Incredible Odds

I had the pleasure of meeting a local musician here in Bangkok the other night. Actually I had seen him playing over at Moonshine’s once or twice but he stopped in to say hello to my friend Jack and we were introduced formally.

Tony is an older American guy. How old, I don’t know but he’s got a look that says he’s been around before. Nice guy though and always quick with a laugh.

Several months ago Jack told me an incredible story about Tony that I wanted to share. It was a few years ago and Tony was playing a gig in one of the local bars in Bangkok. During the set he noticed a young guy sitting in the audience wearing a US Army fatigue top with the same unit patch as his old unit in Vietnam.

Obviously the man was too young to have been a vet (at least a Vietnam Vet) but it intrigued him so when he finished his set he went over to the young man’s table and introduced himself saying that he had served in that unit during ‘Nam. As the man stretched out his arm to shake his he saw that the nametag on the top was the same as his last name, which he mentioned to the younger man.

The young man explained that he had purchased the fatigue top at a small market on some side street in Bangkok just that afternoon. He thought it looked cool and was able to bargain down the price to something fairly cheap so he bought it.

Tony said, “Well, can I ask you a small favor? Can you open up the jacket pocket and see if there’s anything sewn inside the pocket?” The younger man obliged and there was Tony’s name on another nametag sewn inside the pocket.

Tony had sold all of his gear to a military surplus shop when he finished his military duty after Vietnam and had been traveling around the world since. But somehow his fatigue jacket had followed him around the world and ended up in the same bar he was playing a gig in.

The reason I bring this up is so many people argue that online poker must be rigged because something with a low statistical probability occurs to them. Maybe they have been dealt aces three times in a row or whatever. To them that proves the game is rigged.

But anytime the probability of something is greater than 0, given enough trials, it is expected to happen.

If my math is correct, getting dealt pocket aces three times in a row should happen approx every 1 in 2,385,443 hands. That means that the chances of it happening are still greater than 0. And if you take a room like PokerStars and let’s say they deal a billion hands per year, it is not unusual for that to occur 419 times a year.

So, your opponent catching pocket aces three times in a row has a low probability but it’s expected to happen to 419 people per year (assuming 1 billion hands dealt). Does it prove anything about whether or not the game is rigged? No.

I mean, what are the odds that Sammy Farha with AT would flop AAT against Oliver Hudson with pocket tens in the very first hand in the WSOP main event at the featured table? I’m not even going to do the math but it’s not very likely.

But because it’s live people are willing to accept that it’s just poker. When it happens online many of those same people assume it’s because the game is rigged.

That’s one of the reasons when anybody says something like “You never see anything like that ever happen in a live game,” I immediately dismiss anything else they’ve said or are going to say. Because I can post YouTube videos all day long showing highly unlikely events occurring during televised programs.

And out of all of the hands played how many have been televised? A low percentage to be sure. So if you can see these low probability events occurring from a rather small sample size then people saying they’ve never seen it in a live card room either aren’t playing very many hands or their experience is the true statistical anomaly.

photocred to Steve Snodgrass

Bill Rini
Bill Rini is currently the Head of Online Poker for WSOP. He has been working in the online poker industry since 2004 and has held management roles at Full Tilt Poker and PartyPoker.

5 thoughts on “Incredible Odds”

  1. Dude it’s A ESPN Moment of course its unlikely they just weed threw hours apon hours of gameplay. Of course this will happen at some point. NOWHERE near as many times online this is what ppl fail to realize or admit whichever.

    It’s not the odds of it happening it the consistency of how freq. it happens that make online so obv. rigged. They put these hands on the show cause they want ppls interest/ratings.

    Unfortunately ppl use this as a chance to prove it happens live it will happen online and that’s gross!!! It happens WAY more online witch is even more odd defying. It’s bingo NOT Poker online. Why the think there is so many donks?? They know its fixed and they will suckout with complete unsuited junk a majority of the time.

  2. If one player has AT and the other has TT, there are 3 aces and 1 ten left in the deck, therefore there are 3 possible AAT flops, out of a possible (48*47*46/3!) = 17296 flops, for a probability of 1/5765.

    There are longer shots than that. I was in the same O/8 game as a friend of mine who flopped a royal flush. That’s 1/17296 if you pretend my cards are still in the deck, 1/13244 if you remove my cards from consideration.

    Playing NLH some years ago online, I flopped bottom set in a set-over-set-over-set situation then turned quads. The probability of three players with pocket pairs all flopping a set is (2*2*2)/(46*45*44/3!) = 8/15180 = 1/1898. However the probability of this happening then the bottom set turning quads is this times 1/43, or 1/81,593. (And yeah, I busted both of my opponents on that hand).

    In a non-poker incident similar to what you recounted, two former co-workers of mine from San Francisco ran into each other on the streets of Florence, Italy, two or three years after they had left the company where we worked and lost contact with each other.

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