Random Walks: The Importance to Poker Players

by , Mar 2, 2009 | 12:37 pm

A ‘random walk’ is a mathematical term to describe looking at sequences of consecutive random events and observing the patterns.

A simple random walk can be built using just the flip of a coin. If we assign heads the number +1 and tails the number -1 and flip a coin 6 times we will have a number of possible results, ranging from the extreme results of +6 after five heads in a row, and -6 after five tails in a row; and including every other possible result in between, with the true odds lying at the number 0 (indicating an equal number of heads and tails). Mathematicians have done these sort of tests over hundreds, thousands and even millions of throws, and the results they give tell us an awful lot about poker strategy.

The key result to think about when looking at random walks is that it takes a large number of flips for the result to actually represent the true odds. In the random walk scenario mentioned above, it often takes over 100 hundred flips before the ‘walk’ finally crosses the 0 line (which is where any genuine fifty fifty proposition belongs). As a result, we can see that the variance of the random walk is such that the true odds in such situations only actually come out over the very long term – in the short run the odds are nearly always skewed well away from their true line.

So we can see that random walks give a good answer to why poker is such a psychologically taxing game. When you are running good and playing well you feel unstoppable (walking above the 0 line), and when running badly – even if playing well – you feel like nothing can go right for you (walking below the 0 line). Only after hundreds or thousands of hands will your actual ability make itself clear. Random walks thus show not only why most players have a love/hate relationship with poker, but the importance of keeping your head during the downswings – as it is a fact that you will never have to stop dealing with during your play.

By understanding that the very nature of probability is that it is completely unpredictable over all but the very long run, you can give yourself a sizable psychological edge over opponents who take every bad beat to heart and start spewing chips off accordingly. Keep your head, understand the true nature of how luck moves and use it as another piece of the puzzle in building an edge over other players.

Tomorrow we will look at another key lesson we get from random walks – that of bold play.

For more Marcus Bateman strategy head over to the Betfair Poker Blogs

One Comment to “Random Walks: The Importance to Poker Players”

  1. bbremer

    This makes a lot of sense to me..though I struggled with the first paragraph.lol.

    Just wondered how this random walk theory worked out over different sites. As in, if I’m getting no luck at Stars will I my walk be less random on Full Tilt..or Betfair!