November Nine: Who are the Smart Bets?
As reported yesterday by PokerStrategy.com, various online sportsbooks have already begun laying odds for the ultimate winner of the WSOP Main Event final table, to be played out in November. The real question, though, is who one should bet on, or whether it’s worth betting at all.
Crunching the numbers
The first thing to do is look for the best odds we can find on each of the nine remaining players, and figure out what the effective juice is, if you’re shopping around. In order to do that, I’ve looked at five of the top online sportsbooks: BetFair, Betfred, Ladbrokes, Coral and Bet365.
Converting all the odds to percentages, we can add them up and see how far above 100% they come out, which tells us how much juice the sites are collectively taking from smart shoppers – this will over course be less than the actual juice being collected by any single site, unless the best odds all happen to come from the same site.
Finally, we can normalize those percentile odds so that they do add up to 100%, and see what the market as a whole thinks each player’s odds are like. Comparing those odds to the percentage of the chips held by the player in question, we can determine their perceived edge. Then we can ask ourselves whether we think anyone is being underestimated.
Betting markets being what they are, the odds are always changing, but what I’ve done is prepared a spreadsheet which uses the odds as of this morning; if you’re actually thinking of making a bet and want to re-run my calculations with the latest odds, just create your own copy of the spreadsheet so that you can edit it, and plug in the latest numbers.
The odds and the juice
Obviously, Joe McKeehen is the player with the greatest odds of winning, seeing as he has nearly a third of the chips in play to begin with. He’s also a good player, so he’s being given a bit of an edge on top of that. The best odds being laid for him currently are at Betfred, where you can get 13/8, or 1.625. At that rate, he needs to win a little more than 38% of the time for a bet on him to be profitable.
Overall, taking the best odds offered between the five sites I’m looking at, the effective juice is just under 10%, which is fairly decent, although you do have to shop around; on the whole, it seems that Ladbrokes offers the best odds on the short stacks, Betfred offers the best on the higher skill-edge players, and the other three offer pretty good odds on the more average stacks and players.
Interestingly, only two of the nine players are seen to have a skill edge at this table, and not a very big one. As you would expect, Max Steinberg, as the table’s only former bracelet-winner, is being given an 8.4% edge, while McKeehen is seen as a 5.8% favorite. Zvi Stern, Neil Blumenfield, Pierre Neuville and Joshua Beckley are all seen as being about average, and short stacks Thomas Cannuli, Patrick Chan and Federico Butteroni are all seen as being huge underdogs in terms of edge (between -15% and -18%), on top of their chip disadvantage.
The magnitude of these edges is quite small. True, a final table is essentially a single-table tournament, and ROIs for those tend to be in the single digits. That’s after you deduct the entry fee, however, so you can add a few percent back in to get the players’ actual playing edge. Moreover, the final table will be played over two days, making for a much slower structure than any single-table tournament. For those reasons, I’m pretty surprised that no one is being given an edge of 10% or more.
That said, let’s take a look at what we know about the players, and whether it makes them a smart bet or not.
Joe McKeehen: BET
Joe is hugely experienced, with a total of 86 live cashes on record over the past five years, more than anyone else at the table. Most of these are small buy-in events, but I’m not sure that matters; after all, most of the toughest competition fell on Day 7, and there’s really no one in the November Nine that you would call a top-level shark. In fact, the competition he’s going to be facing in November is actually much like the final tables he’s used to… except for the fact that everyone is going to be training like crazy between now and then. Unlike the others, it’s also not his first time playing for a seven-figure sum; he came 2nd in last year’s Monster Stack, which paid out $1.3 million for first.
McKeehen’s stack being what it is, it’s pretty likely that he’s going to make the top 4, at least, so perhaps what’s most important in judging his edge is looking at how he does when it gets down to the last few players. Out of his tracked results, he’s had twelve wins, seven 2nd place finishes, seven 3rd and four 4th. So, while an average player would be expected to finish 25% of the time that he makes the top 4, Joe does it 42.8% of the time. That’s a pretty big edge short-handed, albeit on quite a small sample.
Finally, as the deep stack, he’s going to be well positioned to chip up during the mid-stages of the final table, once the pay jumps become significant, especially with the other tough players seated to his right and lots of bullying targets to his left.
Taking all these things into account, I think he’s got considerably more of an edge than the 5.8% he’s being given, and maybe even better than the 16.3% edge he’d need to enjoy to make betting on him profitable. That’s a pretty big number, admittedly, but given the slow structure and all his advantages, if you’re looking for a high probability bet and a good sweat, I think taking McKeehen is pretty reasonable.
Zvi Stern: PASS
Zvi is one of the lesser-known players at the table, with only two live cashes. It’s surprising, then, that he’s being rated as only a slight (2%) underdog. Of course, a player who is unknown in the live tournament scene can turn out to be an online shark or a solid cash game player, but Zvi has said that he travels around the world to play tournaments; that being the case, a mere two cashes doesn’t look very good for him.
He’s also probably being overestimated due to the fact that he’s frequently been near the top of the chip counts; obviously, chip counts for a single tournament are hugely susceptible to variance, so I would guess that in this case, his image exceeds his actual skill. One thing going for him is that he’s seated in a pretty good spot to snap off the short stacks, but given that he would actually have to hold a 7.7% edge on the field to make him a profitable pick, I would not bet on Zvi.
Neil Blumenfield: PASS
Blumenfield is an older guy who’s been around for a while, but never a major force. He’s got 21 cashes on record, dating back to 2008. Like McKeehen, he plays mostly smaller buy-in events, except for the Main Event, which he’s cashed once before, in 2012.
What’s telling about Blumenfield’s record is that he’s only won one tournament in his life, back in 2008. Furthermore, it was a $1000 buy-in event for which 1st only got him $15,930, suggesting a small field of around 100 runners. He’s had a lot of cashes between 9th and 5th, meanwhile, which leads me to believe that he may be too tight. It also means he’s lacking for short-handed experience. I therefore expect him to get chewed up by someone like McKeehen once the first few short stacks have busted and the pay jumps become more significant.
For that reason, and given that Blumenfield would need a 9.5% edge to be a profitable pick, I would not bet on him.
Pierre Neuville: PASS
Pierre Neuville is interesting because of his insane qualification rate in online satellites, nearly as many cashes as McKeehen and a huge 40% ITM in live EPT events. Unfortunately, these facts work against him when it comes to his odds of winning; achieving a high qualification rate in multi-ticket satellites requires extreme discipline on the bubble, and a 40% ITM likewise suggests that he’s a chronic min-casher. Both of these facts would suggest that he’s going to be very sensitive to the pay jumps in the top half of the final table, and therefore prone to getting bullied.
His final table heads-up performance has also been poor. He’s made the final two a total of seven times, but only won two of those, for a 28.5% heads-up win rate. McKeehen, by contrast, is sitting at 63.2%.
That said, he has lots of experience and may in fact care more about achieving a career-defining win than about the pay jumps, so he may not play as tight as you’d expect. I might even give him a narrowly positive edge rather than the narrowly negative one being laid him by the betting lines… but I wouldn’t give him the 7.5% you’d need to bet on him.
Max Steinberg: PASS
On paper, you’d have to give Max Steinberg the biggest skill edge. He’s the only bracelet holder, and looking at the rest of this year’s WSOP results, I found that the wins-to-final-tables ratio of players with one bracelet has been 50% higher than that of players without. He’s also the only player who focuses on four- and five-figure tournaments, rather than the smaller events frequented by McKeehen and most of the others.
The question is whether that high stakes experience is really relevant. If someone like Daniel Negreanu, Fedor Holz or Justin Schwartz had made the final table, you’d have to say that Steinberg had the best chance of standing up to them, but they all fell short. In terms of the caliber of players who’ve actually made it, McKeehen is likely the guy with more experience facing this kind of field.
That said, if it came down to Steinberg and McKeehen at the end, you’d guess that Steinberg would hold the skill edge in heads-up. It’s true that he’s finished 2nd if five tournaments and won only one, which is a pretty dismal heads-up record, but that’s on a very small sample and we don’t know what his average chip ratio was going into those matches. More importantly, he managed to cash the $10,000 WSOP Heads-up Championship back in 2012, which is an extremely tough event.
The real problem is that Steinberg needs to be 19.2% better than the rest of the table in order to make him a profitable pick. With equal stacks and unknown seating, it might be close, but the problem is that he’s in Seat 4 and McKeehen is two to his left in Seat 6, with more than a 3-1 chip lead on Steinberg. Facing that twofold strategic disadvantage, I doubt that Steinberg can really play with maximum efficiency. I would therefore reluctantly pass on him as a betting option.
Thomas Cannuli: BET
Cannuli is the short stack sandwiched between Steinberg and McKeehen, which doesn’t bode well for his chances. It’s tempting to count him out for that reason and his sparsity of tournament cashes. It’s important to remember, however, that he is in fact a professional player, just a specialist in cash games rather than tournaments. At -15.9%, he’s got the worst perceived edge deficit of anyone except for the two short stacks, Chan and Butteroni. That doesn’t seem right to me, even given his terrible seat draw.
Also, once you look past McKeehen, he’s got all the short stacks and tighter players to his left, giving him decent stealing opportunities, provided that he has a plan to deal with McKeehen’s 3-bets. Preflop raising wars are pretty common in cash games, so I expect that he’ll be able to keep McKeehen in line. Furthermore, as a cash game player, his lack of experience adjusting to ICM may disadvantage him in terms of dollar EV, but actually helps his chances of winning, provided he doesn’t overcompensate.
Cannuli’s chances are rated so poorly that he doesn’t actually need an edge to be a profitable bet, he just needs to be no worse than a -7.5% underdog to the rest of the table. Given that it’s a fairly unimpressive table overall, then even where he’s sitting, I can’t see his chances being much worse than his chip share and maybe even a little better. If that’s the case, he should actually be a great bet despite appearances.
Joshua Beckley: PASS
Joshua Beckley is also ostensibly a pro player, but he’s only been one for a year, which is no time at all when it comes to live poker. Moreover, that move was kicked off by his very first live tournament result, a $98,348 win in a $1500 Big Stax event last year. He’s cashed in plenty since then, including several final tables but no further wins. Any time someone turns pro on the basis of one result, it’s as likely that they’re just running hot as that they’re really a significant long-term winner.
His position at the table is also not really any better than Cannuli’s. He may not face quite as many steals as Cannuli, but his own stealing possibilities are extremely limited, with Steinberg, Cannuli and McKeehen all sitting between him and the softer money. Since his chances are rated at about average, he’d need nearly a 10% edge to be a profitable pick, so for me, he’s just about the least appealing bet at the table.
Patrick Chan: BET
Chan actually has a fair bit of experience, with 37 cashes to his name, although like McKeehen, they’re mostly in lower buy-in events. With his short stack and position to the left of the deep stacks, you’d expect him to be at a disadvantage, but this is partially mitigated by the fact that the first few final table pay jumps are so tiny. That being the case, and given that Steinberg and McKeehen will likely be opening a lot of hands, he’s actually pretty well placed to shove over their raises and get his gamble on in the first few orbits.
As a short stack, it’s of course likely that he’ll be one of the first out, but you’re getting 33-1 odds on him. His perceived edge is the worst at the table, but he’s definitely not the worst player, nor am I convinced his seat draw is all that bad. If you’re looking to make a long shot bet, I think you could do a lot worse than Chan.
Federico Butteroni: PASS
If Chan were not an option, I might say that Butteroni is narrowly a bet, but given that they’re both being laid the same odds, it’s hard to see why you would take Butteroni over Chan. He’s got less experience, ever-so-slightly fewer chips and a near-identical seat. Furthermore, they’re both starting the final table with push-or-fold stacks, and between the two of them, Chan is always going to be the one with the first opportunity to enter the pot. That’s going to shut Butteroni out from many potential stealing situations early on; it’s one of those rare situations where they player in earlier position actually has the advantage, due to being able to commit his stack first.
Butteroni has also been one of the most enthusiastic and emotional players throughout the run-up to final table. Although that could work in his favor if he gets his hands on some chips, it also means he’s probably going to be very reluctant to be the first out, which could give Chan one more advantage over him in the early going.
I could maybe see putting a bet on Butteroni if you’re putting one on Chan as well, but if you’re only looking to take one player, I can’t see any good reason that you’d choose the former over the latter.
Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.