Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Lessons Learned From Binh Nguyen

As I write this, the final 19 players in the LAPC are in order of chip count:

Mike Sowers
Chris Ferguson
Payman Arjang
Binh Nguyen
Nick Schulman
Xuan Nguyen
Blake Cahail
Jeremy Kottler
Mark Bryan
Zach Hyman
Dan Lu
Chris Karagulleyan
Pat Walsh
Matt Woodward
Tam Ly
Peter Feldman
Teddy Monroe
Donnie D'Auria
Cornel Andrew Cimpan

696 players entered this year including most of the tour superstars. It was a loaded field. But if you look at this final nineteen, most are "unknowns." The ratio of stars to unknowns is smaller than it was at the start of the tournament.

I've been watching the WSOP Europe on ESPN lately, and I watched last year's as well. Last year the final table consisted of

Annette Obrestad
John Tabatabai
Matthew McCullough
Oyvind Riisem
Johannes Korsar
Dominic Kay
Magnus Persson
Theo Jorgensen
James Keys

This was lauded as the "toughest field ever" yet no one who reached the final table had recorded a million dollars in live tournament earnings before reaching that final table. The dozens of million-dollar winners all fell short.

The 2009 Aussie Millions main event final table:

Stewart Scott
Peter Rho
Elliot Smith
Raj Ramakrishnan
Sam Capra
Zachary Gruneberg
Richard Ashby
Barny Boatman
Zachary Fellows

We see this sort of pattern at all the biggest poker tournaments - the WPT Championship, the EPT Championship, the PCA, the FTOPS 5k, the WSOP ME, and even the 50k HORSE. I can't quantify the data but it seems to me that "unknowns" are making final tables at the same ratio as the superstars based on their percentage of the starting field.

What does this mean?

To me it means two things:
  1. Most "unknowns" can play as well as the "knowns." A Binh Nguyen or Jeremy Kottler may not have millions in live tournament earnings but that doesn't mean they're any worse at the game than a Chris Ferguson or Nick Schulman. There are always Ivan Demidovs and Alexander Kostritsins lurking, ready to explode. People who enter big tournaments usually know how to play.
  2. Success in poker tournaments is largely based on...surprise...LUCK. Good players will show long-term profit, great players will show a large long-term profit, weaker players will lose money in the long-term...but there is so much money and variance in poker tournaments that weak players could be lifetime winners and above-average players could potentially be losers over the course of a decade of live tournaments. Even Daniel Negreanu can lose money playing live tournaments over the course of a year.
It is easy to get carried away over short-term results. Mark Seif or Scott Fischman can win two bracelets in a week, but does this really mean anything? It probably means they are at least decent tournament players, and it also means they hit an incredibly improbable streak of good luck. We always have to consider poker tournament results, good or bad, with a grain of salt.


Blogger 81trucolors said...

Paul and I were discussing amateur playing styles and we/I came to the conclusion that for every Binh Ngyuyen or Jamie Gold who make that one deep run, there are thousands of players (like Kofi Farkye) who barely cash or exit short of the money. Yes, tournaments come down to a lot of luck but while noobish playing styles and tons of luck will reward one or two or five guys each tournament, you only see the few who make it.

With some exceptions, I don't believe the amateurs are as good as the pros.

11:14 AM  
Blogger GnightMoon said...

Kofi Farkye is no amateur. Did you read the blog? Did you see who made the final table? You were in LA, you saw the field. I follow these things closely, I look at the evidence.

12:48 PM  
Blogger TheGraveWolf said...

So the point of this post was to suggest that luck plays a huge factor in big buy-in tournies??


3:33 PM  
Blogger 81trucolors said...

At least three (Sowers, Karagullian, and Ferguson) of the six are experienced pros. Maybe S & K don't have the name recognition that Jesus has but they are no amateurs.

I could say just as much about a large number of the guys on that list of 19. I was in LA and did the research. I probably looked at a lot more evidence than you did. There were a good number of pros and a good number of amateurs. The 19 and the final 6 reflect that. What's your point?

10:26 PM  
Blogger PunkyPickett said...

Hands down Jesus has the greatest name recognition in the world.

1:40 PM  

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