On live streams you often see players “running it twice”, or maybe even three times, when there’s an all-in. If the all-in occurs on the turn, and the players agree to run it twice, two river cards will be dealt, and half the pot will be awarded to the winner of the hand using each river card.
The age-old argument over running it twice is, “Does this change my win rate? Am I better off to run it twice if I’m the favorite or the underdog?”
The short answer to that question is that it doesn’t matter at all. If you feel confused about this, don’t feel bad. Even I’ve been confused about it over the years, and actually sat down and worked out the math by hand. I even wrote a computer simulation just to make sure I was right. And I can tell you, with complete confidence, contrary to any statements made by anyone else, that it does not change the amount you will win from the pot in the long run. If you’re a 53% favorite at the point where all the chips go in, it doesn’t matter if you run it once, twice, or ten times, in the long run you will win exactly 53% of the money in the pot.
Some people have gotten the impression that when you’re on a draw, you want to run it twice, because you have twice the chance of making your draw. Other people say that when you’re on a draw you DON’T want to run it twice, because if you make your draw on the first board, one of your outs has been removed from the deck, and you have a lesser chance of making your draw again on the second board. And that’s true, but it all balances out mathematically over time. Sometimes you won’t make your draw on the first board, and then the deck is actually richer in cards with which you can make your draw on the second board.
Don’t listen to anyone that says running it once or twice or 1,000 times will affect your winnings. It doesn’t.
Why Run it Twice?
So why run it twice (or not)? On the positive side, running it twice decreases your variance. This is a big deal if you play poker professionally, especially at high stakes where you don’t have the bankroll to handle huge swings. Suppose you’re all in pre-flop, for $10,000. You have pocket aces and your opponent has pocket kings. Your entire life savings is only $50,000, so this pot makes a huge difference to you. And you’re a big favorite, which is great. But of course, as we all know, nothing is a given in poker. Most of you know that 18% of the time, give or take, a king will appear on the board and you’ll lose the entire pot, and be crushed.
Let’s look at what happens if you run it twice instead. In order for you to lose the entire pot, your opponent needs to catch a king on both boards. This is an exceedingly remote possibility, because once he catches a king on the first board, there is only one king left in the deck and he is drawing to one out on the second board. Therefore he has an 18% chance of hitting a king on the first board, but only about half that much on the second board, if he catches a king on the first board. The actual chance of him hitting a king on the second board, assuming he hits a king on the first, is 11%. If we multiply the probabilities of the odds of both events happening, we see that 18% x 11% is a little less than 2%.
Wow, what a difference! If we only run it once we have an 18% chance of that disaster where we lose the entire pot. If we run it twice, that chance declines to only 2%!
Of course, on the flip side, the chance of you winning the entire pot declines as well. Your opponent has twice the chance of catching a king, since he has 10 board cards now instead of five. In the long run you win the same amount of money, but there will be a lot more split pots. Your variance definitely decreases though, big time, and that was the whole point of running it twice.
Why Not Run It Twice?
So what’s the downside of running it twice? Well, I just mentioned it. It’s not as fun. There will be a lot of split pots. It’s no fun to get all-in preflop with pocket aces, and to have to give your opponent his money back. So if you don’t care about variance, and are in it for the fun, you only want to run it once.
Obviously, we play poker to have fun. And part of the fun is the gamble, having our fortunes change on the turn of a card. When there’s an all-in and one player is a 95% favorite, we flip that last card over anyway, knowing there’s a 5% chance the underdog is going to get really lucky. If that wasn’t fun, we wouldn’t even bother to flip over that last card. We’d simply award 95% of the pot to the favorite, and the remaining 5% to the underdog.
I recently called up my favorite poker vlogger, Pokerface Ash, and criticized her for not running it twice in a huge pot she played which was well out of her comfort zone, as far as bankroll is concerned. She corrected me, reminding me that she is a public figure and has to make exciting videos. None of her 30,000 subscribers want to see her running it twice and splitting the pot! I realized she was right and she had given a lot more thought to this than I imagined.
So there you have it. Running it twice will decrease your volatility, but will not change your win rate. And it might not be as fun. So what do I do, personally? Usually I offer the decision to my opponent. I know it doesn’t affect my long-term outcome anyway. I figure it’s a friendly gesture that might win me some goodwill. And, currently, I’m not playing at nosebleed stakes where a bad beat is going to kill me.
I hope whichever option you choose, you end up on the winning side!
only easy to find reason(s) why people do this is at least one of these:
– they only physically have x buy ins on their person in a live game, and getting more would require loans or them leaving the game to get more, so they’re lowering variance (and allowing themselves to play that session for longer).
– they can’t actually afford the game they are in, and want to play for longer, so upping the chances of not going broke (in the short term, as playing in games you can’t afford, you’d just be putting going broke off (kicking the can down the road, even if that means 1 hand) longer.
– they are in a game where running it multiple times is standard social practice, so they do it to fit in (same as playing bomb pots when you don’t really want to), they might for their own sake be completely indifferent (which they should be, since the math is the same).
– even somebody who’s bankrolled just fine (both overall for the game size and in the short term for buy ins if needed for that session), and isn’t in a socially engineered session that lends itself to running it multiple still might, and it’s from them knowing themselves (and humans in general) to know that losing all in pots/buy ins in the short term causes psychological distress (money lost worth 3 times more than same money won to a human for “feelings”/emotional state) for them, so dodging that while breaking even on EV seems enough reason to do it. esp those that know or suspect they themselves play worse (and/or others play better against them when they are) when losing, and running it multiple times in the short term lessens chances of losing buy ins (it also of course lesson chances of winning full all in pots of course).
there is one addendum, and it deals with the “running it multiple isn’t fun” part: those that are underbankrolled (for game size) tend to correlate with the not very good players. keeping those guys in the game certainly is fun for our bottom lines. also, running it multiple since it lessens the variance it likely convinces them that they are risking less with their all ins, since they are so many chops, leading to more action than they might’ve otherwise put out.
I think an important point was left out of the article. As a player who likes to run it twice when I am ahead (I actually prefer 3 times so that there is rarely a chopped pot, allowing for the reduction in variance and still for someone to come out ahead) one reason to NOT run it more than once is that some players will use the knowledge that you are willing to run multiple boards to alter their play against you. They will shove all in with draws etc knowing that they have additional outs to make their hand. Something that they may think twice about if you are known as a one board player.
I am not suggesting that this should lead to a firm stance one way or the other but simply that it is a player dependent situation that needs to be factored into your overall strategy, so that it can’t be exploited.