Google Answers Logo
View Question
Q: Statistics of poker results ( No Answer,   5 Comments )
Subject: Statistics of poker results
Category: Science > Math
Asked by: delard-ga
List Price: $100.00
Posted: 16 Sep 2006 07:04 PDT
Expires: 16 Oct 2006 07:04 PDT
Question ID: 765810

The question is how to use statistics to establish whether one poker
player is better than another.

Some context :

1) You have the amount won or lost on every hand each player has played.

2) Each has played a large number of hands (10's of thousands at least).

3) Each plays in the same kind of games (NL holdem full ring cash
games as it happens), with the same blind levels etc.

4) Each player has a different long term expectation (i.e. mean
profit) from each hand - but you do not know what this is, other than
what can be implied from the data.

5) Each player has a different level of variance (standard deviation)
- you do not know what this is - but if it helps it is not
unreasonable to assume both players have the same standard deviation.

6) The distribution of the amount won/lost on each hand is not
normally distributed. However if you sum 100 consecutive hands
together - then these '100 hand' results are much closer to a normal
distribution. For the sake of this question you can assume '100 hand'
results are normally distributed.

7) The nature of poker is such that the standard deviation of results
is high compared to the long term mean result - i.e. in a given
session of a few hundred hands you expect the typical result to be
massively different from the long term average for that many hands.
Because of this it is quite possible to have long periods of unusually
good or bad results - meaning that player A could have a much higher
long term expectation than player B - but by chance show a much lower
result over a given eg 20k hands.

So far - I have taken each players results and aggregated them into
'100 hand' results. Then calculated the mean and standard deviation of
the '100 hand' results. I've then calculated standard error and 95%
confidence intervals for the mean (of each player).

This gives me some indication of which is the best player of course -
but to make any definitive statement I need to wait until the upper
95% CI of player A is less than the lower 95% CI of player B. This
works but takes a LOT of hands (i.e. 100's of thousands - and I don't
have that many!).

Instead - I would like to use alternative statistical techniques to
calculate the probability that player A has a higher long term mean
than player B. I suspect that if done properly this could yield a high
degree of confidence a lot quicker than the CI method above. As more
and more data was added this probability would converge towards 0 or

Slightly more generally - I'd like to be able to calculate the
probability that the long term mean of player A is X% higher than
player B.

Note - if this question is phrased in such a way that makes it very
difficult - but you think the same underlying point can be answered
another way - then go ahead and rephrase it.

Please provide details of statistical techniques which can calculate
this (assuming they do exist!) - along with details of the
calculations which need to be performed. Don't assume I know much more
than high school level math. You can assume I'm fine with implementing
the calculations in Excel using VB (i.e. you don't need to tell me how
to use some stats application - I will be coding the formulae).

thanks - Delard

Request for Question Clarification by elmarto-ga on 16 Sep 2006 07:58 PDT
It might help if you provide us the actual numbers for "mean profit
per hand" and "standard deviation of the profit per hand" for both

Also, I see that you are interested in "the probability that the long
term mean of player A is X% higher than player B". Do you need this
for many different values of X? Or do you want to base this X on the
actual sample means? For example, if the sample mean of player A is
10% higher than the sample mean of player B, are you simply interested
in the probability that player A's mean is 10% greater than player
B's, or do you also need to know the probability that it's 5% higher,
2% higher, etc?

Thank you very much,

Clarification of Question by delard-ga on 16 Sep 2006 09:04 PDT

To answer your request for clarification - the "mean profit per hand"
is a number somewhere between 10% and 20% for these players (expressed
in units of big blind size), or alternatively 10 - 20 BB/100hands. Its
hard to be more precise than that at the moment as the samples are too
small - however the precise current value isn't very important as the
point of this question is to be able to rerun the analysis as more
data arrives. The "standard deviation of the profit per hand" is a
number around 85 BB/100 (ie calculated using samples of 100 hands).

Yes - I'm interested in "the probability that the long term mean of
player A is X% higher than player B" for different values of X - not
just the observed sample mean difference. The motivation here is to be
able to ask "is one player significantly better than the other".

For example - lets say we have 30k hands on both players - and those
samples imply a mean of 12% for player A and 17% for player B.
Although player B has performed much better over this small sample -
its very plausible that A has a higher long term mean than B - all it
takes is for A to have had slightly bad luck and B a bit of good luck.
However if we were to ask whether A has a significantly higher long
term mean (say 10% higher) then I would imagine even this much data is
enough to say that is unlikely.

I hope this clarifies the question - please don't hestitate to ask
more questions if theres anything that isn't clear.

thanks - Delard

Clarification of Question by delard-ga on 16 Sep 2006 11:22 PDT

I'm really keen to get a solution to this (theres a bet involved!) -
so I've upped the price to $100 in case this question represents too
much work for $50. However note I'm looking for a solution here - ie
something I can understand and implement - not just some links to web
pages on hypothesis testing.

thanks - Delard
There is no answer at this time.

Subject: Re: Statistics of poker results
From: berkeleychocolate-ga on 16 Sep 2006 11:35 PDT
I believe you are looking for pie in the sky. That is, you can't
improve on the confidence interval approach until you know more. Here
is my reasoning: Let us assume that each player has a probability p of
winning a hand and that the p's are independent from hand to hand.
Then it doesn't matter how much or little is bet since the plays are
independent. So we can say each pot is $1. Then the profit on each
hand is binomial and the winnings after n hands is the sum of
binomials, which is approximately normal (by the central limit theorem
- and the approximation is very good after 100+ hands). Then the
confidence interval approach is the only way to test which player is
better. There is no other statistical method.

I'm sure that in the real world that the above assumption is not
correct. The p's are not independent and the probability of winning is
related to the amount bet. This is the psychological element in the
game. If you have some handle on how that works, then you can build a
better model and answer your question.
Subject: Re: Statistics of poker results
From: delard-ga on 16 Sep 2006 12:37 PDT

The actual distribution of the individual hands results is a
complicated thing - ie as you say the assumption that each hand can be
modelled as probability p of winning 1 isn't enough. A lot of the
hands are zero, a lot have a small loss, then there are small number
of hands with significant results - hopefully skewed towards there
being more big hands you win than lose - and winning bigger pots vs
losing smaller ones. It isn't normal or binomial - and even doing the
100hands trick doesn't get you a perfect normal distribution - just
hopefully close enough that it doesn't matter.

My problems with the Confidence Interval method of deciding if player
A is better than player B (ie look at whether the lower 95% CI of A's
mean is higher than the lower 95% CI of B's mean) are :

1) It seems to take an immense amount of data to reach this 95%
confidence. ie by cloning my data I've done this on large samples -
and it takes about 250k hands to get a 5% spread on the 95% CI - that
is if a player has a mean of 15% - after 250k the CI's would be 12.5%
- 17.5%. This means that if the was 5% difference between the two
players you would need 250k hands on them to be 95% confident that one
was better than the other. Intuitively this seems wrong - there is
less chance than that of such a big difference being by chance over
such a large sample.

2) Using the CI method I don't know how to make the test that player A
is X% better than player B. ie significantly better.

3) I'd like the calculation to give me a confidence - rather than just
a yes/no on 95%.

But maybe you are right - and some elaboration of the CI method is as
good as it gets....

- Delard
Subject: Re: Statistics of poker results
From: dcjohn-ga on 16 Sep 2006 14:58 PDT
It's a fascinating question, and one I've been pondering for a while
without any solid answer.  (And I teach graduate courses in research
methods.)  And it's even more complicated than the issues you've laid
out.  For example, how do we operationalize "goodness" in a poker

Optimal poker strategy is situational (it's a game--in the game theory
sense), and so it's easy to imagine a player who outperforms another
at a low-stakes, online situation who does much poorer relative to the
same "opponenet" in a high stakes, face-to-face game.  (The stakes
really don't themselves change things of course--it's a matter of the
different likely player styles and abilities that you find at the
different stake levels.)   So... you'll probably want to be careful
about the generalizability of whatever result you come up with, or at
least be mindful of the variation in the game type you're getting the
data from.

Just a suggestion: raise this in the 2+2 online poker community forum.
 It'll lead to some interesting discussion.
Subject: Re: Statistics of poker results
From: berkeleychocolate-ga on 16 Sep 2006 15:07 PDT
Just to reiterate a point I tried to make in reply to your last
comments: Since the trials are not independent there is no reason to
believe that the sums are approximately normal. (Also even if they
were normal, since the bet sizes vary, the sums cannot be assumed to
be normal.) Therefore you cannot rely on confidence intervals which
are based on the assumption that it is normal (or at least it is a
known distribution). The answers your confidence interval gives are
not reliable.

You should not have any confidence in your confidence interval approach!
Subject: Re: Statistics of poker results
From: delard-ga on 16 Sep 2006 15:59 PDT

dcjohn - you are right about not generalising - I'm looking for a way
to compare 2 players who both play online at the same type of games
and stakes against the same types of opponents.

berkeleychocolate - you are also right that the 100 hand session
results themselves don't have a normal distribution - in fact I ran
the data through a 'normal test' stats package and it confirmed that
it doesn't quite fit a normal distribution. However - I suspect that
the 100hand samples are close enough to a normal distribution that the
results implied from normal type analysis are still interesting.
Certainly the CI results yield figures that seem to roughly match

I suspect that to solve the 'non normal' issue - you have to move away
from doing 100hand samples altogether and start looking at the real
distribution of the individual hand results - which is very un-normal
- but could be analysed in various ways.

Anyway - for the sake of this question I'm happy to just assume the
100hand samples have a percent normal distribution - and worry about
that assumption later. One step at a time :).

- Delard

Important Disclaimer: Answers and comments provided on Google Answers are general information, and are not intended to substitute for informed professional medical, psychiatric, psychological, tax, legal, investment, accounting, or other professional advice. Google does not endorse, and expressly disclaims liability for any product, manufacturer, distributor, service or service provider mentioned or any opinion expressed in answers or comments. Please read carefully the Google Answers Terms of Service.

If you feel that you have found inappropriate content, please let us know by emailing us at with the question ID listed above. Thank you.
Search Google Answers for
Google Answers  

Google Home - Answers FAQ - Terms of Service - Privacy Policy