what you have on the go here is absolutely awesome. I too have been playing a long time and just jumped in, got loads of books but didn't really put enough into them to really benefit. And that shows in my results, or lack thereof. So I'm going to follow your lead and swat up on the ups and downs of our favourite game ....lol...all the best at the tables
 
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Hi AlexTheOwl,

Thank you for your detailed conversation. Do you have any ideas about where to start in quantifying the quoted? Especially your thoughts on "how small the edge" and "size of the pot."

The tricky thing is quantifying:
- How small your edge needs to be
- How short your bankroll needs to be
- What size the pot needs to be

Thanks in advance for your thoughts!

scubed
 
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AlexTheOwl

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I don't. Which means playing with a small bankroll would force me to make estimates that are likely to be unsound.

The most practical advice I can think of that derives from Sklansky's point here is to avoid near coin flips if playing cash with an inadequate bankroll with opponents against whom you have an edge in skill.

For example, under those circumstances, I'd fold 88 or 99 heads-up against an all-in opponent who covers me whose range I estimate at 22+,AQ+, even though calling with 88 or better is +EV.
 
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Chapter 04: The Ante Structure

The Theory of Poker, David Sklansky
Chapter 04: The Ante Structure

All poker starts as a struggle for the forced bets (blinds and/or antes) without which there would be no reason to play. Players find themselves in trouble when they either play too many hands or too few hands in relation to the size of the forced bet. The amount of the forced bet suggests a general principle of play...

  • The lower the forced bet, the tighter the play
  • The higher the forced bet, the looser the play
Do NOT think in terms of the $$ YOU have already put in the pot and make a bad call. It is NOT relevant how much YOU have put in the pot because once the chips are in the pot they NO LONGER BELONG TO YOU (they belong to the pot). It is the TOTAL amount in the pot (thus the current pot odds you are getting to take the action) that matters, not what YOU personally have contributed into the pot.

When the forced bets (blinds and/or antes) are LARGE...

  1. Loosen up your starting hand requirements because: better pot odds, cost is to great to wait for big hands, your opponents are playing weaker starting hands, observant opponents will notice your frequency of playing is too tight and steal (or not give you action)
  2. Loosen up on later betting rounds (streets) because: your opponents starting hands are weaker, in multi-way pot drawing hands increase in value (mediocre pairs decrease in value)
  3. Try to steal forced bets because: the play has a positive expectation (especially against weak players)
  4. Raise with a good hand because: slow-playing gives proper odds to opponents and you do NOT want to let them in cheaply (many players will call without the odds which is exactly what you want according to The Fundamental Theorem!)
When the forced bets (blinds and/or antes) are SMALL...

  1. Play fewer hands with an exception - when you are better than your opponents play hands with the intention of outplaying your opponent on later rounds (streets)
  2. Steal fewer forced bets; when you do attempt to steal and are called or re-raised (especially by tight players) be prepared to give up
  3. Slow-play big hands to draw people in and build larger pots
  4. Allow aggressive players to "control the game" and have a false sense of security - then pounce on them when you have a big hand (you'll win back the forced bets they have stolen from you and more!)
  5. Call marginal hands only in early rounds (streets) and if your hand doesn't improve, give up (fold) - when the hand does improve the small investment will pay off big
 
apeedgovi

apeedgovi

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I love this thread, will follow. And I think it's time for me to visit my local library for some extra knowledge. :) Keep it up bro!
 
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FailX21

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Nice, once again thanks !

For the chapter 4, I feel like that's roughly what I'm doing when I play, but now I see why it is this way and why it is a good idea. Plus now that I know that, I'll try to use that consciously.
 
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Chapter 05: Pot Odds

The Theory of Poker, David Sklansky
Chapter 05: Pot Odds

Pot odds are the ratio of the current size of the pot to the cost of a contemplated call. If there is $500 in the pot and you are considering calling $100 you are getting 5-to-1 odds for the call. In this example when you believe your chances to win are better than 5-to-1 then it is correct to call. If you think your chances are worse than 5-to-1 then you should fold.
There are two scenarios:

  • All the cards are out is NOT a math problem, but a judgement problem - you must evaluate your hand verses what you believe is your opponents hand.
  • There are still cards to come out IS a math problem - you must evaluate your chances to improve and compare that to the pot odds to determine your action
These are some of the factors that should be taken into consideration:

  • Exposed cards (complete information) - what is on the board? any other cards exposed?
  • Position - are there players to act after you? what if the player raises?
  • Outs - ensure that you are thinking of the extra outs (i.e. back-door scenarios) and also the outs that you might be counting twice
  • Improving does not mean winning - are you drawing to the second-best hand (i.e. low straight or K-high flush)?
 
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scubed

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During live in-person play I find that I can calculate the pot odds themselves fairly quickly; however, I am sometimes slow to calculate the chance to improve for comparison.

During online play the 'shot clock' will catch me (especially in turbos) and fold my hand occasionally OR I will make the call/fold without having the math done. Do you have any tricks that you use to make these calculations more quickly?
 
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FailX21

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I think you just have to get used to the calculations, to drill yourself. Either by playing and getting experience or by reviewing your hands and doing it calmly without a time limit. After a while, you can sort of remember the odds of drawing a flush, a straight, ... as those are most of the time the same.

I often find myself playing too quick because I'm scared to run out of time. Then I get a bit more time to think calmly about what I just did, and realize I just did a mistake. So I'm trying to drill myself to make those calculations and decisions quicker.
 
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Chapter 06: Effective Odds

The Theory of Poker, David Sklansky
Chapter 06: Effective Odds

When you have a hand that needs to improve recognize that future bets typically reduce the pot odds substantially. Chances of making a hand improve greatly with the number of cards to come, but the odds a player is getting from the pot worsen. If a player is contemplating a call right now, they will likely have to put $$ in the pot on future betting rounds and that $$ should also be taken into account. Effective odds are the real odds a player is getting from the pot when the player calls a bet with more than one card to come.

For example: In Hold 'Em if a player flops 4 to a flush then they should compute the odds to see the next 2 cards (unless they plan to give up on the turn when the flush card does not come).

There are times when the immediate odds are sufficient and a player doesn't need to compute effective odds due to future bets: player is all-in, player predicts that the next card will be free, player plans on folding if the next card doesn't improve hand.
 
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scubed

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For myself, Effective Odds seem easier (more logical) to calculate for Limit games - where the betting amount is absolute each round. In No-Limit games it seems like a player would have to guess at what the future bets would be which could create an incorrect calculation/estimation of the Effective Odds.


Am I thinking about this incorrectly?


Thanks!
 
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AlexTheOwl

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It's harder to calculate the effective odds in No Limit. But that only makes it more important that you try to do so, since they can vary so much.

For example, if your opponent raised pre-flop, raises pre-flop quite often, usually bets half-pot, and has a habit of c-betting the flop and checking the turn, your effective odds may be very good.
If your opponent raised pre-flop, raises with a tight range pre-flop, only bets when he has a hand, usually makes pot-sized bets, and tends to bet multiple streets, your effective odds could be very poor.
 
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Chapter 07: Implied Odds and Reverse Implied Odds

The Theory of Poker, David Sklansky
Chapter 07: Implied Odds and Reverse Implied Odds

When thinking about implied odds think about the size of the immediate call and if you hit your card can you get the size of future bets to be really big (and your opponent to call). Implied Odds are the ratio of the total expected win when your card hits to the immediate cost of calling a bet. Sklansky, Theory of Poker p.55

Famous Implied Odds hand: 1980 wsop Doyle A7 -vs- Stu 54s. Stu called off a gut shot with less than 3-to-1 immediate pot odds but 14.5-to-1 implied odds (Doyle's whole stack). Stu hit his 3 for a straight (busted Doyle's 2 pair) to win the tourney.

When estimating implied odds a player must predict...

  1. The size of future bets. ALWAYS know your opponents stack size
  2. How disguised the hand is.
  3. The ability of the opponent.
Reverse Implied Odds are when a player is in a scenario (mediocre hand that might be the best at the moment but has little chance to improve) where the true pot odds are worse than they seem.

Example of reverse implied odds scenario: Player has AA. Flop comes 7h8h10h. When the opponent bets it might be better to consider folding.

A player could be in reverse implied odds situations...

  1. Not sure where a player is at in the hand
  2. Little chance of improving to beat the hand your opponent already has or might make
  3. A call causes a player to be pot committed
  4. The opponent can slow down at any time
 
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