2021 World Series of Poker Europe

Obsessed With Your “All-in EV”? It’s a Negative Freeroll

All-in EV

Poker players love a positive freeroll. In hold’em we love having a flush draw with top pair-top kicker against the same hand without one. Some PLO players make their living from getting it in with the nuts against the nuts and having their redraws lined up for a scoop. Many of us started out online playing freerolls. Something for nothing, you can’t beat that.

While poker players love a good positive freeroll, they are less inclined to avoid the negative ones. Many can’t help but look at their hole cards after a walk. Some even have the egregious habit of rabbit hunting the turn or the river. There’s nothing to win, but still they cannot resist.

Today I want to discuss one other negative freeroll that still finds itself in common practice — looking at your All-in EV.

Back when I was still coaching I noticed two things among my cash game students. One was that all of them narrated their recent online poker ventures through the lens of All-in Expected Value — that stat available in tracking programs that compares your actual results to your expectation for all-in situations.

The second was that whether they were “running above” or “running below” All-in EV, it was messing with their confidence.

Those running above felt like they were due to come back to earth, suspected their play hadn’t been great, and generally felt mildly undeserving of their success. Meanwhile those running below felt they had been slighted, that they weren’t getting their due, and that their poker growth or aspirations to move up in stakes had been retarded by the universe’s capricious whims.

I invariably told my students that I hadn’t looked at All-in EV in years. I remember the day I decided to turn it off. Well, I remember the month, at least — it was September 2011. I have noticed a couple of things about myself since doing so.

First, I have never been curious. In fact All-in EV only came back to my mind as a concept when someone, usually a student, would mention it. Second, I had a more peaceful disposition during and after all-ins. I think I previously took all-ins to be a test of mettle, an opportunity to steel myself, to work on my mental fortitude. That’s a good enough attitude, I think, but after I turned off All-in EV I had an easier time accepting my fate every time it left my hands. And so it’s gone.

I noticed also, as with other things, I would mention this “best practice” to others, and fellow poker players (students or otherwise) would agree with me. They accepted the idea it was a sound habit to cultivate. But how many did it themselves? Very few, if any.

It isn’t just that All-in EV is a cracked looking glass. It is a true negative freeroll. Some of you might say, “But I am different, I am an objective observer who is genuinely curious. And this curiosity, being genuine, is academic and of interest.” I don’t believe you. Truthfully, what are the chances that you are? It is more likely that you’re deluding yourself — as I had been, every time I decided to look at my All-in EV mid- or post-session, telling myself it was going to be of some solace or assistance or that I could handle a peek.

What looking at All-in EV does is encourage the same bad habit MTT players have in telling sob stories, also known as bad beat stories. It assists you in the creation of some narrative — a story that you can tell yourself and (insufferably) others, about how your poker trajectory is somehow off course from what it would otherwise have been in some ideal universe of Newtonian celestial motion.

This in turn encourages you to avoid taking some responsibility for your poker fate. Come back to earth. What is is. The cards fall as they may. And you have not just to accept that, but take ownership of it.

How you are playing? How you are feeling? How big is your bankroll? How much sleep did you get? What is the skill level of your opponents in the game you’re thinking of playing? The answers to these questions along with other ingredients are what go into your game selection decisions. How well you ran the last session or how well you’ve run over X period of time has nothing to do with it. There is actually no reason for you to waste limited resources on the metric. You can only benefit from turning off All-in EV, never to look at it again.

Some won’t take my advice as sound and most won’t act on it. But it has the advantage of being true. Habits are hard to break and hard to make, but once in place they aren’t a strain either way. I think you’ll find the temptation to gander fades away once you’ve taken it off the table as an option.

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  • Do you study your "All-in EV" after playing? Whether you've run well or poorly, what does it do to your confidence?

  • Gareth Chantler explains why your "All-in EV" stat isn't necessarily the most helpful one upon which to focus.

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