Pumping Up the Variance Against Better-Skilled Opponents

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Pumping Up the Variance Against Better-Skilled Opponents

It’s a common observation in poker that thanks to the game’s chance component, better-skilled players might reasonably expect to win over the long term — say, over hundreds of sessions or tournaments — but cannot anticipate always doing so when the sample size is smaller.

Tournament poker often highlights this truth. We might scan a 1,000-player field starting a World Series of Poker or European Poker Tour event and spot 100 of the best tournament players participating in it. From that group you and I could each pick 10 favorites to go deep, perhaps having a little “last longer” bet between us. Depending on our knowledge of the players, we might even each manage to pick one who makes the final table.

We wouldn’t reasonably expect to do much better than that, though, with our selections. We’d try to pick the best players, sure, but the sample size — just one tournament — is simply too small to minimize the game’s luck component enough to assure skill will win out.

Favorites and Underdogs

Today the National Collegiate Athletic Association Men’s Basketball Tournament begins in earnest, with the four play-in games having been completed and 64 teams remaining to play a six-round, single-elimination tournament to decide who will be this year’s NCAA champion. Over the last couple of days (and perhaps this morning, too), many of us have been filling out brackets hoping to guess as many winners as we can out of the 63 games in an effort to win our pools. Read More