Episode 155: Nikolai Yakovenko

Nikolai Yakovenko is a highly accomplished poker player and computer scientist. We talk to him about artificial intelligence, his Open Face Chinese Poker app, playing in Bobby’s Room, preparing for the Annual Computer Poker Competition, and the Computer Poker Research Group. Plus PLO strategy (listen at your own risk)!


0:30 – hello
33:24 – interview


$5/$5/$10 PLO $1500 effective stacks

Button opens $40, Hero calls Ah Kd 9c 4h in SB, BB calls, straddle calls.

Flop ($160) Ad Qh 4d. Three checks, button bets $120, Hero calls, two folds.

Turn ($400) 6h. Hero checks, Villain bets $340, Hero calls.

River ($1080) Qc. Hero checks, Villain bets $480, Hero?

10 thoughts on “Episode 155: Nikolai Yakovenko

  1. Very interesting interview. I’d love to have heard his thoughts on multiplayer games. The concept of the Nash equilibrium becomes less useful (if I was feeling controversial, I’d go with ‘irrelevant’) and everything has to depend on the dynamics. This means that the input into any AI has to be the history of a sequence of hands, not just the current spot in a vacuum. The problem is much harder, even for [0,1] or AKQ(J) – style games. In a few years time, if not sooner, this will be where the research into poker AI will be focussed. I believe the only reason it isn’t focussed there now is that it’s too hard and there are too many low(ish) hanging fruit left in HU poker, but I’d be interested to hear other people’s opinions.

  2. Big bet Stud!

    I grew up playing pot-limit Stud with my family. Excellent game.

    Also mildly hilarious: you guys betrayed your unfamiliarity with the standard labor/professional world when the 5000 hour issue came up. Pretty sure the vast majority of Americans would have done the math by saying “2000 hours in a full-time work-year, so that’s 2.5 years.” Ha!

    Great episode.

  3. Does anybody have any suggestions on where I might find/download the earliest episodes of Thinking Poker? iTunes only shows the most recent 100. I think I missed the first couple of episodes and would love to be able to download them.

    • I’m not sure this is an easy or efficient way to get them, but googling (e.g.) “thinking poker episode 2” will turn up blog posts with usable download links.

      I’m glad you’re interested in going through the archives! I hope you enjoy them.

    • Googling is probably easier, but if you click the Podcast tab on any Thinking Poker page, all of the old episodes (except for the ones on the iBus feed) are archived there. If you click back far enough, you’ll get to Episode 1.

  4. I really enjoyed the PLO hand. It was interesting to hear Andrew break it down, questioning his play of it. The lack of confidence you seem to have in this PLO hand analysis compared to the usual nlhe hand analysis was refreshing, and it was as if you were learning as we the audience were learning vs how it comes off as more of a lesson with your nlhe hand analysis. Please do this again and dedicate more time to PLO. I would really enjoy going along for the ride as you master PLO!

  5. Just listened to this ep and had some thoughts on the PLO hand.

    Preflop: Something important which I don’t think you discussed in great depth was thinking about the two players left to act behind you, specifically how likely it is for one of them to 3bet squeeze if you call. The more likely that is, the less likely you should want to play a marginal hand like this that does poorly vs most people’s 3betting ranges. On the other hand if it’s very likely that both players behind would call then I am more happy to call too as our hand plays just fine in multiway pots given our nut potential.

    I don’t think there’s a significant difference between AKQ4ss and AKT4ss in this pre flop spot. I do kinda disagree with nate though when he says he would prefer a QJT4 type hand – I would always prefer the broadway hand that has the nut flush draw in it over the hand with slightly better straight potential. Regardless, i ultimately agree with andrew when he says that he should probably avoid these very close/marginal spots from the small blind when playing in a lineup vs opponents he suspects to be better than him.

    Last note: During the podcast you mention AKQ4 and AKT4 but in the notation above it is written as AK94. I think AK94 is significantly worse than the others and should probably just be an outright fold pre flop. The presence of additional broadway draws with AKQ/AKT over AK9 makes that difference.

    Flop: Seems very standard.

    Turn: I think your action and logic here is fine to c/c. If we were to check-raise then we’re unlikely to get a worse hand to put more money in the pot and similarly I don’t think we’re folding a better hand very often. Like maybe we fold villain off A4 or A6 but I think that’s about it, and I don’t think he’s calling with Q6 or worse ever. We also rid ourselves of the potential bluff spot when we call and the river is a diamond.

    River: I think it’s a clear check-decide from us. Again I don’t think a shove from us gets villain to lay down a better hand or call with a worse one. When he bets 1/2 pot we’re in a pretty gross spot. Qxxx is a reasonable barreling hand for our opponent to have since it blocks our top two and 2nd set combos and makes it much harder for us to c/r him when he has a Q in his hand and is betting flop or turn. Given we block the Kd and hearts, i tend to weight his range more heavily towards made value hands that have us in bad shape + some semi bluffs that have a Q in them which now beat us + some semi bluffs which we are still ahead of. Given the great odds being laid I can’t imagine a call is too awful of a decision, but my gut instinct suggests that folding is going to be marginally better and that we will have enough Q+ hands in our range to defend this river spot.

    One last part of his range to consider is if he’s more of an aggro player that would bet-bet flop & turn with something like a wheel straight draw + flush draw (either flop or turned fd). If his PF range is sufficiently wide to include the 23xx 25xx and 35xx combos then he will likely get to river with a range composition more heavily weighted towards the air/missed drew components and feel compelled to bluff, making a call more appealing of a decision for us.


    As for the rest of the episode – I found the conversation with Nikolai extremely interesting and his insights gave a perspective not easily found amongst professional poker players. Thanks for having him on!

    • Thanks, Roy – I feel very fortunate to get thorough feedback like this from a PLO player as accomplished as yourself!

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