In many sports tv analysts, writers, and other talking heads argue about whether players of the past were better than players of the present. Was Michael Jordan better than Lebron James? Can Running Backs of the past like Walter Payton and Jim Brown compare to the physical specimens that are present day running backs like Adrian Peterson and Arian Foster. In poker, we have similar arguments. How good was Stu Ungar, or Chip Reese, or Doyle Brunson compared to modern players like Tom Dwan, Patrik Antonious, or Phil Galfond? Unlike physical sports, where age changes everything, we can actually compare great players of the past like Doyle Brunson or Phil Hellmuth, with modern players of the present when they play each other and safely decide who is the best. And I think most reasonable poker players would conclude that players like Durrr are significantly better than Doyle and Phil.
But is there a difference between what makes a player better than another in a historical sense and what makes a player better, period? Let’s talk about a player like Stu Ungar compared to his peers. This fantastic post analyzing Stu Ungars play from the 97 WSOP ME final table made by Clayton of leggpoker (found here: http://www.leggopoker.com/blogs/clayton/analyzing-ungar-11293.html) shows that Ungar’s play was good even by today’s standards. And compared to the players of his time, it was exceptional. His loose and aggressive preflop play combined with his passive preflop style was a perfect counter to the tight and passive play of his peers. Some of his same strategies are used today.
When arguing who is the best player in the history of poker, I don’t think one can argue solely based on how a player plays. One must also argue how good he was in the context of his time.
Doyle Brunson figured out poker on his own and was able to write the book Super System based solely on what he had taught himself. He was a pioneer in poker. While I’m confident I could beat Doyle in Heads up NL, I am not foolish enough to believe I could have written Super System.
We don’t have a lot of information besides anecdotal evidence on the play of Chip Reese, but he was known as the best deep-stacked cash game player of his time. And these were the biggest games around, he most likely made more money than anyone pre 2003. One could easily argue that he was the best, playing in the biggest and toughest games and winning the most out of anyone.
It’s easy to get trapped in the normal ways to argue about this. In Clayton’s post about the 97 WSOP Final Table, he bashes Ungar for not shoving Axo 10bb sb vs bb, a clear mistake. But Ungar, who was crushing his opponents with his innovative preflop and postflop strategies and superior skill, didn’t care to nor even had the technology to easily assess what he should do in that situation. Context is important. When Phil Hellmuth tells us that Stu would still be the best now, I laugh. But when someone tells us Stu Ungar or Doyle Brunson were the best of their generation, it would be outrageous for me to disagree. When talking about great players in the history of poker, let’s stop talking about who would be who heads up and start talking about the historical context of their achievements.
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A couple of years ago I was teaching my ex how to play poker. She started at $1 sngs on Full Tilt and, like most beginners, made plenty of mistakes. One thing she would initially do was minraise bets postflop. She didn’t really have an explanation why, she just said she thought she should do it. I gave her a simple rule “Do not minraise, ever.” Now, I don’t think this advice is actually correct, but for my girlfriend, I needed to simplify things.
I later observed her minraise a couple of more times and reminder her that she should never do it. The next day I walked into our room and saw her playing, I caught her at the end of a hand. The action looked funny so I asked her to show me the hand history. She was hesistant, “No it’s fine nothing happened…”
“Show it to me”
We looked at the hand history, she minraised the flop with mid pair against a big lead.
I jokingly (I hope I didn’t actually need to add this adjective) said, “I swear to god if you minraise one more f**king time I’m going to stab you!!!”
You’re probably wondering at this point where I’m going with this. No, the point of this post is not to confess that I’m a little bit of a dramatic prick. It’s to compare this story to tournament play today. Most people default to a minraising strategy preflop, and they don’t know why.
I think minraising originated when tournament players discovered that late in tournaments when the antes got big, the pot sizes preflop became big. So big that one could actually raise a size preflop where you would get better than 1:1 on your raise. Meaning, you’d only have to take down the pot less than 50% of the time preflop in order for the raise to be profitable, and that’s not even accounting for possible edges postflop! But while the number 50% is pretty sweet, going from this to deciding to minraise is illogical. Can you find the fallacy in this logic?
I’ll give you a second to think about it…
Alright I’ll tell you, the fallacy is this: lets say the blinds are 200/400/50 (50 ante) at a 9 handed table. That means the pot preflop will be 1050 chips every time. If you raise to 1050, you only need to win 50% of the time to be breakeven, like I stated before. But what if you raise 1400? Well you would then need to win 1400/2450 or ~57% of the time for it to break even. That’s not much more. The fact is, antes make the pot huge preflop, which means that you’re going to get a good price on small, medium, and big raises. Trying to go for under 50% is not a proper way to formulate a strategy.
So let’s go back to basics, how much should I be raising preflop? When I consider this question I think of a few things:
1) How much fold equity will this raise have?
2) How will my raise size effect the amount I get 3bet?
3) Do I want the pots to be big or small postflop?
While there are other factors that go into it, these are probably the most important ones (I may be forgetting something). Now when considering these questions, I come to a certain conclusion about what my raise size should be. Can you guess what it is?
I’ll give you a hint… It’s not F**king Minraising.
p.s. I hope everyone disagrees with this post because I’d rather you all continue to minraise pre.
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