David Lappin: Leveling Wars and the Dangers of Misjudging Opponents

  • September is a month filled with online poker tournament series
  • Poker sites must decide whether or not they want to run competing series
  • One must always understand the level that their opponent is at
  • Underestimating the opponent can lead to a quick loss in any endeavor
Hard contact in a soccer match
VSO News writer and poker pro David Lappin believes that over or underestimating an opponent in poker or sports can have devastating consequences. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Less “Escape to Victory,” More “Lord of the Flies”

In my final year of school, a school which played rugby very badly and cricket very well, there was a tradition of the 6th years putting together a side to play the teachers at soccer. The teachers had a regular 5-a-side on a Friday after school and while one or two of them were sporty enough, they were, for the most part, a collection of unlikely shaped last picks. The 6th years had a few proper footballers. There was even one lad who had had a trial for Everton.

This was “Lord of the Flies,” and all the teachers were Piggy.

As the day approached, the anticipation grew and the match became the talk of the school yard. However, the chatter wasn’t about winning the game. This was no “Escape to Victory” with the prisoners rising up against their oppressors. This was “Lord of the Flies,” and all the teachers were Piggy.

“I’m gonna foul that fat f*ck Mr. K for all those times he gave me 100 lines.”

“I’m gonna two-foot late tackle that posh pr*ck Mr. J for all those detentions.”

I had my own score to settle too:

“I don’t care if I get red-carded in the first minute, Mr. T is gonna feel my studs down the back of his legs.”

Rock, Paper, Scissors

September is traditionally a month of online grind in poker. That is not to say that the booming world of live poker has taken a break, but it is noteworthy that many of the big sites have pivoted their attention to the virtual felt. While the Triton Festival is in full swing in Cyprus, the vast majority of the poker playing world is battling it out in big online series like PokerStars’ WCOOP, the WSOP Online, the Winamax Series, and the Unibet UOS Lightning.

Poker sites are always engaged in leveling wars. If the competition is having a big live event, should you have an online series to cater to and possibly lure away their online customers? When they are having an online series, is that a good time to host a live stop or is it better to also schedule your own online series and help consolidate that as a period for those getting their poker fix at the computer? The latter is certainly the safe bet, the game theory optimal solution.

If they underestimate their opponent, they can be leveled. 

Poker players will appreciate this game of “Rock, Paper, Scissors.” While the game has always been somewhat circular in nature, these days it more resembles an inward spiral toward a balanced “GTO” center. The best exponents understand that the “max-exploitation” approach still involves some nuanced divergences from equilibrium, but crucially, they also understand the pitfalls of that strategy. They know that they need to be careful not to be exploited. If they underestimate their opponent, they can be leveled. If they overestimate their opponent, they can level themself.

Men versus Boys

The day finally came. It was just days before the school term finished. There were mutterings in the dressing room about playing a fair game, showing our maturity, putting aside our differences. After all, the teachers were just doing their jobs all these years.

“F*ck that,” said one dissenting voice. (Okay, yes it was mine.) “You can do what you want fellas,” I said, “but I’m here to get my pound of flesh.”

There was laughter all round and a few cheers of support, but as we took to the field, it was clear something about our demeanor had changed.

we would rise above petty differences

We were men and I think some of us realized that this was our opportunity to behave like men. In front of a small crowd of our peers, we would rise above petty differences, petty punishments, petty report card comments and those who had come to watch a bloodbath would witness something altogether more cathartic: magnanimity.

Within seconds of the whistle, the rotund Mr. K slid into our striker, getting all man and no ball. A curdling scream rang out. Play continued. Seconds later, our midfield playmaker tried to jink past the ostentatious Mr. J and was upended, taken out like Roy Keane took out Marc Overmars in the opening seconds of that crucial World Cup qualifier. He even leaned in to deliver a Keanoesque choice word to his fallen pupil.

“Referee?” The referee was the school’s PE teacher. “Play on,” he said, defiantly.

Somehow, the ball ended up at my feet. I looked up and to my horror Mr. T was already mid-air, both sets of studs showing and on a collision course with the shin of my standing leg. Rock, Paper, Scissors? More like “F*ck, B*llocks, Sh*t!”

In the split second it took for him to almost break my leg, the reality that they were fully grown men and we were scrawny teenagers became immediately apparent. It also occurred to me how bleeding obvious this all was.

It ain’t no fun when the rabbit has the gun

We had underestimated our opponents. We were bragging about how we are going to hurt the teachers for all the times they had wronged us, when all along it was them, every Friday after school, venting their frustrations at us, cursing our names for being the insolent brats we were, sharing their stories of who they couldn’t wait to hurt.

We were lambs to the slaughter.

Mr. K, Mr. J, and Mr. T were all biding their time until they had us right where they wanted us, not in the classroom where corporal punishment was banned but on the field of play where they could do their own re-enactment of that famous teachers/pupils rugby scene from Monty Python’s “Meaning of Life.” We were lambs to the slaughter.

So, whether you are a poker player or a poker industry bigwig, the next time you are weighing the pros and cons of a decision, make sure not to underestimate the competition. Make sure you know which level they are on, or you might be bringing a knife to a gun fight. Remember that the moment that you diverge from balanced GTO principles, you have declared a leveling war and that is a war you can lose, too. I still have a scar on my shin from Mr. Z’s studs to help me remember.

It ain’t no fun when the rabbit has the gun.