Skip to main content
ABC News
Poker Update: I’m #441

As you may know, I’m in Las Vegas right now for the World Series of Poker. It’s actually been quite a productive trip: I’ve met a lot of extremely well-known poker players as well as Congressman Barney Frank, who was very impressive. More on those and other things, including the usual business of politics that we cover around here, later on. In the meantime, for of you who feel like indulging me, there’s a bit more on my experience in the poker tournament below the fold.

* My experience yesterday can be broken down into three phases:

– In the first phase, I got poor cards but played pretty well, and made a little bit of money.
– In the second phase, I got poor cards and played poorly, and lost a fair bit of money.
– In the third phase, I got terrific cards and played well enough, and made a lot of money.

The bottom line is that things turned out pretty well. Everyone starts out the tournament with 30,000 chips. I finished the day with slightly over 61,000 chips — fewer than Los Angeles Lakers point guard Jordan Farmar, who is apparently a very good poker player and was briefly among the chip leaders, but more than Ray Romano, who lost all his chips and busted out of the event. This means I’m currently in 441st place (or thereabouts) out of the 6,500 or so players who entered the tournament. Half the field continues play today; I have the day off and then resume tomorrow.

* Playing ten hours of poker — with 2+ hours of breaks in between — as I did yesterday, is absolutely exhausting. I’m not sure if that makes poker a “sport”, but it’s closer than you’d think. Physical stamina is more of a consideration in an event like the “Main Event” of World Series of Poker than is generally understood, the eventual winner of which will have played something like 90 hours or cards to claim his or her title.

* I know that I’m not the best player in the field of 6,500 or so that entered. I’m certainly not among the 100 best, and maybe not among the 1,000 best. My poker aptitude, mind you, is plenty high. But ability is the sum of aptitude and experience, and I just don’t have very much experience at all in these live, big-money tournament settings. Nor is no limit hold ’em, the game played in this tournament, my best one; back when I was playing regularly, I made most of my money from another variant known as limit hold ’em, where all bets are of a fixed size.

But this is true in many aspects of life: the best player/person does not always win. What makes poker somewhat unique is that understanding one’s limits can significantly affect (and improve) one’s strategy. For instance, I’m willing to gamble chips in certain somewhat marginal situations that mostly boil down to luck, because those chips are less valuable to me than they might be to a world-class player who can find a better spot to deploy them. On the other hand, when I got myself in trouble yesterday, it was usually because I played my hand in such a way that forced me to try to “outplay” a top-level opponent. This doesn’t mean that such confrontations can be entirely avoided — in spite of what it might seem like if you watch the the (highly-edited) version of the tournament on ESPN, you can’t win a tournament like this one just by pushing all-in every hand. And there are times when I feel like I definitely have an edge — even against great players. But I have to be realistic about the fact that, when there is a point when a superior player and I each think we are outplaying one another, I’m going to be the one getting pwned more often than not.

The point is, though, that of the 6,500 people who entered the tournament, I’d guess that as many as half of them really do think deep down that they’re the best (or one of the best) poker players in the world. Of course, only one (or a few) of them can be right. But the rest are liable to take the wrong sorts of opportunities against the wrong sorts of opponents.

Nate Silver founded and was the editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.