Why POY Awards Should Consider Using Luck-Adjusted Tournament Outcomes

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Recently, Matt Glantz offered some thoughtful suggestions about improving the WSOP POY system. Not long after, Andrew Brokos thoughtfully questioned the entire effort.

In a nutshell, Brokos doesn’t think it’s possible to create a truly objective system for identifying who played the best in a given year. As I read Brokos’s rejoinder, I had a specific example running through my mind:

In this year’s BLUFF POY race, Daniel Negreanu leapt to a large lead after winning the Main Event of the WSOP APAC. (Thus far, it’s been his single biggest BLUFF POY score.)

But although Negreanu currently leads the BLUFF POY race by 161 points, he was two outs away from a 4th place finish in that event. Remove that river Queen, and subtract the additional 201 BLUFF POY points it made possible, and Mike Watson is the new number one.

I do agree with one of Brokos’s major (albeit implicit) assertions: if you can’t objectively measure performance – i.e. if you can’t adjust for luck – you can’t be sure that the Player of the Year was actually the player of the year.

But I’m more hopeful about the possibility that we can adjust for luck. Online poker has produced sufficient data in the last decade to quantify the effect of the cards in a fairly holistic way. And my thinking is that if you can quantify, you can adjust. Or at the very least, you should try.

In this article, I’d like to offer a starter suggestion for how that adjustment might work. Here goes…

Calculating Your Luck Score for a Tournament

The “big data” method I referenced above generates a Luck Score for a given street. This Luck Score tells you the change in the number of chips you can expect to win in a hand, attributable solely to the cards that were dealt on that street. (Note: Luck Scores are measured in chips, same as stacks.)

If you add up your Luck Scores for each street in a hand, you get your Luck Score for that hand. If you add up your Luck Scores for each hand in a tournament, you get your Luck Score for that tournament.

Ultimately, your Luck Score for a tournament captures the net amount by which the cards helped or hurt you. It’ll be positive when the cards treated you well overall, and negative when they didn’t.

Using Tournament Luck Scores to Determine POY Finishing Places

At the end of a tournament, calculate each participant’s luck-adjusted final stack.

  • For all the bustos, you’ll be subtracting players’ tournament Luck Scores from a final stack of zero.
  • If a player busted on hand #1 after getting it in preflop with Aces, his luck-adjusted final stack would be positive.
  • If a player doled out a horrendous beat shortly before busting, her luck-adjusted final stack is likely to be negative.
  • The winner gets the same treatment, except we’ll be subtracting his tournament Luck Score from a final stack of “all the chips.”
  • Then, for POY purposes only, assign each player the finishing place dictated by his/her luck-adjusted final stack.

In other words, the winner of the tournament for POY purposes is the player with the highest luck-adjusted final stack.

Using Tournament Luck Scores to Determine POY Finishing Places

I’m guessing that most of the time, this readjustment will not have a substantial effect. It’s the exception rather than the rule that a huge suckout determines who wins a tournament.

But I’d also guess that sometimes, we’ll see an unlucky final tabler vault into third, second, or even first. And I’d bet it’s the case that we’ll see significant shifting in the middle of the pack.

As soon as we at 1BH can get our mitts on a year’s-worth of final table hands in electronic format – WPT, we’re looking at you here – we’ll run the numbers and give you an example for how luck-adjusted tournament outcomes will make you feel much better about the names we etch onto POY plaques.

- Dave Thornton is a contributor to OneBillionHands.com, and the CEO of Skill in Games which provides advanced analytics for online poker. A former software developer and financial analyst with degrees in Computer Science and Decision Processes from the University of Pennsylvania, Dave also holds a law degree from Georgetown University, and is a semi-professional live cash game player. Follow Dave on Twitter @dave_j_thornton.
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