Run It Twice

TWICE IS NICE

[Maybe you already know what it means to “run it twice.” If so, please keep reading anyway, there’s some pretty interesting stuff in here, even if I do say so myself.]

WHAT IS “RUNNING IT TWICE?”

Maybe you’ve been in a home game, two players get all-in on the turn, and one says, “Wanna run it twice?” Here’s what the discussion is about: the person who suggested it is offering their opponent a deal. The dealer will deal two river cards instead of one. Each river card will complete one five-card board as follows:

Community & River Card Situations

Half the pot goes to the player who wins with the first river card; the other half of the pot goes to the player who wins with the second river card. Of course, if the same player wins both run-outs, they get both halves of the pot.

For example, suppose two players get all-in with a board of As-Qd-6d-3d, and agree to run it twice. Player A shows Ad-Qs, Player B turns up Jd-Td. Player B is currently winning with his jack-high diamond flush. But a fourth diamond, ace, or queen (ten cards in total) will give Player A the pot. The first river card is the 7d, giving Player A a higher flush; the second river card is the 3c, changing nothing, and Player B wins that one. Player A and B take their chips back and the dealer splits whatever is in the middle equally between them. If the two river cards are the 7d and the Qc then Player A scoops the entire pot. Conversely, if both river cards are “blanks” (e.g. the Ks and 2h) then Player B gets the whole enchilada.

THE PREDECESSOR—“INSURANCE”

In the old days, before “running it twice,” it was common to have “insurance” discussions when two players were all-in in a big pot. An “insurance agent”—either another player at the table or a deep-pocketed bystander—would offer “insurance” to the person currently in the lead. Suppose Player A and Player B get all-in and the cards are turned up, with $10,000 in the pot. Player A has Ks-Kd and Player B has Jc-Qc. The board is 2c-9s-7c-3s. Player B has 9 outs and would expect to win the $10,000 pot about one in five times. Player A might not want to lose the entirety of such a big pot. So they turn to Player C and says, “Make me an offer.” Player C knows Player A’s fair share of that $10k pot is about $8,000. They say, “Give ya $6,500.” Meaning that Player C will hand Player A $6,500 right now. Then the dealer puts out the river card. If Player A wins, Player C collects the entire $10k. If Player B hits one of his outs, then Player C is out $6,500.

Of course, this is a bad EV deal for Player A, since their “fair” share of the pot is $8,000. But maybe that’s all the money they have at the moment and there’s a rich businessperson throwing a party at the table. Player A can’t afford to bust out of action, so they take the worst of it to ensure they still have money on the table. Player C makes an expected profit of $1,500 from the deal, as any good insurance agent will do.

Now imagine Player D saying, “Hey Player A, I’ll give you $7,000.” Haggling ensues.

Of course, Player B could be looking for their own deal. They’ve got $2,000 equity in the pot and might be willing to sell that for $1,700.

In the meantime, all the other people at the table would just like to get back to playing poker. Maybe it was one of them (think David Sklansky) who said, “Hey, what if y’all just put out two river cards and chop up the pot accordingly? That’ll save a bunch of time, won’t cost you any insurance vig, and we can get on with the damn game.”

TRUTH AND MYTH ABOUT RUNNING IT TWICE

TRUTH—RUNNING IT TWICE (OR THREE TIMES OR 44 TIMES) DOESN’T CHANGE THE EQUITY FOR EITHER PLAYER

All it does is reduce variance. This is all mathematically provable, but I won’t subject you to that here. Just take my word for it that running it multiple times has zero effect on each player’s expectation, when calculated before any run-outs are done.

TRUTH—YOU CAN RUN MULTIPLE BOARDS FROM ANY POINT IN THE HAND

Visualize two players getting their entire stacks in preflop and then discovering it’s QQ versus AK. They might agree to run it twice – 49% of the time, they’ll be taking their money back. You often see two PLO players get piles of chips in on the flop with one holding top set and the other having over 20 outs. Equities run absurdly close in such situations and both players are incented to run the board out twice.

MYTH—YOU SHOULD RUN IT MULTIPLE TIMES WHEN YOU’RE AHEAD

Or you should run it multiple times when you’re behind. You hear both arguments; neither makes sense. Again, running multiple boards out doesn’t change the underlying equities at all; it just reduces the swings for both players.

MYTH—YOU CAN ONLY RUN MULTIPLE BOARDS WITH TWO PLAYERS

There’s nothing in the world preventing you from running multiple boards with three or more players. It can get a little awkward chopping up side pots, but there’s no mathematical reason to prevent it.

SHOULD I RUN IT TWICE?

That’s entirely up to you. I always offer to run it multiple times. The universal rule is if either player doesn’t want to run it twice, then it’s just one run. If my opponent says, “No thanks,” I say, “Plenty cool; good luck to both of us.” I think it polite and gracious to offer my opponent the option and let them decide.

As far as your decision, here’s the deal: if you dig the rollercoaster of big pots swinging one way or another, just run it once (“Whoo-hoo! AK vs. JJ for 300 big blinds! Let’s go for it!”). If you’d prefer slightly smaller swings in your sessions, run it twice if given the option.

One key point—if you are a professional or semi-professional player, I think it’s obligatory to run it multiple times every chance you get. The single biggest danger to a winning pro’s success is bankroll ruin. That is, even if you’re a winning player, a big downswing can bust your bankroll and put you out of action. And such downswings are brutal on your emotional balance too. Running every all-in multiple times (whether you’re ahead or behind) will reduce your variance while not changing your expectation at all. If variance is the pro’s enemy (trust me, it is) then reducing it must be a good thing.

Here’s a final thought to consider; if you take great joy in the thrill of watching the board run out with two players all-in, what could be better than getting double the joy on one hand?

Twice is nice.


Lee Jones has been in the poker industry for over 30 years. He writes at the Global Poker blog, plays poker every chance he gets, and coaches poker. You can contact him at www.leejones.com.