Some thoughts on TBJ, Poker, and Skill Versus Luck, and the Consequences

Discussion in 'Sidewalk Cafe' started by RKuczek, Feb 12, 2009.

  1. Lil Sissy

    Lil Sissy Banned User

    Last edited: Feb 14, 2009
  2. Fredguy

    Fredguy New Member

    If blackjack tournaments ever have a tour similar to professional golf, then Ken Smith would be the Tiger Woods of the tour, and Joe Page could be the John Daly.
  3. Lil Sissy

    Lil Sissy Banned User

    Additional Research

    Upon your request for tournament listings, in the same issue of All In Dec 2007 that had Joe Pane ranked as the #1 ranked Tournament Player there were 27 open to the public tournaments that were listed on the tournament schedule, all of these tournaments were eligible for consideration towards the ranking system, all that would be need to sanction them were for the casino to report the results to All In Magazine.

    Of the 27 tournaments ONLY 2 were UBT tournaments. Seems like the UBT really had a shill program going on with this ranking system. Please give us all a break with your anti UBT and anti All In Ranking system agenda.

    I assume it’s not an anti Joe Pane agenda since you already said you really don’t know much about him or his play because if you did you would give credit where credit is due.
  4. KenSmith

    KenSmith Administrator Staff Member

    The All-In magazine ranking system may not have been perfect, but it was as close as we've ever seen. The formula for points and the eligibility of events was determined through a lot of back and forth between quite a few people consulted for the process. I was among that group, and I think the final method was sound and accurate. While in the early months of the rankings the UBT events dominated the results, by the end of the year the rankings did reflect a lot more balance.

    While others have made kind statements about my skills, I sure didn't represent very well in the year that the rankings applied. I was AC's preseason pick at #1, and I steadily slid down the ratings all year until I don't even appear in the top 25.

    The ratings accurately did what they were supposed to do, which is reward actual results. Joe earned his way to the top by winning, winning, and more winning. It was an impressive season, and he fully deserves the top slot.

    It is regrettable that All-In's blackjack content wasn't a success in the market. I really think that the rankings system would have become a useful tool for comparisons, and a motivating factor to keep the top talent engaged in the events all year long.
  5. RKuczek

    RKuczek Member


    Lil Sissy

    I haven't posted for a couple of days, as I have had out of town guests - but - I do owe you an apology - I was coming back a little strong - and shouldn't have - you made some good points on a couple of things I posted that weren't as accurate as I thought -

    What set me off was a post about the level of skillfulness in tbj ended up being a dialogue about Joe Pane's playing skills - when I had made no comment at all on that - and - in fact - do not think I have ever commented on my opinion on Joe's skills - on any internet forum - my comments on the All-In ranking system were not intended as a comment on any individual player - certainly not on Joe's play. In poker, there are now two circuits, the WPT and the WSOP, which, together, comprise virtually all the open, major, tournaments, which all the top pros play in - and these tourneys are held at casinos all over the world - one could legitimately rank the top pros each year based on their performance in these tourneys, I think.

    In tbj, we have never had that situation. Very few open, major tournaments, no standardized rules, a lot of money in tournaments which are invitational, and a lot of top players who focus on the invitational tourneys for that reason. Also - less even geographical distribution of the tourneys. No real circuit for tbj. Rick was trying to set something like that up, but, limited success. I do not think the All-In rankings achieved this level of comprehensiveness, that the WSOP and WPT tourneys comprise. Unless you can include all the majors, and the All-In rankings did not, and, have a way to account for the invitationals, where so much of the tbj money is, I don't think we can claim a definitive rankings system.

    That is not a reflection on Joe's ranking; his performance in open tourneys included in the All-In rankings in 2007 legitimately ranked him as the top player for that year, based on performance in those tourneys, and, I can not think of any other player who would have showed as well, even if additional open majors had been included. He had a great year. I play against Joe on UB a pretty fair amount, and I respect his playing skills; I would very much enjoy a chance to play him in a live tourney.

    One can endlessly argue who the best players are. My personal opinion is that both Ken Smith and S.Yama play at a level clearly above any other player. You are certainly entitled to disagree with that. My opinion as to who the two best are is not a slur on any other player, as there are many good players, who deserve respect for their skills. The only way to really determine who is the best, would be a long term, comprehensive, and complete rankings system, which I really do not feel that All-In rankings achieved. Certainly they did not track over years of play.

    It would be great to see rankings for tbj such as they can come up with for poker, based on all major tourneys played, and even internet play rankings, which for poker are quite comprehensive.
  6. London Colin

    London Colin Top Member

    I think the difference is even more stark than that. In 20-25 hands, how many opportunities do you get to make meaningful decisions that have a significant impact on your chance of survival? Probably no more than three or four. And of these opportunities, how many present a highly skilled player with a chance to do significantlty better than a moderately skilled player would? Probably very few (although, not counting myself among the highly skilled, I can't say for sure;)).

    Poker structures vary, but a typical poker tournament lasts a lot longer than a BJ tournament with the same number of players. During that extended period, the poker player can pick and choose when to put a significant amount of his BR at stake. If he doesn't go crazy, he can afford to be unlucky quite a few times, and even make a few mistakes, and still go on to recover.

    So I'd say some semblance of 'the long term' has the chance to assert itself within a single poker tournament, whereas in BJ you need to consider a sequence of many tournaments, each individual BJ tournament being a statistical event, in which you may have the edge but the cards have the greatest say about how well you will do.
  7. RKuczek

    RKuczek Member

    skill vs. luck in poker

    Think about the opportunities for skilled play to assert itself in poker. First, you don't have to bet until you see your cards (except for blinds or antes). A skilled played would be superior at evaluating starting hands. Second, you have opportunity to 'read' another player, and evaluate their hands, based on their betting. Finally, a skilled player can misrepresent his/her hand, and thereby gain an advantage. Three distinct skills, all which work after the player can see his/her cards.

    There is nothing comparable to this in tbj. In tbj you must bet before you see the cards, often before seeing a key opponent's bet, and, you then trust to luck, playing probablities, but with no knowledge of what cards you or an opponent will have.

    Finally, poker is a zero sum game, what you win, someone else loses, so that the edge a skilled player has is magnified, because he actually can take chips from another player.

    Just many more opportunities for skill to assert itself in poker.

    One final element. TBJ is often single player advance. Maybe two players advance. The comparable element in poker is when the number of players surviving becomes too small for a game to continue. This is usually when the table drops to about 6 players or so. The TBJ equivalent would be three advance? So poker players even get an edge in format, in a sense.

    Bottom line; the skill edge in tbj is very thin, and that does affect how we view tourney opportunities and what kind of tourneys casinos run. And, of course, our potential for winning money at tbj.
  8. askdick

    askdick Member

    Tournament Blackjack vs. ....

    Tournament Blackjack is what it is...entertainment... Unles you win a biggie, there is no way you can beat the game. There is a small amount of skill involved (I say 5% at best) and this amount of skill will never make you a winner....Comparing BJ to poker is just about like comparing crazy eights to bridge or yatzee to backgammon.

    I consider myself a better than average player and in 2008 I entered 146 tournaments with 251 entries. I made the final table 26 times (3 wild cards) and won 4 tournaments. I netted $660.00 for the year that included 3 trips from Vegas to Winstar. Not exactly anything to brag about!!! OR pay the rent with the profits.

    Tournament blackjack will be just entertainment until they bring back the 500.00 buy in cash games where you could make money at the table for your round. I do not believe that will ever happen.

    I am in training for tournament poker. Not ready yet but soon....

    This is just 1 mans opinion...
  9. bjmace

    bjmace Member

    In short UBT format was most skillfill

    What you have without realising in the above statement is said what Many believed and that was that the UBT format turned what was otherwise a mostly luck structure into something that was a much higher skilled game.
    Which is why players like Phil Hellmuth would be the first to tell you they enjoy playing a UBT format tournament more then poker.
    The secret bet undoubtly added an element of skill that if used correctly can give a massive edge.

    As pointed out in standard tournaments its usually somebody getting lucky and hitting a bj on the last 2 hands with a big bet out and with only 2 going through this often sees the most skilled of players not advancing, By having elimination hands a skilled player can usually put themselves into a high/low situation on elimation hands and thus find them selves often not only on the last hands but as there are only 3 players left nearing the end the chances of a lucky bj hitting in these latter stages and affecting the outcome are around 50% less Which is why time after time In UBT tournaments more so then others the cream rises and you found top players making final table after final table.

    Add secret actions, and what UBT achieved was an amazing format which made tournaments highly actioned, skillful and enjoyable.

    It is a real shame that the small world of TBJ players seemed to spend the whole time bickering, stirring and attacking each other which partly lead to the near demise of not just UBT format but the whole of our little world.
    For those who are getting the only opportuninty to date this year to play live UBT format on next month's Cruise will be great to meet all new and old faces
    good luck at the tables and whether it's poker or Bj your entering
    prepare to be Maced :D
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2009
  10. tgun

    tgun Member


    United we could have stood, divided we fell.

  11. RKuczek

    RKuczek Member

    Thin Edge

    askdick - what you posted is exactly what I was getting at - there is a very thin edge in tbj even for the very best players. Let's do some psuedo-math - say 343 players, each putting in $100, no rake, single advance, seven at a table, only final table gets paid - so - the best players in the world, with a 60% edge - have a 5.2245% chance of making the final table - allowing for the expert's edge at the final table, reasonable guesstimate is the expert would have expected winnings of $409.60 per tournament (long term average) - subtract the $100 buy-in - a glorious net profit expectation of $300.60 per tourney - let's hope there aren't a lot of travel expenses involved - or that net profit quickly becomes a net loss expectation - and that's in a $34,300 tourney with no rake - add in a 10% rake - like the poker players have to live with - and it gets worse -

    If you are going to make a living as a pro tbj player - you had better be one of the half dozen best in the world - then live in vegas and play the invitationals - and - that is exactly what the best players do, essentially - at least the ones that have anything near a legitimate claim to being true pros at tbj-

    I think this thin edge really affects the whole nature of the game - from how many play it to how the casinos put on tourneys - and it should be a big element in how we look at the game and evaluate tournaments and develop strategies and tactics -
  12. toolman1

    toolman1 Active Member

    You presented some very grim and sobering statistics, RKuczek. If I was new to Blackjack Tournaments, I would have disagreed with some of the assumptions you made in calculating win probabilities. However, due to my observations of actual tournaments over time, I believe you are pretty much on the money (no pun intended).

    When I first got into BJTs, I read Wong's book which implied that most (maybe even the vast majority) players were totally ignorant of BJT strategy and therefore winning was easy pickings. That may have been true at the time of the writing and I believe the incredible victories in the early days of BJTs by the "pros" bares this out - but times have changed. Most players today have at least a basic knowledge of strategy so luck plays an increasing part - especially in larger tournaments.

    I have seen some of the best players in the business go down in defeat over and over because any one out of hundreds of semi-ploppies in a given tournament can and will get lucky and beat the seasoned player because its his turn to get lucky. I have also seen some of the best players get lucky and DD with that hard 12 and get hit with an 8 or 9. Skill? :confused: Hardly!!! :(
  13. LeftNut

    LeftNut Top Member

    Bit of a "shotgun" post here. I have been following this thread with a great deal of interest, finally deciding to jump in after reading quite a number of well expressed posts. Good arguments on both sides.

    IMHO, debating the skill of TBJ vs. poker is an apples-to-oranges argument. Two significantly different skillsets are needed for each one. TBJ places a much higher value on the ability to perform mental mathematical gymnastics while poker rewards those who are better able to read even the most infinitesimal nuances of body language. In addition, and as pointed out here by some folks earlier, the primary reason that poker seems to reward skill better than TBJ is in the length of the game. It's typical that we are given maybe 20 hands in a round, while the WSOB Main Event took how long - over a week? - to play out. In any gambling-related endeavor, a shorter run will increase the effect of luck. That's basic math.

    Imagine a poker tournament where the blinds increased by one unit every single hand. Suddenly, luck would become a huge factor because you'd better get some good cards in a big hurry. On the other hand, imagine a BJT where we played 200 hands per round, 100K starting bankrolls, 100 min / 5000 max bets. Skill would become a much more highly rewarded commodity.

    I'm not at all sure about the assertion that the average BJT player is getting a lot better, although my time frame of reference is mighty short compared to most folks here. Last year, I was on the receiving end of some good fortune through incredibly boneheaded plays by other players at my tables. Ignace, Nugget/LV, and yes - even at Winstar. If they are better now, one must shudder to think of how bad they must have been before! I think many people really do believe that BJT's are dumb luck and will play because of that. Quite frankly, those of us here who do know what we're doing should try to foster that misconception. More fish in the pond makes for better fishing.

    The argument that seeing the cards before betting reduces the necessary skill level is hogwash. The superior TBJ player will figure out an optimal bet that gives him/her the most options after the deal while the inferior player will frequently place themselves in the hands of Lady Luck, sometimes crippling themselves. Certainly you can make a wonderfully superior bet and get screwed by the cards, but the same thing happens in HoldEm all the time. Bad beats are part of both games. Hellmuth whines constantly about the hefty increase in Donkeys at the WSOP, yet the only way they can beat him is by getting lucky so he's doing pretty good despite the occasional ridiculous bad beat. Both games involve a deck of cards, and because of that, Lady Luck will cop a squat over you sometimes. That's the nature of the beast.

    To close, the only reason that BJT's appears to be less skill-based than poker tournaments is simply the length of the games. Poker events last long enough for the skilled players to enjoy the results of their advantage. If you play enough BJT's with superior skill, you will, too.
  14. RKuczek

    RKuczek Member


    leftnut - I was argueing that seeing the cards before you bet allowed for MORE skill, not less - a good poker player is beter at evaluating starting hands - so he benefits from seeing the cards before he has to put money on the table - think about how poker would play if the players had to bet before seeing their hole cards? it would play a lot more like tbj - with a much bigger luck factor.

    I agree that the length of the games affects the skill level - the shorter the rounds, the more luck is the ruling factor - one reason I think that UB's ebj is inherently less skillful than regular tbj - because of the effect of the elimination hands - but I do think the difference between poker and tbj is more than that

    May I propose the "too many ploppies" factor in tbj? - when you are at a table filled with very bad players - and they are chunking out chips - the odds favor AT LEAST one of them getting lucky - while if you chunk out chips, the odds favor that you WILL NOT be the one who gets lucky - when you have tables with only 10 to 15 hands - it is hard to play from behind and catch the lucky ploppy - so - the best tables are a) multiple advance - because you can let the one lucky ploppy go and play the rest of the table and b) tables with only one or two wild bettors - as then the odds will favor the wild bettors bankrupting out - so you can play against the remaining players - and your skill then becomes a relevant factor.

    Why do I believe this theory? - after tracking my play over long periods at UB - I find I have a higher edge the higher the buy-in is. I do better at the $30 tables than the $20, better at the $20 than the $10, and so forth - when all the other players are chunking out chips from the beginning, as at the $2 and $5 tables - some one gets lucky - maybe two or three - then you are forced to go after them early - because of the elimination hands - so the game devolves to luck more than skill - skill gives an edge - but not as much as at tables where the players bet more rationally - too many ploppies spoil the table
  15. LeftNut

    LeftNut Top Member


    Mea culpa, RK - I misunderstood your point about betting before/after seeing the cards. Oops. :D

    I feel that the UBT variation does tend to lessen the skill factor in one respect - ploppies bombing away with crazy bets (and hitting them) have a bigger effect when those eliminations come along every 8 hands. On the flip side, however, having those frequent elims increases the skill factor on another front - that being the reward for intelligent betting in a do-or-die situation. A perfect example is BJBeauty's final table for the Winstar Million. While I still strongly maintain that Doc is no ploppy, his aggressive betting style was rewarded by some great cards and he was able to build up an enormous lead. Had it been a UBT style table, the final outcome might have been quite different. Even though the total number of hands played was quite a bit less than optimal to fully reward his highly skilled opponents, everyone at the table was still able to stay in the game and take their shot at his big chip lead.

    RK's "too many ploppies" theory has strong merit. It sounds very much like what Hellmuth, and quite a few other poker superstars, complain about re: WSOP Main Event. The donks make so many wild bets on long-shot hands, and some will get lucky and hit the right card. It is why the poker players consider the $50,000 "HORSE" side event to be the true measure of a world champion. Far fewer unskilled players in an event with such a large entry fee. The only problem with that viewpoint is that many truly skilled players simply don't have the bankroll and can't find a deep-pockets backer for it. The same would be true if someone hosted a world championship BJT with a huge entry fee. I can name many players who couldn't afford the entry fee (including myself, most likely) so it would become a battle of those who could afford it instead of a battle between everyone who would be deserving of a world-class title.

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