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The Square Root of Poker

by Conrad Brunner |  Published: Dec 01, 2006

Now that the European Poker Tour, sponsored by PokerStars, is in its third season, we are able to look back and assess, over a period of more than 20 tournaments or so, which players have demonstrated serious playing ability above or below the average. If we run a few simple calculations, it is not hard to prove the truth of Greg Raymer's dictum, that one hand of poker is 100 percent luck, but one year of poker is 100 percent skill. Over time, the cream rises.

A cash record of the top 10 performers on the EPT would look like this:
1. Jeff Williams (USA)
2. Vicky Coren (UK)
3. Bjorne-Erik Glenne (Norway)
4. Rob Holland (Netherlands)
5. Brandon Schaefer (USA)
6. Arshad Hussein (UK)
7. Mats Iremark (Sweden)
8. Jan Boubli (France)
9. Emad Tahtouh (Australia)
10. Mark Teltscher (UK)

Based purely on a cash total, it's no surprise to see EPT Grand Final winner Jeff Williams at the top of the tree, thanks to the €900,000 ($1.1 million) he picked up in Monte Carlo last March. He qualified for the tournament via a $160 tourney, and took down the monster score at the age of just 19 against a final table that included Marcel Luske and Ross Boatman. No one would say the kid got lucky, but is pure cash the best way to assess poker performance? I'd been struggling with the creation of a different performance-related leader board, fiddling around with scoring systems and unwieldy Excel files for some weeks. Then I did something I should have done long ago, and went to ask those smug know-it-alls on PokerStars support for a little technical advice.

"Simple," they said. "Just use the TLB formula."

The TLB - Tournament Leader Board - has been a respected institution on PokerStars for years, and it is used every week, month, and year to calculate the best-performing player, with the top dog then invited to play Raymer, Joe Hachem, or some other PokerStars champ in a $1,000 heads-up competition. Great idea, but simple? Well, this is the formula they use:

Points = 10 x [√(n)/ √ (k)] x [1+log(b+0.25)]

I wasn't hired for my algebra, so I begged Andrew West, the new poker operations manager, to see if he could come up with a decent ratings result, hoping to see the results in a week or two. It took him one hour, and this is what he came up with:
1. Ram Vaswani (UK)
2. Noah Boeken (Netherlands)
3. Bjorn-Erik Glenne (Norway)
4. Brandon Schaefer (USA)
5. Julian Thew (UK)
6. Luca Pagano (Italy)
7. Patrik Antonius (Finland)
8. Alexander Stevic (Sweden)
9. Patrick Martenson (Sweden)
10. Mark Teltscher (UK)

I am guessing that Ram Vaswani would rather be on top of the first list than the second, but in pure poker terms, his number-one position in the TLB reflects the received opinion among the British poker community that "Crazy Horse" has no equals when it comes to no-limit tournament poker. He earned his ranking thanks to three EPT final-table appearances (including a first place in the Dublin EPT and a second place in Copenhagen) plus a number of respectable cash finishes.

Noah Boeken narrowly missed out on a place at the final table in Barcelona in September, but the points he gained helped boost his ranking when added to his Copenhagen victory and other notable scores. Noah has won the TLB on PokerStars a few times, so there were no surprises there.

Bjorn-Erik Glenne beat Phil Ivey and 478 other top players in Barcelona, the biggest EPT field to date, which explains his high ranking. He also cashed at the last Copenhagen tournament. Brandon Schaefer hit Europe like a whirlwind in season one, finishing first in Deauville and was then runner-up to Rob Hollink in Monte Carlo. Julian Thew's "yo-yo" nickname is at odds with his remarkable consistency over three seasons. If EPT final tables were 10-handed (instead of eight), he would have matched Vaswani's three appearances.

Luca Pagano's best result on the EPT is a third-place finish (in the opening event at Barcelona), but his five high cash finishes is suitably reflected in his sixth-place ranking. In general, these are the names and players to avoid the next time you sit down at an EPT event.

Vicky Coren, Superstar
For the last 10 years, I have hosted a charity poker tournament in London called the Hold'em 100. It's a friendly £10 or £20 rebuy tournament that has managed to raise £100,000 for The Royal Marsden Cancer Fund. It's had a couple of well-known winners, such as Joe Beevers and Jac Arama, and at one stage set a record as the largest poker tournament ever held in the UK, with 238 players (a figure long since overtaken in the poker boom).

The money raised just goes to show that if you give poker players a seat, a stack of chips, and a half-decent tournament, they are inclined to be surprisingly generous for a good cause. One of our star contributors and most loyal punters is Victoria Coren, the TV presenter and newspaper columnist. She is always a pleasure to have, patiently chopping pots for the novices and reminding daydreamers when a blind is required. But her actual playing record at the Hold'em 100 might fairly be described as "modest." From memory, her results would read something like" played 10, won 0; final tables, 0; cash finishes, 0; rebuys, 246.

Could this be the same Victoria Coren, poker superstar, who recently won the London EPT? Who busted out a record 400-strong field at the Vic that included Joe Hachem, Phil Ivey, and Gus Hansen? Was that really our Vicky up there at the final table, looking cool and beautiful under the spotlights as she stared down the high rollers and forced Scandinavia's finest into childish fits of indecision? Was that really her holding up a winner's cheque for - deep breath - £5,000?

The next Hold'em 100 tournament will take place at the Gutshot Club, Clerkenwell, on Sunday, Dec. 3 (details at I can't wait to see which Victoria Coren shows up. spade

Conrad Brunner is head of communication, Europe, for