The Bizarre Relationship Between Poker and F1
One of the most amazing things in life is when you discover a hidden, surprising, or downright unexpected connection between two different things or people. I am an auto racing fan (Formula 1, NASCAR, sports cars… anything except that frightful golf cart thing called Formula E). I also play a lot (aka too much) poker and even stream myself playing on Twitch from time to time. It’s my depth of life experience with all of these things that lead me to an amazing discovery, and one that I realize covers more and more things.
If you want to make money playing poker (and everyone who plays does), you have to find ways to beat your opponents. Sites like Upswing Poker, tools like ICMizer, and other similar things have reduced poker down to something of pure science. Do X, Y, and Z and your long run outcome is profitable. Benj Spragg, aka Spraggy on Pokerstars and Twitch has done just that, applying the rules carefully and turning $100 starting funds into about $35,000 in a year. Now, to be fair, that isn’t a living by itself. But when you add in income from streaming, income from working as an online brand person for Pokerstars, and the like, you can be sure that Spraggy ain’t suffering financially for basically perfectly applying some sound mathematical rules. Many players today do the same, and the fields are crowded with people who “do the right thing” all the time. Essentially, the game is a fixed, sitting target, and it has narrowed down to actions that are 1% more beneficial or harmful to your bottom line.
People like me who play a little more off the cuff are generally screwed. More on that another time, once I get the last set of donk bad beats off my mind.
Remarkably, F1 and NASCAR both have the same problem, in a different way. Both have long cycles of fairly stagnant rules, with only small changes over a longer cycle. NASCAR are still running the same basic engines and suspension designs that they have run since the 80s. Most advances have been incremental. F1 runs in 5 to 10 year cycles, and their current engine rules and car package rules means that there is little variation basically from car to car. With only 4 engine manufactures 10 teams, and very restrictive rules for physical package, pretty much everyone of teams is immediately at about 96% before things even start. As an example, the second practice in Austrlia saw a spread of lap times from 1 minute 24 ro 1 minute 27. 3 seconds out of almost 90, or about 3%. The fastest to the slowest covered in 3%, first time out of the box for all of these teams.
Essentially, all F1 teams are close to being at the front. The winners and losers are generally played out by millions of dollars spent in the wind tunnels and using dynamic modelling computers to come up with a marginally better car. There are no more sneaky tricks, no more variation, no more surprise blown double defusers to spread the field out. They all have about the same hand of cards, and now they are paying tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars to extract an extra tenth of a second. The results in the race are even more telling, the top 4 covered by less than 8 seconds after 58 laps, and all of the runners separated by about 1 second per lap total (worst would be 1.4 seconds, median well under 1 second). 96-97% of the sport has been conquered and killed, the dragon slayed and not coming back. With bought engines, bought suspension, bought gear boxes, and a small staff of experienced people, Haas started the race around the third or fourth row. Only a failure of wheel nuts (go figure) kept them from a massive haul of points. They did so well, teams that are greatly outspending them are crying foul. They don’t seem to realizes that with 96 or 97% of the sport’s dragon slayed, a team like Haas is just as likely as anyone else to hit a combination that pushes them towards the front.
It’s exactly like poker. Haas is the donk playing a 72 suited and hitting 772 on the flop. You can call them a donk all you like, but for the moment, they are near the front and doing well. They hit a sweet spot in the remaining 3% that makes them fast. faster than most people would like. Anyone and everyone can do it.
The results in poker are a bit weird. Many of the poker world’s biggest names are gone, retired, left, or moved on, only a couple continue on. Gus Hansen, an immensely popular player disappeared for a long time, and recently came back to play a tournament, and found that it’s changed so much. Everyone plays by the book, few variations, and it found it hard to find traction with his more freewheeling style. Winners now are fairly random. It’s who’s in that last 1% on a given day, for whom the cars fall and don’t fall. In F1, it’s for whom the safety car or virtual safety car fall.
NASCAR, well… it’s down to 10ths or 100ths of a second per lap, mostly based on variations between individual tires. NASCAR isn’t a 97% sport, it’s a 99.9% sport. It’s what is driving the fans away, I think!
The more mysteries we solve, the more we know, the more we break things down to the math, the more we get better at things – but so does everyone else. It’s hard to imagine, but in many cases it will be easier for robots to do much of this stuff. That’s scary!