Response to a Blog Comment

For the past two weeks, I’ve been posting about using different software in order to learn to play. A comment on the first such post read (lightly edited):

“Just some of plays worth two cents or less if you make the wrong one are sometimes on the rare side and some are somewhat common. So, for me personally, I wouldn’t sweat making this mistake once an hour or so. I’d compare this article to a card counter learning every single playing index for blackjack. While there is an index for splitting 10’s vs 2 and then doubling if one of them receives an ace, is it really worth learning?”

I am a player whose goal is to play every hand perfectly on games where that is possible. I understand that many players do not have the same goal.

If a 5-coin dollar player had a goal of playing well enough that he gave up less than an extra 25¢ an hour while playing a simplified strategy, that’s probably a reasonable goal for the vast majority of players. Indeed, most players give up far more than that.

The question is how do you attain such a goal? A strategy such as Level 3 on the Dancer/Daily cards is surely strong enough to meet that goal if you play it perfectly. The last five words of that sentence are critical, namely: IF YOU PLAY IT PERFECTLY. That doesn’t mean play the game perfectly. It means play the simplified strategy perfectly.

Most players need to practice a lot to play at that level. If you’re not practicing with a computer that corrects your mistakes, it’s close to impossible to play that well.

I know from teaching classes for more than 20 years that many players don’t understand the simplified strategy rules at first. I’ll explain the rules and put a problem hand on the board. Several students usually miss the hand the first time they see it. To be sure, the problem hands in class tend to be trickier than average. But still, if it were easy for everybody to understand the rules without studying, nobody would be missing them.

So, while you’re practicing on the computer, sometimes you’ll be dealt a hand that the simplified strategy misplays. An easy example from 9/6 Jacks or Better: The basic strategy says to play both K♣ J♦ T♦ 4♥ 3♣ and K♣ J♦ T♦ 4♦ 3♣ identically, but strong players know you hold JT in the first and KJ in the second.

So, the question becomes: When you play JT on the second hand and the computer says you made a mistake, what do you do? Do you look up how much the error is worth? If you do, it’s about a penny. Do you try to figure out how often it occurs? If you do, it’s about once in 2,000 hands, although some of those include a seven which reduces the error to 0.3 cents. Others include an eight or nine in them which reduce the size of the error to a half cent.

This was one simple case. There are several such cases in every game. There is some overlap between games and between errors, but each one is a little different.

It takes a lot of work to figure out whether a specific error is small enough and infrequent enough to make it safe enough to skip. In the comment to my blog, the commenter seemed to imply that he knows these things and can decide each time whether this is an error he can ignore or not. My point is, it’s not that easy to know this. It’s arguably about as difficult to learn WHY the hands are played differently as it is to know how big and rare an error is.

In one of the examples in my blog, I cited the case in NSU Deuces Wild of A♠ T♠ 9♥ 7♣ 5♦, where the correct play is AT, which is worth an eighth of a cent more than throwing all the cards away. It happens every 108,000 hands or so and truly is an error that takes more time to memorize than it’s worth. But few hands are that cut and dried.

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