Poker

Background

I played poker professionally online after graduating from college in 2008 until 2013. I played almost entirely mid-stakes No Limit Texas Hold’em cash games, mostly on PokerStars and totaled playing in the range of 10 million hands, usually on 20+ tables at a time. In December 2009, I played 990k hands, which I believe to be the most ever played in a month outside of micro-stakes (lowest stakes were $1-2 NLHE).

I think this was a great first job because it gave a lot of freedom, but also a lot of responsibility! A friend launched a weekly Quarantine Poker Tour during the 2020 COVID lockdown, which helped revitalize my interest in playing.

Publications

AI Poker Tutorial

Over the years, poker strategy has become more and more mathematical and many top players play by studying game theory optimal (GTO) strategy with “solver” software. This tutorial touches on how the math and algorithms behind the solvers work as well as important poker research papers and ideas.

Most Important Fundamental Rule of Poker

Using techniques from machine learning we have uncovered a new simple, fundamental rule of poker strategy that leads to a significant improvement in performance over the best prior rule and can also easily be applied by human players.

Counterfactual Regret Minimization and Abstraction Analysis in Computer Poker

MSc thesis analyzing card abstraction in Kuhn (1-card) poker and betting abstraction in No Limit Royal Hold’em (same as No Limit Texas Hold’em, but with a 20-card deck with cards Ten and higher only).

Poker FAQ

Do you count cards?

Wrong game, that’s blackjack

Isn’t playing poker a waste of time?

I think some amazing people play and also help improve the world by “earning to give”, which helps others through programs like the (Double Up Drive)[https://doubleupdrive.com/], where top poker players match donations to highly effective charities.

What are the most useful things poker can teach outside of the game?

  1. Thinking about decisions in terms of positive expected value and generally putting consideration into most decisions (which can be a little negative when you start doing full analyses on things like buying a plane ticket)
  2. Keeping emotions in check
  3. Staying focused and picking up on small details

Why stop playing poker?

Poker boomed in the early 2000s and got gradually harder as bad players dropped out and good players improved. April 15, 2011 was online poker’s “Black Friday”, when the top poker sites accepting American players like PokerStars shut down. This led to a sharp increase in game difficulty as American pros moved abroad and recreational players stopped playing. After 2011, I felt like I had potentially better ways to spend my time, and stopped playing to focus on my master’s degree (even though its topic was poker-related!).

What’s the most exciting thing that happened during poker?

In 2009, my first full year playing, I bet some friends that I could play 3 million hands of mid-stakes or higher on the year. In theory, that should only take about 2000 hours of playing, which is a pretty standard amount of working hours, though almost certainly fewer than 5-10 people in the world played that many hands in a year at mid-stakes. Poker hours are generally more intensive and one also needs time to study and take some time off, etc. Also procrastination. I ended up with about 1 million hands by October 1 and another 1 million in October/November combined, which left nearly 1 million to play in December. Over 30k hands/day is absolutely not normal and I averaged 17 hours/day for that entire month to pull it off. I saw my life slowly disentegrate into only poker and sleep as the months went on and despite a pretty bad loss in the last week or so, ended up winning the bet on the last day. Prop bets like this are a great way to stay motivated and/or do crazy things.

How can you read someone online?

There are of course no physical reads (aka tells) online, so most decisions are based on player statistics, bet sizing, general non-opponent based strategy, and the closest thing to a tell is perhaps how much time someone takes to act.

What’s the worst part about playing poker?

There is an element of luck in the game and downswings can be very tough because they make you question if you know what you’re doing and can sometimes last quite a while. Also you kind of have to learn to not get upset when bad things happen (at least when playing online and getting all-in constantly), which I think can dull one’s range of emotions significantly!