Notes on being the Day One chip leader

Some decades ago David Sklansky published an essay called "Why the First Day Chipleader at the WSOP Never Wins." It came to mind because Byrne Hobart wrote up this essay about persistence. (It turns out the second quintile of EBITDA growth does better than the first quintile according to Verdad's research.)

It's a fun comparison: in some situations, and not just toy examples, the best performance is correlated with worse outcomes than merely very good performance. (Where else is this true?)

The essay is very old, by now, and does not apply directly to the modern game. Here are some updates:

  1. The conclusion no longer holds: day one chipleaders do quite well. Here is a PokerNews analysis noting that both Joe Cada and Martin Jacobson won after chipleading Day 1.
  2. But there is not quite such a thing as "the Day One chipleader" any more, because the Main Event is held with several starting flights (with surviving players combining later).
  3. Good tournament strategy is probably more aggressive than Sklansky foresaw.
  4. Or, at least, excellent players are studying and implementing aggressive strategies much more often and more effectively than they were when Sklansky wrote that essay.
  5. The Main Event is much bigger, so that the returns to having a huge stack are higher than they were when the fields were smaller. (There are roughly 10x as many entrants as there were 20 years ago.) Or, at least, the value of having a huge stack and playing well thereafter is much higher.
  6. And because the field is bigger, being at the top of Day One is a bigger accomplishment.
  7. I've only briefly checked my memory here, but I think the blinds go up more slowly than they used to, which means that large pots (especially those at the end of the day in 2022 as compared to 2002) on day one on average involve more skill than they used to.
  8. And there are far more good players than there used to be. This means both that one of them has a better chance of coming out on top and that weak players playing manically are much more likely to get picked off at some point, even on the first day. (The previous point is relevant here too.)

So, Sklansky's point is still worth thinking about, but no longer straightforwardly applicable to the actual Main Event.

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