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Geeks Playing Poker? 431

Posted by timothy
from the and-blackjack dept.
Ben Collins writes "I recently won a satellite tournament at Full Tilt Poker for entry into the World Poker Tour Final at Foxwoods Casino. I picked up poker as a hobby about 4 months ago, and consider myself a decent player, maybe due to programming experience (analytical thinking). Any other programmers/computer people find that they can play poker better than the average person because of their computer experience?"
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Geeks Playing Poker?

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  • Indeed (Score:4, Interesting)

    by odano (735445) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @04:51PM (#10615969)
    I took up poker a couple years ago before it became popular online, and now I play from time to time online, and I would consider myself a winning player.

    The thing with poker is the game isn't all too complicated if we are talking about online play, where sound betting strategy will win you money. Give a logical thinking person a simple poker strategy to play, they will do fine and definetly win some money online.

    Online poker is all about logic and patience, and at least the former is found in most computer people, which is why I am guessing they will do much better at the strategic part, which will more or less translate into playing winning poker.
  • Teh Gates! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sh1ftay (822471) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @04:51PM (#10615972)
    Don't forget Bill Gates was a notorious poker player in college, writing thousand dollar checks at the end of the night usually.
  • Definately (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Gantic (460802) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @04:53PM (#10615986)
    I play a lot of online poker (about 10-12 hours a week) and consider to myself to be a good player, regularly winning $30 tournaments and even have a couple of multi table wins under my belt.

    I go out to the Grovesner Casino in Great Yarmouth (England) a few times occasionally and have won the tournaments there simply by playing out the odds, and always starring at my chips, not playing with them at all, and just doing everything like a robot, thus giving away hopefully no tells! Perhaps I would have less success at a major tournament but certainly on a social level those odds calculating and keeping a steady game and not going on a "tilt" can definately make you win.

    Its a game for mugs though
  • Re:Indeed (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TopShelf (92521) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @04:54PM (#10615998) Homepage Journal
    Agreed - especially online, winning poker is more about the patience to wait for good opportunities than anything else.
  • Survival! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by madgeorge (632496) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @04:56PM (#10616012)
    I've been playing poker since I was proably 5 or 6 years old. Growing up , when we visited my grandparents' house my dad, my grandfather and my uncle always played poker in another room while my mom helped my grandmother in the kitchen. I bothered them until they let me play, but their condition was that I had to put up my own money. Betting your allowance against a bunch of guys who really would take it and not feel sorry for you makes you think pretty seriously about strategy, odds and winning.
  • by complex (18458) <complex@@@split...org> on Sunday October 24, 2004 @05:10PM (#10616089) Homepage
    avi freedman [freedman.net], chief network scientist at akamai [akamai.com] and all around cool cool guy and networking geek, made it to the final table of pot limit omaha at the world series of poker.
  • by inkedmn (462994) <inkedmnNO@SPAMinkedmn.com> on Sunday October 24, 2004 @05:13PM (#10616114) Homepage
    I don't think that being a programmer automatically makes you more apt at poker, since playing good poker is just as much about reading players as it is about calculating odds. BUT...

    I know of at least 2 exceptional professional poker players with extensive computer background: Chris "Jesus" Ferguson has a PhD in computer science, and you'll often hear him talking about how his studies in game theory have helped him at the poker table (and I'm thinking he's right, since he won the WSOP main event in 2000). Also, Barry Greenstein (he's also got 2 WSOP bracelets, iirc - neither were main event wins) is a former programmer who worked for Symantec for about 12 years through the mid-90's. As a side note, he donates every penny of his tournament winnings to charity (and I've seen him win over $1 million at a WPT event).

    I've been playing poker for about 6 months now (pretty seriously, been competing in tournaments and reading some of the classic poker books), and I consider myself to be fairly accomplished (poker paid for my neuros audio computer [neurosaudio.com], so I must be somewhat OK), and I'd have to say that being a programmer has helped a great deal with getting better.

    As I said, being a good poker player has just as much to do with being able to understand your opponent as it does with being able to count outs and figure oods on the spot. If you can get a dead read on the guy you're in the pot with, you're in better shape than if you've got 24 outs post flop because if you know what he's holding, there's no stopping you.
  • by KJE (640748) <ken@kje.ca> on Sunday October 24, 2004 @05:16PM (#10616132) Homepage
    Not so much about poker, but Brining Down the House [amazon.com] is a neat read about how some MIT students (definition of geek, no?) took Vegas casinos and other for millions playing blackjack.
  • by EverLurking (595528) <slashNO@SPAMdavechen.org> on Sunday October 24, 2004 @05:19PM (#10616147) Homepage
    Well, this is about Blackjack not Poker I know, but interesting none the less in that if you have a good mathematically sound system (ie. card counting), you can turn the odds in BlackJack in your favor. Wired had a great article "Hacking Las Vegas" [wired.com] awhile back about a team of BlackJack players from MIT that really worked the Casinos over for a goodly amount of time before the Casino's finally caught on. Apparently it was quite an innovative method that was harder to detect as the roles were spread out between several players in a team. DaveC
  • by deicide (195) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @05:27PM (#10616197)
    Finger (johnc@idsoftware.com) entry from 1998:

    2/8/98
    ------
    Just got back from the Q2 wrap party in vegas that Activision threw for us.

    Having a reasonable grounding in statistics and probability and no belief in luck, fate, karma, or god(s), the only casino game that interests me
    is blackjack.

    Playing blackjack properly is a test of personal discipline. It takes a small amount of skill to know the right plays and count the cards, but the
    hard part is making yourself consistantly behave like a robot, rather than succumbing to your "gut instincts".

    I play a basic high/low count, but I scale my bets widely -- up to 20 to 1 in some cases. Its not like I'm trying to make a living at it, so the
    chance of getting kicked out doesn't bother me too much.

    I won $20,000 at the tables, which I am donating to the Free Software Foundation. I have been meaning to do something for the FSF for a long
    time. Quake was deployed on a dos port of FSF software, and both DOOM and Quake were developed on NEXTSTEP, which uses many FSF based tools. I don't subscribe to all the FSF dogma, but I have clearly benefited from their efforts.
  • by Xenographic (557057) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @05:30PM (#10616211) Homepage Journal
    Online, it can come down to whether the other people at the table are in collusion with one another...

    And no, I don't think cryptograph can fix that problem, because out of band communications (phone, IM, etc.) will always be available so long as the players cannot be monitored.

    Not to mention the issue of whether or not you can trust the casino. I'm not saying you can't necessarily, but more that I just wouldn't unless we were all there together, in person.
  • Re:We aren't smarter (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 24, 2004 @05:41PM (#10616268)
    You're knee-jerking to an opinion he didn't state.

    There is a general tendency for programmers to be better at certain types of problems - particularly mathematics and deductive reasoning.

    This isnt "wishful thinking" - they are traits that are extremely useful to professional programmers. Anybody who is lousy at them probably won't pursue a career in programming.

    So yes, the traits that are useful when playing online poker are generally higher in programmers than non-programmers. This isn't to say that the programmers are smarter, just that those particular traits are, on average, higher in programmers. People who are better at other stuff will usually excel in other subjects rather than programming.

    You are seeing a superiority complex where there is none.
  • by irenetheno (643089) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @05:55PM (#10616372)
    There was a good edutainment program on The History Channel [aetv.com] recently called Breaking Vegas [amazon.com].

    One of the members of that MIT blackjack team (Semyon Dukach) is now running BlackJackScience.com. [blackjackscience.com]

  • It really depends... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Arcanix (140337) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @06:49PM (#10616659)
    Being intelligent does give you a large advantage in poker when it comes to determining probabilities. The ability to calculate quickly how many outs you have as well as other factors like pot odds and implied odds is extremely useful. Also, it should provide some hedge against going on tilt although this happens to any player one time or another regardless of what they might say.

    That said, online poker is much more mechanical than live poker and the advantages for the analytical mind are stronger online by a significant amount. In live play it is much more about profiling people, sensing weakness, and so on then actually what cards you are holding. Online play for any good player is a strictly "by the numbers" you only have to profile particularly bad (or rarely, particularly good) players.

    One rather large caveat, being smart/analytical is great but it will not save you against an extremely experienced player. Of course, the ideal is to be both intelligent and experienced, then you are nearly unstoppable (in the long term of course, short term anything can happen).

    Myself [www.rage.ws] and the majority of my friends play poker professionally, some extremely successfully [thunderkeller.com] but all make a good living. Note that all of us have college degrees but have not bothered to us them yet.

    All it takes to be successful is three things:

    1) Money

    This is a no brainer you have to have enough money so that you can lose for a significant amount of time without busting your bankroll. It is helpful to have other friends who play and can lend you money if things go bad. To make a good living I'd recommend playing 2-3 tables of 15-30 around 30 hours a week online, for this you'll need about $10,000 to be safe. A good 15-30 player that plays full time, 3-4 tables should be able to make around $60,000 a year or more depending. Typically though an excellent player will move to higher limits when they start making this amount of money.

    2) Theory

    Books, books, books. Of course the "Bible" for Hold 'Em is Sklansky and Malmuth's Hold 'Em Poker for Advanced Players [amazon.com]. There are a lot of others but this is the best to start with in my opinion. In addition, if you know someone who is already a professional theory knowledge can be gained by simply watching them play and asking them questions.

    3) Experience

    Don't need to say much here. A professional playing for 5 years will school you 60+% of the time if you've only been playing for a year. The more the better. Note that the "play money" games do not count as experience nor does limits below 5-10/10-20 really prepare you for a 15-30 or 30-60.

    As an aside, tournament play can definitely get you experience but don't count on it improving your play dramatically in standard games, with the exception of profiling and reading people. Not only are tournaments typically no limit but they have a much different dynamic in general. There are many good tournament players who suck at ring games and vice versa.

    Anyways, the best thing about being a poker player is the total freedom, you can work whenever you want, or not work for a week if you don't feel like it. If you feel like taking a vacation you can just go, of course sometimes you do have to go to places like Aruba and play tournaments, what a drag! :) Also, most people think it's a pretty cool job and like to talk to you about it...

    I highly recommend it but be warned you WILL lose money at first, and you WILL be incredibly stressed out much of the time. Playing is inherently stressful, especially when you hit a dry spell where you lose for a week or two straight. Make sure if this happens, to stay calm, playing looser will not get your money back quicker!
  • by hunterx11 (778171) <hunterx11&gmail,com> on Sunday October 24, 2004 @07:05PM (#10616766) Homepage Journal
    Being a geek can indeed sometimes help you to win at roulette. [snopes.com]
  • by PostScience (617557) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @07:31PM (#10616920)
    Do you have any evidence to back this up? It could work if two or more bots teamed up at the same table. It is difficult though to write a good multi-player poker program. The University of Alberta's program only plays one on one. Not to mention the difficulty of screen-scraping or decrypting the communications between the client and server.

    I seriously doubt that there are many bots out there.
  • by harikiri (211017) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @07:54PM (#10617038)
    I'm reminded of a line from Rounders [imdb.com], where Matt Damon's character says of the "Judges Game" (paraphrasing) "I realised - in this room of learned-minds, there was not one real poker player".

    Intelligence (or geek skills) isn't the sole requirement. Knowledge will get you so far, but your ability to play the game (primarily the social aspect as you said). At the professional level, so much comes down to reading the other man, and controlling your reactions to how the cards and bets are played out. You can know odds and betting patterns, but hiding that grin when you make a good hand is worth so much more...

  • by Mike Farooki (85314) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @08:04PM (#10617115)
    I played in a regular Hold 'Em game several years ago, before the recent popularity boom. A few months, I started getting back into the game, playing online and checking out some of the tournament play on cable TV. Pop culture has ruined the game.

    The first sign was my 13 and 15 year-old cousins giving me playing tips at a low limit game at their aunt's wedding. These kids look up to poker "stars" with the same intensity they looked up to Derek Jeter a couple of years ago. Weird. (Their mother didn't seem to mind too much when I schooled them for about $20 total, by the way.)

    The second sign was when I went to my first "real" game in several years. Many of the doofuses in attendance had donned "crazy" sunglasses--just like the "stars" on ESPN wear. Other guys had developed their own nervous habits of shuffling their cards, shuffling their chips, etc. So many of the iconic expressions of poker have now been popularized and I think it sucks. It reminds me of when the Red Hot Chili Peppers made it big in the early 1990s, and al of the sudden, all the jocks in high school were wearing Mother's Milk shirts.

    I am by no means a pro poker player. I'm not even a good poker player. But damn if I don't hate to see the ghetto of poker being gentrified by a bunch of baseball-cap-wearing, Ray-Ban mofos from the 'burbs.
  • by wetdogjp (245208) on Sunday October 24, 2004 @08:52PM (#10617412) Homepage

    I own a small store in the local mall that sells poker supplies for home games, so I follow the poker trend with some interest. (Shameless plug: bloomingtonpoker.com [bloomingtonpoker.com]) I also play a *lot* of poker, and I'm pretty knowledgable of the poker scene.

    Now, I also spent a few years as a network admin before starting a business. I think there are a few factors as to why programmers, or more importantly those with substantial computer skills, make good poker players.

    For one thing, computer professionals tend to be more intelligent with numbers, and more comfortable with straight-up theory. One of the hardest things to explain to new players is why you can make exactly the correct decisions and still not win the hand.

    Also, programmers and admins don't mind (and in fact rather enjoy) immersing themselves in tedious material to master a subject. The average player will learn the rules of the game and think they know everything there is to know about poker. But there are countless nuances to the game (think pot-odds, check-raising, semi-bluffing) that one needs to read and practice in order to master.

    Computer folk are also known to possess refined analytical skills, since we use and hone them everyday.

    Now, at our store we get a lot of parents who are concerned that teaching their kids to play poker will give them gambling habits. We turn that around (partially as a selling point, but really the point is honest) and tell them all the skills their kids will learn from it. At the youngest ages, it will teach them to count. For older kids, learning pot-odds is good math, and they're learning to make decisions based on a complilation of many factors. It also gives them social skills to be good winners and good losers. Much like being a programmer is good for playing poker, learning poker at a young age will certainly turn out some good code-monkeys in a few years.

    -Ding

  • Re:We aren't smarter (Score:2, Interesting)

    by xott (815650) on Monday October 25, 2004 @04:38AM (#10619032) Homepage
    Not true.
    Any regular casino visitor loses consistently. The best bets in casinos offer just less than half a chance of winning. Therefore, the majority of bets placed lose.

    Nearly every gambler I have seen (in 10 years casino work) is uneducated about mathematical nature of the games, ill disciplined with their betting, keeps no records of their play. Luck and superstition play more of a part in their decision making than any logic.
    I have been playing online poker for about a year. Thankfully, online players are mostly the same as the mugs walking down the strip. Most have no idea about the game and just want the titillation of a gamble. Though some can talk about pot odds, positional play etc. most really have no idea and rely far more upon luck than upon stats.

    Which is all good for my account status :)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 25, 2004 @08:04AM (#10619827)
    "you WILL be incredibly stressed out much of the time. Playing is inherently stressful, especially when you hit a dry spell where you lose for a week or two straight..."

    I'm not stressed at all when I play and I theres something wrong if you are. I play 5 tables online simultaneously at a rate of 350 hands an hour so each one is pretty unimportant. Its the same kind of fun as playing a computer game but its relaxing not stressful.
  • poker books (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 25, 2004 @08:56AM (#10620174)
    Poker Books are the biggest waste of time and money. If you have to read a book to learn theory behind poker, your in big trouble. Of course there are situiations where stastically you should make a particular move, if it be to raise or fold, or etc... but this should be learned the hard way in my opinion. The best way to learn is to screw up yourself with friends, then read some washed up pro's poker book becuase he can't adjust to all the 21 year olds romping him in casinos, and needs to make money another way. Everything I have ever read in a poker book has been immediately followed by the phrase "well no sh*t stupid." Save your self the $49.95 and get some real expierence and lose $5 to your friends.

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