Every Sunday night, my friend Jimmy (www.jimmycahill.com) organizes a small, local Sunday Night Poker game. And every week he tempts me to get my visa and make it out to Brooklyn to play with his buddies. With our without me, the game goes on, and every Sunday night there is someone who gets to walk home with a little more cash in their pocket.

I think this is a fairly common thing to do amongst groups of friends. I mean, I think we’ve seen this make it into every RoCo (Romantic Comedy) ever made, and boy do those movies know how to parody every day life. But an interesting problem was brought up when we were looking over how to rank each player.

Now, as typical (fill in day of the week) Poker Nights go, there are some people that are there every game, and then there are some who can rarely be bothered to visit Brooklyn that frequently. That leaves us with a bit of problem since games tend to vary in size, as well as vary in who is playing on a given night. We couldn’t simply tally up how many first to last place finishes everyone has to accurately rank a players skill.

Also, since the number of players can vary, this means that the difficulty of winning a particular game changes as well (the more players there are, the more you have to defeat to be the winner). This throws another wrinkle in the ranking systems since winning an eight player game is harder to do than winning a three player game. And then, how do you rank the random friend who came once and ended up winning? Should he live forever as the best poker player your game has ever seen?

I did a little research and I found a pretty good way to rank players based on the size of the game, how rich the buy-in is, and where people finish in the game. This equation came from Tourney.com, and it does a pretty job of creating separation between who finishes first and who wears the asshole hat (college reference anyone?):

In this equation, B represents the buy-in, so the higher the stakes, the more points you can accumulate. Also, since E, which is the number of entrants, is also in the numerator, a player gets more points for winning larger games. P represents what place you finish in, so the further down you place, the larger the denominator, and the less points you can get. Pretty cool.

The only problem I have with this system is that it rewards players who play a lot, and doesn’t penalize players that lose a lot. With the scoring system, a player that plays a whole lot games and finishes in last place in all of them can outrank a player who plays a few games and actually wins them.

A better system would be to figure out relative points given the size of the game, and its a fairly simple adjustment to the equation. We simply subtract out the points for what the average finish would be. Those that finish above average, get positive points, and those that finish below get negative points. Since losing games does not penalize you to the same magnitude as winning games reward you, a player can actually make up ground very quickly by winning games.

Now if you still find yourself at the bottom of your rankings, you may just have to suck it up and admit to yourself that you are not very good at poker. And if you really still want to keep playing, we play every Sunday night so just give me a call. I can even sell you a pass to the pool on the roof.