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The Super Bowl and Game Selection

by Gavin Griffin |  Published: Mar 24, 2021

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Regardless of your feelings regarding the Doug Polk and Daniel Negreanu heads-up match that recently finished, it seems clear after 25,000 hands that Daniel exercised some pretty bad game selection for this one.

Doug won around $1.2 million, which is roughly 12 big blinds for every 100 hands played (BB/100). That is pretty significant. Even if he was running exceptionally well during the match and his true win rate was only five BB/100 less, he still would have won $700,000.

I think this proves that even if you’re one of the best in the world at one thing (in this case, tournament poker), and even though may look indistinguishable to an outsider, you can still be pretty far behind an expert in a different discipline (heads-up no-limit cash games).

In the Super Bowl this year, we saw Tom Brady, a quarterback who many believe to be the greatest ever to play football at his position. He might not be the most talented in every aspect of the game, but he almost certainly has one of the best football IQs and winning mindsets. On the other side of the ball you have Patrick Mahomes, who after only three years as a starter, is already considered to be one of the most physically gifted quarterbacks of all time.

Brady played his whole career previous to this season for the New England Patriots. The 43-year-old wanted a two-year contract, and the Patriots did not want to commit to a player who some felt had lost a step. So instead, he left New England to find a new place to play.

He decided that he wanted to play for a team that could contend for a Super Bowl. They needed to have a good defense, a good offensive line, and good receivers. He found all three of those things in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, even though they were only 7-9 in 2019. He saw in them a great situation and together, they went 11-5 in the regular season. The Bucs won four games in the playoffs, including a Super Bowl blow out of the best team in the league, the Kansas City Chiefs, by a score of 31-9.

I liken Brady’s search for a new team to finding a good game in a poker room. He had a list of things he wanted out of a new team and chose based on those criteria.

When choosing a game in a poker room, you should be certain to understand what you want in a game ahead of time. You should know what game formats you are willing to play. For instance, when I go to a poker room, I know that my first choice for a game would be some version of pot-limit Omaha, followed by a limit mixed game, and then finally no-limit hold’em.

The second important thing you should know is what limits you are comfortable playing. I should be willing to play a no-limit game with higher blinds than pot-limit Omaha, because the variance is lower in hold’em. So, if I’m comfortable playing $2-$5 PLO, I should feel comfortable with $5-$5 or $5-$10 NLH.

Next, if you are in a room where you regularly play, you should have an idea of which players you like to play with. That way, if there is more than one table of your preferred game, you can know which one you should target.

My regular room uses must-move tables for games when there are more than one table at a given limit. That means that you play at a second table until a seat opens up in the main game, which is filled in order of arrival. If you are in a must-move game, it’s not possible to switch to the main game if it’s better, so you have to take that into account when you’re choosing which game type and limit to play. It may be better to play a slightly less profitable game with more freedom of movement so you can switch games if yours is bad and there is a better option.

Finally, it is important to understand how game dynamics change as you’re playing. It’s possible that player A is great when they are winning, but plays really poorly when they’re losing. Or that player B isn’t very good, but when they get ahead in a game early, they play much tighter than usual. What looks like a bad game from a distance might actually be quite good if the right people are losing or winning.

If you are the best in the world at something, it is easy to find a good game for yourself. For those of us that are mere mortals, careful game selection is even more important. Tom Brady showed us that it’s possible to be at the top of your game or near the top, and still make intelligent, rational decisions about what games (or teams) you want to be a part of. We can take a lesson here from one of the greatest to ever do it in team sports and make sure we are as careful about where we play as he is.

Gavin GriffinGavin Griffin was the first poker player to win the Triple Crown, capturing a World Series of Poker, European Poker Tour, and World Poker Tour title, and has amassed more than $5 million in lifetime tournament winnings. You can follow him on Twitter @NHGG