Call it halftime: I am taking a month off to look after family, so the 100 hour challenge lives on in thought and writing until June. I did put in a midnight session in Medford, collecting my usual toll. Before clocking out, I heard some interesting gossip about the scene and how one Brad Booth was tearing up the local whales. Seems like he has a quest not dissimilar to mine – GL you old scoundrel! Save those fancy shirts for better days.

I did make my usual one big error, in this case where I check-jammed KhKd into 678r versus a short stack. In general, you want to check-raise boards with multiple draws and pair plus draws rather than lock-down flops like this one. I was barely looking at the board, though: his stack was short and the night was late. If I’d been paying attention I could have lost less to T9o.

In that moment, you see, I wasn’t really *respecting the game* – we’ll see why and how this matters so much for your 100 hours – and beyond.

### Our Challengers and Their Primary Obstacle

Let’s get started and look at one three from the perspective of a high stakes challenger and his opposite, a player struggling to make it. Each player has a main trap to avoid.

The high stakes player must overcome *the lack of financial excitement in a low stakes game.* In fact, this is a problem for even middle stakes player or even players moving one stake down, so it’s worth discussion, regardless of the 100 hour challenge.

For the struggling player who has yet to win, the trap is *the company he keeps and the information she takes in.*

The unifying theme – there always is one, there must be for things to make sense – is not going to be apparent to the untrained poker eye.

**How to Move Down Without Punting**

We’ve all been there: in a combination of embarrassment, pride, and shameful misunderstanding, we punt harder not when the money is big, but when the money is small

Why?

(Saying the game is too small to interest you is *not* the answer, dummy! That’s called *begging the question.)*

The interior motivations are mixed, no doubt: you are all special snowflakes. However, the exterior motivation – the one that we can do something about – is not.

If you struggle when moving down, your basic problem is you simply don’t love excellence as much as you think you do. In fact, that’s pretty damn provable – you don’t think excellence even applies to the lower stakes! Howlers like “you can’t bluff at low stakes” and “no one folds at low stakes” escape your lips.

You don’t know what’s going on but you need others to think you do. That’s not a good foundation for anything.

Unfortunately for you and your challenge to play 100 hours of 1/3, there is a form of excellence happening. In fact, to achieve it, you’ll first have to see that every game counts; every hand counts; every dollar counts. These games are just another part of your body of work – what you do is who you are. You admit that to be the case, secretly, when you are *surprisingly irritated* at losing a fourth of your regular buy in at low stakes and can’t for the life of you figure out why it stings.

Now, you can party and splash and feign to let go, you can pretend you are Tommy Angelo on his second joint, but if you want to win and make the challenge, *expertise still matters.*

So, start by living in big blinds, not dollars. Talk about the low stakes hands in bbs, report them to your bros in bbs. Remake your game into a poker arena, not a visit to the cage.

Once you accept that and do that, you are almost there. If you take the big blinds seriously, now *you’ll tend to take your opponent seriously*. Instead of it being another blurry face you need to beat, it will be Jeff the Drywaller there with the over-bets that make no sense on that board and street – what does he mean? How do I think like Jeff? What combos respond to Jeff’s size on this board? *And do you want Jeff to outthink you again, like when you punted to him last time?*

The impatience subsides, the sneer falls from your face.

Taking the game seriously and not punting *is really about caring about what is happening around you*, not the results. Caring about the game as it is given to you, not your wounded social standing. *Respecting* the people who are risking money that may mean less to you but is so dear to them. Or not dear – and knowing the difference.

Accept for a brief time, equality among people in real time – not as easy as the slogans say, is it?

Of course, not everyone does it this way. Some take out their feeling of displacement on their neighboring players.

**Meet Coach Ike**

Ike (obviously I’m hiding his real name) is a former 2/5 and probably even 5/10 player who has moved down to 1/3. Ike has no respect for his new environment. So little, in fact, he actually gets up, grits his teeth, and does handshakes and smiles at the other side of the room for at least five percent of his table time. He does not embrace his fellow one three players – or himself.

On the contrary, all he does is condescend to his new opponents. In fact, Coach Ike is probably the worst thing ever for the games. He doesn’t just berate players, he explains strategy to everyone,

*constantly*. He uses catch words to get attention, even making tough decisions others have about him. Is he bored of folding 67s and AQo? Now he stands straight up like a prairie dog, looking for the softest table; he’ll move to it soon, which is good to know because you might be tempted to move away from him!

Ike talks to the dealers mid-hand. He slows the game down by showing them his “expert” fold. Struggling? Ike tells you about short stacking and passes you his coaching card.

The thing is, Ike isn’t even very good at poker – he likely never was. *Of course he used to win*, back when tourists dropped into the game like card-playing pinatas stuffed with gold.

Who didn’t win, back when? Times change, and Coach Ike has not.

From a technical perspective, Coach Ike opens to poor sizes, calls in the field too much, calls to the wrong sizes, leads the wrong hands, doesn’t bluff enough, and worst of all, gives up to aggression very easily because he thinks in clichés, just like so many others.

As you can imagine, many regs know and think well of Ike and his ability, because they don’t know what’s going on with his game or at his table or why things happen in general. We mush along, the culture churns, even with the useless dogs of the pack biting at our tails.

Don’t be Coach Ike. But if you’re coming to 1/3 for the challenge, he’s waiting for you!

**Moving Up: The Trap of Losing… and of Losers**

Doing this the opposite way, being the aspirant coming up to 1/3 can be harder than they say. Many players never get out of home games or NL5, never mind 1/2. Worse, even if they do, many will not have results as good as mine; not at first, and that can be frustrating.

Now, I’m not going to explain things for free. Leave that to the charlatans and celebrities and real estate agents of the poker training space who, to this day, will poison a thousand wells to sell one house.

Yet that is exactly the problem for many of you: trapped in a terrible cycle of thinking you know what to do while being reinforced by those around you.

Yes, as much as stupid newsletters and engagement-brained podcasts full of empty calorie strategy don’t help or hurt, the true trap of lower stakes player is the company he keeps, the players she allows to surround her. The people you like in the Discords who appeal to your ignorance, who jump in with answers for no cost but your attention (that is their payment, after all).

I could stop there, but it only gets worse. Many struggling low-stakes players even *aspire wrongly*. They think the best players in the world are trying to mimic the solvers in an elegant tit for tat of *things and non-things*, a secret club of “allowed” hand-shakes against embarrassing “blunders,” all while laughing at unexpected bet sizes and chittering at the gauche combos that the bumbling outcasts use.

Thus, with the water around you poisoned and poisoned again, you start thinking that there are no answers, that something is wrong with *you*. So, you double down and find some new tricks, or like a despairing addict, even get into “mental game” concerns – as if you weren’t concentrating hard enough already.

The cycle of the loser: old strategy, mental game, new strategy.

Imagine how sour you get after a few years, no, even *decades*, of that.

**Meet the Smiths**

Stan and Margaret Smith are a poker dealing couple trapped in this sort of cycle. Stan is mostly quiet and works long hours, but don’t let that fool you. He picks up your hand slightly to look at it when you muck. His face and laughter tell you what he thinks of you and your 2/5 game. He’ll be talking with Margaret about it soon.

Margaret has no such discretion. She’s a talker at the table, both dealing and playing. Stan’s thoughts are funneled through her, so she has twice the material to work with. Even at the cage, she’ll tell you your problems. Once in cashing out, I told her I’d had a tough session in the deep game. She laughed and using a parent’s mocking voice, told me I had to play better. I invited her to the game but she scoffed that she only plays bigger games, and besides, she has no bankroll until after the WSOP dealing money accumulates.

Right.

Stan and Margaret are not just trapped in one-two and random home games, they are trapped in thoughts and conversations about the game that keep them there. In fact, they are disappearing, maybe out for some brief appearances at the Orleans or Red Rock if they are feeling it. They are not likely to ever beat one-three NL at this point, and I think they know that. In fact, I won’t get to see them much unless I decide to punish myself with some WSOP tourney time.

Somehow, even as confused perpetual novices, even as poker industry staffers, the Smiths are the classic low-stakes stragglers. They don’t study with good sources. They do not respect their environment. Higher stakes players at least learn to fake sincerity – social interactions at bigger games are usually better, even productive, on this basis alone.

Now, ask yourself: if Stan and Margaret, in the heart of poker with every resource available to them, can behave like this, imagine how poorly your average, independent, unconnected and unsupported 1/2 and 1/3 dude thinks about strategy.

**“Water, water, everywhere, but not a drop to drink”**

**“Water, water, everywhere, but not a drop to drink”**

What’s funny about Stan and Margaret and all other struggling bottom level players is that there is no shortage of information designed to help, but there is *absolutely* a shortage of relevant, breakthrough teaching. That’s the information age at work – and it’s working currently to keep the 100-hour challenge smooth and profitable.

For instance, check out this amazing thread where long-time posters and “verified” poker coaches *struggle to understand even basic theoretical concepts*, all while feeling astonishingly free to lob insults at far greater poker minds and their obtuse, long-form “buuks” which actually propose theories and ideas for the unsolved, unquantified poker spots.

Yes, these people vote. Some also play one-three!

### Statistics for the Rest of Us, Part 2

In order to demonstrate how a live low stakes win-rate might look, I translated my live sessions into *big blinds per hundred.* This turned the $42/hour at 1/3 figure to 46 bbs/100 hands in part one. Now I’m ready for the interesting statistics, right? (And yes, of course this is an insufficient sample, duh! We’re using it to learn a few basics.)

The problem is, it doesn’t help us establish the other interesting things math can tell us. I can’t, for instance, have an instantly available standard deviation (unlike an online player with a convenient database), because I have no information about the units of 100 hands I play. I don’t know what happened on a per hand basis. So I can’t come up with intervals or data points.

It turns out there is actual poker expertise on statistics that can help. As I read *Gambling Theory*, a fascinating classic by Mason Malmuth which he has recently updated, I come across this passage:

It turns out that to compute your standard deviation, from a

practical standpoint, is very difficult. That’s because you’ll need

to record your results for every specific time period, or specific

number of hands, that you’ll play, and this is cumbersome and

inconvenient to do. So, because of this, I won’t bother with the

exact formula for variance (and its square root the standard

deviation). If this is something you’re interested in, just go to a

college level statistics book.

So I’m right, we’ll need something to stand in for a standard deviation – and it turns out Mason will provide it:

Uh, well, I don’t know about you, but I’m not quite ready for whatever that is, at least not before coffee. So instead, let’s take Mason’s alternative advice and check out some more basic statistics. Once we get a handle on that, we’ll come back and tackle this key equation in part three.

So let’s find a standard deviation to work with, and have some fun with our tiny, incomplete sample.

Now, remember the issue from part one: I decided I couldn’t use my datapoints, sessions, to provide my standard statistics, because they were irregular in length. *But so what*, I realized. My sessions are my sessions. I leave when I want, there is a personal rhythm to them that makes sense to me. **So let’s actually use my sessions**, conceiving of them as meaningful units, accept the perhaps questionable results, and maybe learn what all the variables and terms people throw around so easily actually mean in a sort of practice run.

Speaking of! The first step to finding the standard deviation of a group of numbers is to find the average, or *mean*, of those. This involves, in this case, totaling the profit and dividing by the number of datapoints, aka sessions.

As you can see, I’ve taken the profit column, divided it by the number of sessions, and come up with $159 as the average result of a session. That’s what happens when I essentially go out to play 1/3 according to this sample, regardless of how long I play. Useful? Probably not to you, but suggestive of how my challenge is going. It takes time to play live poker, and I’m only coming home with $160 whenever I go do it.

Frankly, this simple figure, one Mason won’t even deign to talk about as merely “college level,” is very useful information for me, though, because it tells me something: I’m not really using my time very well! I need to spend more time playing it or move up, is a possible rational response. Remember I’m also spending time travelling there – if I really were making a living at this stake, you can see how grim it could be, even as a winner at 1/3, never mind all those aspirants and *misregs* out there.

No wonder people don’t want to take the challenge – I’m its winner and it still sucks!

Next step is to identify the *variance*. Yes, there’s that word you guys toss around so freely. To do this, we’ll first subtract the mean from the data points (the column labeled “subtract m”), and then square that number: that’s the new column on the right in the chart. This leaves us with something that sounds familiar, the “sum of the squares.” We will divide this “sum of the squares” by our number (n) of session, but minus 1, apparently. Why? I have no idea, but that is what the “college level” texts tell me. Help me, Mr. Popeil!

This gets us to a new number, the *variance* of our sessions, which is apparently $210,466 and change. We’re finally there. The standard deviation is the square root of the variance, so: $458.77. Ta-da!

Ok, so what? Well, it tells us about the spread of my results, which apparently can cluster within $458 of my mean $160. If the standard deviation were, say 1500 in order to win my $160 paycheck, that would be a stressful life! This number is also suggestive of how much money I’ll win or lose and how much I need to bring to play, without resorting to weird bankroll guessing and arbitrary money management rules like “x bullets per sessions.” Further, if I compare it to other samples or other players, then I’ll know how swingy I am in comparison. Who knows, I’m finding uses and I’m not even trained in math. Also, here’s something interesting from Mason:

…most statisticians agree that for

practical purposes, the total population of possible results is

contained within three standard deviations of the mean.

That means in general the upper limit of my session win will be around 1534, according to this sample. And that is about my experience in one three. A “meaningless” sample, perhaps, but already suggestions of truth, from its closeness to my historical win rate of $36/hr at one three, to my low bankroll and money management requirements, to confirmation of my unfortunate predilection for lazily short sessions. More investigation to be done.

Most importantly, I played with some numbers and now have a hands-on sort of understanding about *mean*, *variance*, and *standard deviation* are now, instead of blathering about running bad like an ass on social media.

**However, remember I can’t really use my sessions if I want solid dollars per hour and bbs/100 info.** That’s how Mason and that equation are going to help. I’ve been reading *Gambling Theory* – *almost* as if I will be doing a Poker Zoo episode with Mason on this book. Together with some help from Banana Man and Kent, I will kick the statistics ball further down the street for us in our final installment of the challenge.

For now, though, let’s finish bigly!

### Low-Stakes Poker Myth #2: Theory Doesn’t Apply Here

This one is a particularly daunting stupidity. If theory doesn’t apply when the game is softer, how could the theory ever have been good in the first place?

(As one benighted aspirant once told Alvin when advised to play more optimally, “that won’t work in Detroit!”)

Poker theory, or if you like GTO, is even more applicable when the game is soft because it provides an even greater edge. While I have little interest in providing free lessons, truly grasping this fallacy could be the first step towards turning your game around. I spend a great deal of time coming up with theoretical answers for the games I play and applying them. I do not play worse because my opponents are playing worse; in fact, that is what lowers your EV in the first place.

(With higher rake and lower stacks there is also a small pressure to play BETTER at lower stakes than you do at higher stakes. But y’all aren’t ready for that conversation, as the kids say.)

I certainly do not do things such as open to “the table standard,” one which, if you understand it at all, takes away EV from you and gives it to your opponents *all while stifling the action in the game.* Yes, this is what bad regs do: proffer sizings and ranges and actions *that kill most aggressive counters…* then complain how there is no action.

Good lord.

Theory is the understanding, or proposed understanding, of what happens. If you mistake data, say in the form of an equilibrium solution for a heads-up spot (now why would I mention this) for the solution to some *other* spot in poker, you are not “playing GTO.”

No, you are just misapplying data!

Theory, on the other hand, provides answers but no data – like how to handle multiway poker because it explains where the expected value is coming from. How to play versus unexpected actions, sizings, and stacks sizes. The data of models (and from HUDs) improve theory – that’s one way to summarize the solver era.

Above all, theory is helpful versus the *unexpected, the nonsensical, the surprising, the confusing* – sounds like a bunch of one-three players to me.

### Heading Back to the Felt

So, now we face the second half of the challenge. I’ve got a road trip lined with poker rooms ahead of me to warm up on, and the WSOP will provide even more games to choose once I get back to Vegas.

Will I get to one hundred hours? Sure.

How much will I win? Probably the same that I’ve always won, but we’ll check in on the numbers and see.

What does it mean, if anything? And who will I meet along the way?

Well, that’s the most interesting part. Here we go!

*Up next: we conclude the challenge, meet new faces, friends and foes, review some hands, and who knows what other stuff!*

All right, so I repeated this exercise on two cash game levels, and got interesting results:

(1) $0.5/$1, 22 sessions, total profit 2,942, Mean 95, Average 134. Using the Mean for Standard deviation, I get $1,313. Pretty high.

(2) $1/$3, 40 sessions, total profit 3,763, Mean 93, Average 94. I get a $2,408 Standard deviation.

Conclusion: I play a high variance game? I guess so, I thought I was a tight ass nit who sometimes makes plays.

This is MN by the way, 2023 stats. For 14 2/5 and 3/5 sessions (bunched into one), my StdDev was higher, $3,424.

This helps show my objections to how players uae these statistics terms. Your results may well be high variance, i have no real body of numbers to compare except yours and mine. Yet you can still play “tight”: we’re measuring results not strat. Also remember going by session is not normalized to the hour or to per 100 so results could be highly dispersed. In the next episode i will use methodology to normalize the numbers and will show again how it is done.

the other thought is, did you sum the squares correctly and do the process right? It does seem high regardless.

Yes, that was my first sanity check, the numbers seemed off and I needed to verify that I followed exactly the same process. It just seems that my results varied widely and often from the mean. It probably also tells a story about the sessions and how I handled them. When I was down, I’d rebuy and sometimes lose more. When I was up, I’d stay on and rack up a large win. As for length of sessions, the .5/1 sessions were all 4-5 hours but the 1/3 varied widely so I’ll also do a per-hour StdDev and see how that works out.

Snap! I forgot one step in the equation (dividing into the number of sessions -1) to get to variance. Now my results are more normal: $287 for .5/1, $386 for 1/3 and $950 for only 14 sessions of 2/5-3/5. Whew! So I do a play a lower variance game than P :).