Poker is a game that requires comparison to excel. One must continually compare your stack to the blinds. One must regularly compare your stack to other player's stacks. One thing you don't have to do to excel at the game is compare your results to anyone else.
We are all unique people with different backgrounds, aspirations, and perspectives. Our history, circumstances and approach to poker differs, so how can we really compare? No two people's situation are equal or the same. And yet we have this drive to compare results. We have this drive to compare BB/100. We compare winnings. We have this need to rank versus others.
There has been a lot of discussion in the poker world lately regarding comparisons. First it was in regard to how you select the 200 players for the new Federated Poker League. How do you compare different accomplishments; cash game vs tournament results, live vs. online results, recent vs. historical results?
In the wake of Erik Seidel's surge up to third on the all time tournament winnings list with his massive $2.5 million win at the Aussie Millions $250k buy-in Super High Roller event, there has been debate of the validity of that method of calculating all-time winnings. Should the all-time tournament winnings list include invite only events? Should it include tournaments with fewer than 50 players? Should it include freerolls? Should you subtract the buy-ins to reflect profit rather than the deceptive earnings? Should it include massive buy-in events?
Discussion was given to improve the method of comparison and ranking, but there is never a completely fair or perfect answer because the situations aren't really comparable.
- Is Jamie Gold's $12 million win over the biggest field in WSOP history comparable to a respected pro with many significant tournament wins over a decade but only has one 8-10 million cumulatively?
- How does a player like Patrik Antonius compare to others? He has not focused on tournament for much of his poker career, instead choosing to dominate live and online cash games (e.g. up over $11 million on Full Tilt the last several years) and yet he has still won around $3 million in tournaments since 2003, with his biggest score being a $1 million payday for second at the 2005 Five Diamond World Poker Classic.
- How do you factor in relative time and inflation to players like T.J. Cloutier and Doyle Brunson who were successful in decades past?
- How do you factor a NLHE heads up specialist versus a mixed games player?
- How do you factor the changing competitive environment you play in or size of fields one faces?
One suggestion offered included a five year POY ranking type system, but we know how well the regularly tweaked BCS system works for college football. Poker results have too many different variables and variations of the game that rankings and fair comparisons don't really ever hold up. Nor should they.
I accept that our natural desire to compare and contrast as a learning tool. It helps define who we are and what we want to become like or dislike. It is when judgment enters into our comparisons that they lose value for our personal growth.
When observing those with better results than us, envy, insecurity, competition or inspiration can occur. When observing those who do worse than us, pity, derision, conceit, or superiority can occur. I simply don't see much value in comparing your results to others except when it can motivate or inspire you, or alternatively to provide solace or re-orienting realistic expectations. Possibly providing solace, as in misery loves company, could be a minor exception.
The fan of poker will always enjoy seeing comparisons, rankings and money won lists because it supports the poker celebrity economy that is necessary for an observer-sport phenomena. For the individual player, I find it better to focus on how you can play to the best of your ability in all circumstances. The size of your stack only matters at your table. The size of your bankroll reflects your journey in poker. It can't be replicated nor really compared to any other journey, so don't try.