Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Health and ecosystem matters

Life update

This is my first blog of the year because it's been a quiet start to the year: not much to blog home about. I came out of Prague reasonably happy with how the second half of my year had gone live, but also a bit jaded with live poker and looking to a spell at home.

I've gotten better over the years of eating well and trying not to lose too much shape on the road, but the fact remains whenever I am away I can't eat as well or exercise as regularly (more on this later). So periods at home recharging are much needed.

I felt a little out of shape as an online player too given how little I'd played in the last six months, but got back into the groove easily enough with a PocketFives Triple Crown and an otherwise satisfactory start to this year.

As I write this on the eve of my first poker trip of 2017 (to MPN Vienna), I'm quietly pleased with both the work I've put in online and studying the game, and getting back into physical shape. With three 30 mile training runs under my belt already I'm in a lot better shape physically than I was this time last year.

The reason I've waited this long to write my first blog of 2017 is that's pretty much all I've got, so  I'm going to fill it out with some stuff I get asked about a lot, and stuff I've been thinking about lately.

Health matters

This is going to sound like a brag (maybe because it is) but I'm in a lot better shape and healthier than most guys in their 53rd year on the planet. It's not entirely a brag as I think luck plays a large part in it, but I also think I've improved my chances with my lifestyle, in particular exercise and diet. I get asked about these periodically, so I thought I might as well put my answers here.

When I was running competitively, a typical training weak consisted of:
1. Two long runs, one 25 to 30 miles, one 20 to 25 (usually both done on same day, or on consecutive days)
2. Three speed work sessions, a tough one, a lighter one and an easier one
3. Seven recovery runs, 8 miles, in 1 hour

Total weekly mileage 125 to 135 miles, done as two runs a day 6 days a week. Besides running, there was some gym work and other cross training.

The first two years of my poker career overlapped with the last two of my competitive running career (I was still representing Ireland internationally and trying to win races). During this time I definitely struggled with maintaining energy levels and recovery. Prior to poker I slept and rested a lot to recover from training. As poker took over I slept less and hoped sitting at a desk clicking buttons was sufficiently restful for recovery (it wasn't).

At the end of the two years I realised it wasn't possible to juggle the two, so I retired from running (by this time I was a successful online player making multiples of what I could ever make from running).

For the next five years or so, my training was 5 or 6 easy runs a week (weekly mileage 40). Basically just enough to keep ticking over.

Two years ago I became aware that I was a lot less physically fit and had less stamina than before. I think I maintained both residually for years after quitting competitive running but by now it was gone, and I felt the lack of stamina in particular was adversely affecting my poker.

I switched to:
1, one long run (25 to 30 miles)
2. two speed sessions
3. three easy recovery runs

Total weekly mileage 65-70 miles. So nothing like what I did when I was competitive (and younger), but the most I can too without feeling drained when I play poker. My routine is to run once a day before breakfast, and I start my online grind after breakfast. I feel the run wakes me up rather than drains me, but generally don't play on the day I do my long run as this does take too much out of me. This schedule also goes out the window when I go on live poker trips. When I'm away the most I can do is try to slip in a short easy 4 to 6 mile run whenever I can.

As for diet, my typical food intake in a day at home consists of:
A large bowl of fruit
A large bowl of porridge
Two boiled eggs
A tuna salad baguette
Meat, veg and rice or pasta
A large bowl of grapes
A small amount of walnuts
Cheese and crackers or a tin of sardines

I should point out that I have zero qualifications as a nutrition or exercise expert: at best I'm an autodidactic lay person, but this combination seems to work for me.

Ecosystem matters

In Bucharest last year at the Unibet Open, we had a lively debate with the always informed and interesting Kat Arnsby on the new Stars "Beat The Clock" format. For those of you who don't know what that is, it's basically a coked up version of the old Time Tournament (another truly pointless format: basically a cash game with bigger rake masquerading as a tournament) with rapidly escalating blinds and an unbeatable rake. After I'd moaned a bit about the format, Kat sharply countered with "sod you pros, it doesn't matters what you guys think. It's a fun format recreational players will enjoy".

While I agree in principle with the view that recreationals should drive the bus, I don't feel that raking them to death in a new format is the right road to take. But I was unable to mount a coherent argument as to why. Then a few days later I heard an interview with a Daily Fantasy Sports pro, and I remembered why.

He was talking about the sweet spot DFS operators are trying to find between maximising their revenue while minimising the drain on players funds. He used an example from Sim City where you can destroy a vibrant successful city by increasing taxes to the point you lose citizens, and revenues go down rather than up. This is a lesson some poker operators, certainly Amaya, seem to have forgotten. If you take the myopic view of increased rake increased profit, you end up cannibalising your player pool faster than you can gain new players. If it's not clear how let's try a little thought experiment.

Imagine a site with 300 players. The only game the site offers is a $50 game aggressively raked at 10%, lasts 15 minutes, and is unbeatable long term.

Each player deposits $1000 at the start, and they hope for 20 hours of enjoyment in a week. That means playing 80 games.

Due purely to variance, 100 of these players run well and win (excluding rake), 100 break even, and 100 lose all their money.

It's easy to see how the losing players lose. In point of fact, they are the least affected by the rake, as even if there was no rake, if they have a negative ROI of 25%, they'd lose the lot anyway. All the rake does is speed up the point at which they go busto.

Now let's look at the "break even players". They break even excluding rake. Including it (ten per cent of $50 times 80) means they actually lose $400, ending the week with $600.

How much do the winning players "win"? Well, since money doesn't disappear we can work it out. At the start of the week, each player deposited 1k, so that's 300k into the system. The losing players lost the lot (100k between them) while the break even players lost 40k when we adjust for rake. In total each player paid 400 in rake, which adds up to 120k, which represents the site's profit. So of the 140k lost by losing and break even players, 120k goes to the site, and only 20k to the"winning" players, who therefore win $200 each on average to end the week with $1200.

So how about it, recreationals? Does that sound good to you? Deposit and a week later there's an equal chance you either are up 20%, down 40% or down 100%? I think we'd agree you'd have to be a mug, and while there are undoubtedly mugs out there, they are in limited supply, and you eventually run out of them. Yet this is exactly the model Amaya seem to be pushing.

A couple of years ago after the dust settled from the Amaya takeover, a Stars employee told us that the new strategy revolved around eradicating the pros. I don't think we fully believed it at the time, but we do now. There are a number of problems with that strategy (it's hard to maintain liquidity when everyone is a long term loser, for instance) but even if there's some sense to it, the implementation has been nothing short of disastrous. Spray bombing insecticide on the player pool in the form of worse structures and increased rake may eliminate the pros, but you end up killing recreationals even quicker.

Just as increasing rake does not lead to increased profit, reduced rake does not necessarily reduce profit. What it does is give losing players more bang for their buck. They will still end up losing in the long term, but if they do so more slowly while having fun, they are much more likely to be willing to redeposit. There will be much less "I deposited a grand and it was all gone in a few hours" stories to dissuade new players. There will be much more liquidity and much less need to keep finding new players to replace those going bust. This is a lesson DFS operators seem to be learning, and the online poker industry needs to relearn.

Up next

I generally plan my poker career in six month chunks (before and after Vegas), and the plan for the first half of 2017 is a fair amount of live poker in February, then a break until late March. Then four or five weeks concentrating on live poker again (mostly in Ireland) and another break before Vegas. I'm planning a longer WSOP campaign than in recent years, maybe even getting there as early as June 3rd.


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