Friday, March 09, 2007

Art vs. Science

Hoy's question on the difference in skills between cash game and MTT players got me thinking. I think it comes down to the difference between art and science. Now before anyone gets too offended, I am not saying one is all art and one is all science. There are elements of both in both. But I will argue that one type is more of an art than the other, and one is more of a science then the other. Can you guess which one is which?

Lets say you were trying to scientifically analyze poker. Like what they tried to do in the mathematics of poker. It turns out, it is not that easy to do. The math gets very complex if you try to take everything into account. So they did what all good scientists would do when analyzing complex phenomenon. You freeze as many of the variables as possible to simplify the mathematics. So what is the difference between a cash game and a MTT? If you freeze the blinds in an MTT, it starts to look like a cash game. If you freeze the blinds at the start of an MTT and people are about 100BB deep, it starts to look a lot like a cash game. If you do this, require people to pay real cash for the tournament chips, and allow people to exit the tournament at any time and cash out, it is a cash game.

Tournaments are much more complex than cash games because of this. Thus they are much harder to analyze scientifically. For cash games, we can freeze the blinds and start getting into the depths of the analysis. Freezing the blinds allows cash game players to scientifically analyze their play much better. Now I will not say that there is not art to a cash game, but I will say that good players when they are "mixing it up", are doing this for very specific, scientific reasons. They have run the thousands of trials and collected the data, and tweaked their games ever so slightly, and compiled thousands more trials, and tweaked their games just a bit more, rinse repeat. The blind levels being frozen, allows this data to be collected and acted upon.

A new cash game player does not have this data. They are playing more by feel than anything. They are playing by art. But, the good ones learn to trust the data. Trust the trials. Tweak your game. Refine your game. Plug the smallest of leaks. Extract the smallest of edges. Scientifically analyze your game to the point where everything you do has a reason rooted in data. Emotion is not in the equation. This is what the good cash game players do.

Now the tournament player does not have this luxury. He can't run thousands of trials. Things are always changing. M goes up and down. The bubble approaches. The mistake at this point dents my stack. The identical mistake an hour later eliminates me. I don't have the stack to play the way I want to. My opponent does not have the stack to play the way I want to. Because of all this the successful tournament player must be an artist. You simply can't scientifically analyze the play you just made. It was a one-off. It was something that worked that one time for several reasons that you are aware of and a few you don't. You can't run additional trials, because you will never get close to the same initial conditions. You use the information that you have available to you, and make the most creative play based upon it. It is all you can do. You think on your feet, and spontaneously respond to the situation. Then you do it again and again until you get knocked out or win the tournament.

Variance really screws with the MTT players ability to analyze what has happened. With the blinds fixed variance washes away much easier over time for cash game players. For Tournament players variance is much more complicated with the ever increasing blinds. Getting lucky or unlucky late in a tournament can have 100x the magnitude of the same level of luck early in a tournament. Who wins MTTs? A lot of time it is the people who get lucky late. Being lucky early is not enough. You can play great MTT poker for 100s of tourneys, but if you don't get lucky late by chance, you may never get your win. This tends to over magnify certain hands or situations, that would never happen for a cash game player.

Overall, I would say that cash games being simpler, are easier to apply the scientific method to. Good cash game players do this, and as such are able to refine their games much more than an MTT player ever could. Specifically, cash game players are better equiped to make the correct play in a specific situation. MTT players do not have this luxury, so it is more important to be able to creatively adapt to the ever changing conditions, then to tweak your game for a situation that rarely repeats. The type of skills required are different. One is a scientific skill, while one is more of a creative skill. It all comes down to Art Vs. Science.

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At 7:22 PM, Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Excellent theory, blinders (can't believe I haven't seen it somewhere before). Appeals to both my analytical & aesthetic sides.

At 1:18 PM, Blogger Neil said...

I have been struggling with reconciling my tournament play and my ring game play. All of this discussion of one vs. the other has really gotten me thinking. Thank you for an excellent post that helps me sort through even more of the differences.

At 2:18 PM, Blogger Guin said...

Sorry bud we are going to have to disagree on this.... harrington has made the MTT a science... M < 5 first person vigor due to rising blinds is not difficult at all.

Push monkey time doesn't happen in cash games... I think of an MTT that eventually becomes a large SNG where the math dictates the results. Ask the SNG experts and they are bored silly by the boredom of playing as close to a solved game in poker.

Deep stack cash games give people a chance to prove who is the best. Of course this is just my opinion.

At 8:50 AM, Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

Very well said IMO, Blinders. Not sure why so many (cash game) players feel the need to point out how much more skill cash games require than tournaments, but the art vs. science aspect of it I think is a very accurate and useful way of describing the difference between the two. Nice post.

At 7:03 PM, Blogger Miami Don said...

Well written as usual although I have to disagree.

Tournaments are science cash games are art.


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