Conducting Intellectual Autopsies in Tournament Poker

In order to be a successful multi-table tournament poker player, you must possess a variety of abilities that enable you to maximize your opportunity for profit in the long-run.

We place emphasis on the long-run, due to the fact that standard variance in multi-table tournament poker can be quite abnormal, even in large sample sizes.

What is Variance in Poker?

variance in poker

Any true professional multi-table tournament poker player understands the wild variance involved in the game.

In poker, variance is the measure of uncertainty.

A play that has high variance, subsequently has a great deal of uncertainty. A play that has a relatively certain outcome, has a low variance. The act of folding has a variance of zero.

Poker is a game of skill.

Poker also has an element of chance due to the distribution of cards and the randomness of the shuffle. Another way to define this variance is that it is a measure of the “chance element” in the short term.

Variance is important for the poker player because it quantifies the notions of upswing and downswing.

It is the difference between the outcome expected over the long-term, and the results experienced in the short-term.

Short-Term vs. Long-Term Results

In the short-term, anyone who plays poker has the ability to experience a profit.

In the long-term, in order to experience a profit from playing poker, you must employ a consistent, disciplined strategy, that gives you the best opportunity to experience the maximum amount of profit.

This profit will ultimately manifest itself in the long-term, barring your put in the required amount of volume required to do so.

What is The Required Amount of Volume?

The notion of the “required amount of volume” necessary to statistically determine your profitability in multi-table tournament poker has been a topic of much debate.

Personally, I have had the luxury of experiencing a profit from multi-table tournament poker over a sample size that exceeds 1,000+ tournaments.

In order to produce a sample size of this magnitude, you must dedicate a large amount of your time into playing tournament poker.

You will simply not be able to achieve a sample size of this magnitude if you are not truly passionate about the game.

I find myself seeking the game of poker when I want to intellectually challenge myself in mental competition.

Because this craving is currently engraved in my normal everyday psyche, I find myself dedicating a lot of my available free time into running my very own poker business.

I understand that in the long-run, this business investment will generate a profit, simply due to the amount of time I have put into becoming a profitable poker player.

The total amount of time I have dedicated to playing poker, and ultimately improving my poker game through study and analysis, easily exceeds ten thousand hours.

These thousands of hours of study and applied practice have given me the ability to experience a profit. Without the thousands of hours I have dedicated to studying and improving my game, none of my results would even come close to being feasibly possible.

Below is a list of the biggest cashes I have experienced in the past year:

dieselpokers poker tournament results

Each of these individual scores is the result of applying a disciplined strategy that has been formed from countless hours of practice, and subsequent application.

I view none of these results as the product of chance, rather I view them as the result of the countless hours I have put into fine-tuning and developing my game.

I use this small sample, as an example of the results you can expect to experience in the long run, granted you are willing to put in the amount of volume required to do so.

The required amount volume necessary to experience similar results as the above, will require you to play over 500 tournaments in less than half a calendar year.

Nonetheless, my long-term results over the years have given me the opportunity to expand my game to challenge opponents at the highest level possible.

The Importance of Volume in Your Poker Business

I find myself to be a volume junkie.

While not all of the above results translate to complete profit, they give me the necessary feedback I require to evaluate where my game currently stands.

In multi-table tournament poker, my main objective is to win the entire tournament.

You can see from the above results that this is not always the guaranteed outcome of my play.

Granted, some of my largest cashes in online poker have come from consolation prizes, but in each of these tournaments, my objective to win enabled me to put myself in position to experience as much profit as I could.

While each tournament resulted in a different outcome, I played each tournament with the objective of achieving the top position, and the top prize.

This was the ultimate outcome for some of the tournaments I played, but it certainly wasn’t a virtual guarantee, due to the factor of short-term luck that comes into play in each, and every tournament I register for.

Conducting Intellectual Autopsies

phil galfond poker

Phil Galfond is the mental master when it comes to tournament poker,

I play more than one tournament at a time when I decide to sit down and play a session of poker.

How I allocate my focus on each individual tournament varies from the current level of play in each tournament.

For example. If I am playing 8 tournaments at one time, and 6 of these tournaments are at the beginning stages of blind levels, I will make these tables as small as possible. I want to focus a majority of my available attention on the two other tournaments, which are at deeper blind levels.

When tournaments reach deeper blind levels, each individual hand of these becomes more important, due to the fact that each pot will automatically be inflated due to the blind structure the tournament employs.

The deeper we are in a tournament, the more important each decision becomes. Because of this factor, we must focus as much attention on these tournaments as we can, while also subsequently managing the tournaments that are in a l ower blind structure.

At times, if I am able to accumulate a big stack early in a tournament, I will allocate that tournament towards the portion of my screen that deals with the most important tournaments to focus on.

I do this simply because when I have a large stack in a tournament, I always like to open up my play, and become as aggressive as possible to pick up as many pots as possible.

I have no problem open raising any hand, from any position, when I am the chip leader at the table.

I understand that a majority of the time, my aggression will result in me taking down small pots without much of a contest.

When I find myself in a contested pot, I can value bet my good hands, and simply fold away my hands that don’t hold much value, while never risking much of my entire stack in the process.

I will allocate higher buy-in tournaments into my focus group, at any blind level, more often than not, due to the fact that the top prize in these tournaments exceeds the top prize in any of the other tournaments in my entire group of active tournaments.

On an intellectual level, I must determine where a majority of focus needs to be allocated at any given point in time.

If I find myself at a final table, I will make that table substantially larger than any other tournament table that I have open.

As a human being, limited by physical boundaries, I can only reliably allocate a certain amount of focus to one specific tournament, at any given time.

If my session includes playing 8-10 tournaments simultaneously, it is up to me to decide where the majority of my focus needs to be to put myself in the best position to accumulate chips, and ultimately win the tournament.

This metal process of focus allocation comes as the result of consistently challenging myself in the amount of tournaments I can play simultaneously in a given period of time.

I will choose tournaments to play, based on my current bankroll, and amount of bankroll I am willing to risk.

See: Bankroll Management for more advice on this topic.

In the end, my main goal is to win every tournament I enter. I understand this is not a realistic goal statistically, given all of the variance that is involved in tournament poker. I also understand that, when I do find myself in a position to take down an entire event, I must channel as much disciplined focus as possible in order to achieve my desired result.

For more poker strategy, visit our extensive poker strategy section.

Good luck at the tables! 🙂


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