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Five Thoughts: Determining The Best Poker Players

Five Thoughts: Determining The Best Poker Players 0001

On Monday, a very interesting debate took place on Twitter regarding player-of-the-year awards, built-in biases, and what really makes “the best” players better than their counterparts. It all began with a few Tweets from Olivier Busquet that weren’t aimed at any one person or company:

Olivier BusquetFor me, this is a tiny part of a larger issue which is that all live tournament ranking systems r based on earnings which in turn r based...
Olivier Busqueton volume, instead of profit/roi which essentially invalidates all of them, GPI might be better than some others, but still applies

Several players, including Christian Harder, Phil Galfond, Matt Glantz, John D’Agostino, Phil Collins and Todd Terry joined in on the conversation. Eric Sheets, one of the most prolific backers in the history of online poker, also gave his opinion.

Some of the players, including Glantz, sided with the Global Poker Index model. They know it’s not perfect, because some tours make it impossible to acquire return-on-investment information, but as of now, the GPI is one of the most effective ways to measure a tournament player’s success.

However, Glantz believes that the rankings systems should be re-named.

Matt Glantz@Kevmath They should just change the names of all the current ranking systems from 'poker player' to 'nl tournament player'

And he’s right.

Because it’s the only information available, POY formulas only measure tournaments. And, because the vast majority of tournaments are no-limit hold’em, there is no need to be disciplined in a variety of games.

Sheets proposed that player voting should be involved, noting that backgammon players rank one another.

Eric Haber@MattGlantz @Kevmath While you would think this couldn't be done....backgammon actually ranks players by poll.....

The only issue with this is that poker players tend to be really lazy.

Rich Ryan@Kevmath @sheetspwns You know how hard it would be to get a group of poker players to submit rankings on time? Would have to be bi-annual.

With all of the data-mining tools available for online poker, and with the advancement of statistical analysis in sports, there should be a way to cram everything into a formula. For the NBA, John Hollinger developed the Player Efficiency Rating (PER), which throws together field goals, free throws, three-pointers, assists, rebounds, blocks, steals, missed shots, turnovers and personal fouls into one big pot. The formula spits out a number that takes into account the good and the bad, and gives each player a rating.

Right now, LeBron James leads the NBA with a PER of 31.41. James is clearly the best player in basketball, and if you think otherwise, you’re crazy.

In baseball, statisticians have developed Wins Above Replacement (WAR). WAR also takes into account the good and the bad, but then it measures a player’s rating against a “replacement level player.” In 2012, Mike Trout led the MLB in WAR with 8.8, meaning that, using this statistic, Trout is worth 8.8 wins more than a replacement-level player. Miguel Cabrera, who won the American League Triple Crown, edged out Trout in the AL MVP race, which angered some folks in the statistics community. But Cabrera finished the season with a WAR of 7.8 — nothing to sneeze at.

Although I’m no mathematician, I have an idea as to what would go into an advanced statistic for poker, and I certainly know what information is available. The first thing I want to do is name it, and to do that, I will turn to one of the most respected sports bettors in the world:

Haralabos VoulgarisIvey. Its always Ivey. RT @AndyKHLiu: @haralabob who is the best poker player you've ever played against?

Introducing the inconceivable, yet logical Ivey Index.

1. The Best of the Best

The best poker players in the world can’t just play tournaments. They can’t just play no-limit hold’em. They can’t just play live. They need to play everything, and they need to do so profitably.

The Ivey Index would take into account live-tournament ROI, online cash ROI, and online-tournament ROI. There are of course limitations, and the omission of live cash-game ROI, but the latter is impossible to track. With HighStakesDB, the various online tournament statistics, and the widespread availability of live tournament results, the other three statistics are certainly accessible.

The first thing we would need to do to put together the Ivey Index is to reach out to the various tours and make sure they provide tournament entry information. Right now, only a handful of the major tours make such information available, but to calculate ROI, entry information is important.

Thumbs-up for giving love to low and mid-stakes grinders.
Thumbs-up for giving love to low and mid-stakes grinders.

Once we have all of the raw data, we’d need to hire a mathematical genius to create a formula. There would have to be sample size restrictions, otherwise the World Series of Poker Main Event champion would top everyone with an unreachable ROI. This would obviously be the most difficult and expensive part, because top-notch statisticians don’t work for free, and the formula would have to be adjusted to fix leaks.

Most importantly, I wouldn’t want the Ivey Index to be a black-box statistic. I want fans and players alike to be able to plug in numbers and figure out just how the index works.

In the Ivey Index, each form of poker would have its own ranking, as well, separating cash-game players from tournament players, and live players from online players. This way we would know who the best overall player is (top of the Ivey Index) along with the best online cash-game player, etc.

My favorite part about SCOOP and WCOOP is that they both offer low, medium, and high variants of each tournament. Why don’t we offer yearly awards for each variant, as well? Why should $1,000 buy-in players have to compete with $100,000 super-high-roller players?

Within the Ivey Index, we would rank players in tiers. People who play $.05/$.10 online and $1/$2 live would be separated from people who play $1/$2 online and $5/$10 live. Likewise, people who play $10 tournaments online and $330 tournaments live would be separated from people who play $200 tournaments online and $25,000 tournaments live.

In a perfect world, this may work, but the world isn’t perfect. Resources are limited. It’s hard and it’s time consuming to mine all of these statistics for all of these different disciplines, and ultimately not everyone cares about the best $330 live tournament player in the world. Most folks want to know who is crushing the largest live tournaments in the world.

It’s easier for us to latch onto live tournaments because we see them happen. We can experience them through live reporting, photos, videos and live streams. With online tournaments and cash games, we have the avatars and the endless hand histories, but the experience isn’t the same for the viewer. We care so much more about what we can actually see, feel, and experience.

All in all, it’s probably better that we don’t have a PER or WAR in poker. The debates and the arguments are good for the game, and several players could be considered the “best in the world.”

Well, maybe not several. Remember what Haralabob said: “Ivey. It’s always Ivey.”

2. Jaka’s Monastery Experience

In February, Faraz Jaka spent 10 days at Wat Kow Tahm Monastery on the island of Kha Phangan. He learned several types of meditation during his time there, including sitting, working, walking, and standing meditation. At EPT London, Jaka discussed his visit with our own Sarah Grant.

Then, after teasing it for some time, Jaka released a blog post about his experiences. The post the first of a three-part story, and it can be found on his personal website. My favorite excerpt explains the importance of happiness and our need for “things.”

Apply a value of $2300 to owning a $2,000 comfy bed and a high quality $300 showerhead (with hot water). Using your comfy bed and “baller” shower help you to achieve a happiness level of X.

Price of happiness level X = $2300

Now try to apply a mathematical value to being able to let go of attachments to physical things and still being able to achieve a happiness level of X (in very simple living conditions such as a floor to sleep on and a tub of water to take a shower with)

Of course you can’t quantify this value but if you can truly achieve it then you have just earned something, which has a value greater than or equal to X. In other words you’ve earned something > $2300.

The point I am trying to make is that everyone is always focused on earning money and physical things to achieve new levels of happiness. Instead, you can achieve an equal and greater level of happiness by having less money and fewer “things” and instead focus your energy on strengthening your mind.

This is especially interesting for me because I am terribly obsessed with things: my phone, my laptop, the Internet, and unfortunately more.

Upon entering the monastery, Jaka and his friends were forced to hand over all communication devices. Jaka had just been informed that someone close to him was “not doing too well,” and was asked how he could be contacted in case of an emergency. The blog post ends with Jaka at a crossroads: should he hand in his phone and stay true to the monastery, or keep it to make sure he knows if the person passes? We will hopefully find out in the next post.

Since visiting the monastery, Jaka finished second in the EPT London High Roller ($363,671) and won the PokerStars Sunday 500 ($84,865). Is it variance or his increased focus? Even Jaka doesn’t know.

Faraz JakaI had been down swinging for 18 months but 1st month since leaving monastery = 2 online wins + 1 live 2nd place totaling $480k in cashes
Faraz JakaOf course can easily be coincidence but I did study & learn new forms of focus at the monastery that surely are helping me @ the poker tables

Blogs about life experiences like Jaka’s are far more interesting than poker trip reports, because most poker trips are similar, if not identical. I look forward to parts two and three of Jaka’s trip to the monastery and will be on the lookout for more unique blog posts from some of the game’s top players.

3. One Sick Individual

Kevin Eyster at the 2010 WSOPE
Kevin Eyster at the 2010 WSOPE

Kevin “-1SickDisease-“ Eyster is indeed sick. In the first Full Tilt Online Poker Series after the re-launch of Full Tilt, he shipped two gold jerseys. This past Sunday, he added a third, winning FTOPS XXII Event #34: $2,100 No-Limit Hold'em Six-Max Re-Entry ($1M Guaranteed).

1Kevin "-1SickDisease-" Eyster$333,680
2Sami "LarsLuzak" Kelopuro$218,832
5Ronald "ScarJo" Lee$85,360

Eyster banked his largest lifetime cash, and according to PocketFives, Eyster now has over $3.2 million in career online cashes. In his personal biography on Pocketfives, Eyster says he didn’t become the player he is until 2008 when he “literally bubbled every [major tournament].”

Eyster caught my eye this January at the World Series of Poker Circuit Choctaw Durant Main Event where he entered Day 2 as one of the chip leaders. He, unfortunately, finished in 102nd place, earning $3,044, but his play on Day 1b was very impressive. It certainly wasn’t a fluke that he finished the day among the leaders.

At the Circuit Lodge Casino stop in Black Hawk, Colorado, Eyster made the final table. He eventually found himself heads up against Jonathan Taylor with a 2-1 chip advantage, but Taylor won a massive flip. Taylor’s pocket fives held against Eyster’s ace-ten suited, and Taylor extended his lead in the next few hands. In the final hand, Taylor moved all in on a board of {7-Hearts}{4-Diamonds}{6-Diamonds}{5-Diamonds}{7-Spades}. Eyster made the call, prompting Taylor to show {j-Diamonds}{8-Diamonds} for a flush.

Eyster mucked, bowing out in second place. He earned $85,852, making it the largest live cash of his career by just $6,000 – in 2010, he finished 16th in the EPT Grand Final, pocketing $79,876.

With the SCOOP and the WSOP right around the corner, our eyes will be on Eyster as he tries to continue his sick run. Eyster has never made a WSOP final table, but he’s come very close, finishing eighth in a heads-up event, and 22nd and 29th in full-ring events.

4. Simpson Wins the Irish Open – Then Proposes

I’ve seen dozens of poker players win tournaments. Dozens. Usually it’s the same boring song and dance, but sometimes players spice it up. In 2011, Viacheslav Zhukov snatched up the stock bracelet that the tournament director placed on the felt, and held it above his head with two hands like it was a championship belt. The act was organic, and it happened well before the photographers arrived, making it special – Zhukov was pumped to have won a bracelet.

In 2012, Chris Tryba took celebrating to a whole new level. After winning Event #35 with a straight flush, he started storming around the Mothership, shouting obscenities. It was raw, and some thought it a bit crude, but again it was organic. Tryba couldn’t believe that he won a bracelet, let alone that he won it by making a straight flush.

Poker needs more unique celebrations, and on Monday, Ian Simpson delivered. After winning the Irish Open, earning €265,000, he got on one knee and asked his girlfriend to marry him. This is both awesome and courageous.

Public proposals are very dangerous, because they can end in disaster. To get on one knee in a public space and ask your significant other to spend the rest of her life with you, you absolutely have to know she is going to say yes.

Simpson, in a moment of elation after winning the biggest tournament of his life, pulled the trigger. He got on one knee and asked his girlfriend Emma to marry him. She indeed said yes.


With the win, Simpson now has over $500,000 in career live tournament earnings (he finished fourth in the 2012 Irish Open), a big trophy, and a wonderful fiancé. That’s one hell of a haul.

Now that the “WWE,” “curse your head off,” and “proposal” celebrations are off the table, we need the brainstorm a few new ones:

  • The Scotty Nguyen – In an old episode of the WSOP on ESPN, Nguyen signed the {a-Spades} and tossed it into the crowd (I know it wasn’t his drunk H.O.R.S.E. escapade, but I can’t find it on YouTube. If you can, please post it in the comments). The next winner of a major event should do the same, but with the winning cards.
  • The Bernie – No one will get it, nor will they forget it.

  • The Fake Handshake – Reserved only for appropriate occasions, the Fake Handshake has the potential to be incredible. Jon Aguiar should’ve went for the Fake Handshake when he defeated Brandon Cantu, despite Cantu putting up one of the best performances in the history of the World Series.
  • The Faint – I want someone to win the Main Event and faint. Period. Don’t fake it, don’t plan it, just faint. I want to hear the thud on the stage, the screams from the crowd, and the laughter when the player comes to.

Have any more celebration ideas? Let me know in the comments below.

5. Stay Stacked

Our own Lynn Gilmartin has started the Stay Stacked series on PokerNews, and in the first episode she offers a few healthy snacks for long sessions at the poker table and grinding online.

I can tell you from first-hand accounts that Gilmartin is very focused on eating healthy, and even more focused on disseminating positive information and life strategies to anyone who will listen. The first episode is below, and I am excited to learn more as we inch closer and closer to the WSOP.

Spending two months in Las Vegas is very difficult, especially for those that want to maintain a healthy living style.

Have your own thoughts on these Five Thoughts? Use the comments section below and don't forget to follow PokerNews on Twitter for up-to-the-minute news.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of PokerNews.

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