Conor Mills | Freelance Automotive and Travel Journalist

Freelance Automotive and Travel Journalist

Feature: Poker Robot Wars

Posted by Admin On April - 1 - 2008

If you want to consistently win at sit&gos, then stop playing poker and start ‘pushbotting’

If you play a lot of online poker you will have come across a number of players who make a good living playing mid-stakes online sit&gos.

And yet, while most of us play these one table tournaments – few of us manage to replicate their success. So how exactly do they do it? The answer may surprise you: sit&gos are simple games. Most players just don’t realise it.

According to the pros, sit&gos are practically solved games. It’s not about playing perfect poker – it’s about sticking to a tried-and-tested strategy called ‘pushbotting’. By using this simple strategy, anyone can be a winning player at all levels of sit&gos.

The main principles of ‘pushbot’ play are very straightforward: play tight ABC poker early on, trying to avoid any coin- flip situations, then play push/fold poker in the later stages. Your aim is to take the creativity out of your poker by sticking to pushing or folding. In essence, you are trying to play like a robot.

‘Pushbotting’ is all about making simple decisions during the sit&go endgame. When the blind-to-stack ratios are high, any raise leaves you virtually pot committed, making it most profitable to raise all-in (with maximum fold equity).

Sit&go expert Thomas ‘Buzzer’ Bihl, who won the £2,500 H.O.R.S.E. event at this year’s WSOPE, says: ‘By sticking to either pushing or folding late in sit&gos you are giving up little or no positive expectation and you save a monumental amount of time.’

It could also be argued that the time you save makes it far easier to multi-table, which easily compensates for any loss in average profits the strategy may bring.

To adopt this strategy to full effect, you need a minimum of three big blinds, or your all-in move will be at too high a risk of callers. As a result, you must never let yourself leak chips by playing too loose in the early stages. This is why ‘pushbotting’ is best suited to turbo sit&gos, as the game rapidly moves into the endgame stage where players have ten big blinds or less.

But this strategy is not as simple as it sounds. It’s not about shoving with good hands and folding bad hands. When playing ‘pushbot’ poker you have to analyse your chip stack, how many chips you’ll add to your stack if you steal successfully, what range of hands your opponents will call you with and how you’ll fare if you do get called. It’s a science and not an art. But thanks to software programs, it is now something easily achievable by average players.

Model citizen
The theory behind the science is the ‘Independent Chip Model’ (ICM). ‘The ICM concept tries to give a perfect basic strategy for the endgame in tournament play,’ says Buzzer. Essentially, the ICM model calculates how much your current position is worth as a percentage of the total prizepool.

For example: there are four players left in a ten-man, $10 sit&go. Everyone has 3,000 chips and an equal portion of the prizepool, which equates to an ICM value of 25% or $25.

Now imagine the following: a big pot occurs between the two blinds. You and the button still have 3,000 chips, but the big blind ends up with 5,900 chips and the small blind 100. As a result, your seat is now worth $30.30, the big blind’s seat is worth $37.90, while the small blind’s seat is now worth only $1.40.

Applying this to playing sit&gos is simple. ‘The two instances where ICM comes into play are when to call a push, and when to push on an opponent,’ online pro and sit&go expert ‘BDOG4’ says. For every potential situation you must first work out your chance of winning and losing the hand given that your opponent calls with a certain range of hands.

The predicted chip stacks you and all your opponents will be left with after all outcomes have been worked out can then be converted into their equivalent ICM values. You can then compare ICM values to see which action is more profitable (see below for an example). Doing this by hand is a hugely laborious process, but with all the different endgame software programs available, all the long-winded calculations and analysis can be done for you.

Analyse this
There are currently several software packages that specialise in teaching you how to play perfect ‘pushbot’ poker. The main feature on most of these programs is the ability to upload sit&go hand histories to be analysed. You can see all the decisions you make and whether they were plus or minus EV. If you’re new to ‘pushbotting’, you’ll be amazed at how many mistakes you are making.

They also all feature a quiz facility that allows you to test yourself in any given situation. ‘The SitNGo Wizard’ has a particularly good quiz function that offers a complete review of the hand after every question, whether you got it right or wrong. It recommends what range you could have pushed with and lets you manipulate the situation any way you like.

To play ‘pushbot’ poker successfully, it is very important that you assign hand ranges as accurately as possible, as they can vastly change the outcome. Ranges are most simply expressed as a percentage, starting at 1% – meaning your opponent is super tight and plays only the top 1% of hands (A-A or K-K) – and ranging up to 100%, where they play everything.

‘BDOG4’ – who is the sit&go expert on training site Cardrunners.com – has a simple method for breaking down players. ‘I would just say to pay attention to hands you’re not involved in and watch what they show down against certain actions. You can then associate them to a range based on their looseness. Generally, a tight player will call with around 15% of their hands and a loose player will call with around 30%.’

One of the most popular pieces of software to run these simulations is ‘Sit And Go End Game Tools’ (SNGEGT). ‘I use the heads-up trainer on SNGEGT to help calculate EV,’ says BDOG4. ‘It’s an excellent tool to help you build a feel for the right decisions and I highly recommend using it. Over time, you develop a knack for what is generally the best move in a given situation.’

However, SNGEGT is also the most controversial piece of ‘pushbot’ software currently available, because alongside the trainers, there is a real-time analyser. The main feature of the program is the real- time push/fold equity calculator. This remarkable bit of software gives you a real-time analysis and calculates your push/fold equity and edge for each hand.

It loads in a separate window alongside the sit&gos you are playing in, and gives you all the necessary information to play perfect ‘pushbot’ poker.

Rise of the machines
But are tools like this good for the game or are they turning sit&go poker into a farce? Many pros think that such software is unethical as anyone can play near perfect poker in the late game.

Andrew ‘Good2cu’ Robl is one of the leading online sit&go players, and he’s not happy with the situation. ‘If everyone starts using such programs it will destroy the game. Everyone will be playing the same game and no one will be able to beat the rake.’

Unsurprisingly, Tuomas Järvinen, one of the creators of SNGEGT, is quick to disagree.

‘The human skill factor is still very dominant in the early and middle stages of a sit&go, and there is also a lot of skill and experience needed in accurately predicting player hand ranges.

“Pushbot” programs simply help to translate your opinions about the other players into mathematical consequences. I think there is plenty of art left in sit&go poker.’

Original publication: Inside Poker

Original online version: Click here