Episode 172: Elena Stover

Elena Stover has a PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience, and her studies focused on risk and decision-making, so when she decided not to pursue a career in academia, poker was a natural fit for her. We talk to Elena about her research, how it informs her thinking about on and off the felt, the short-comings of academia, her gradual transition into poker, her post-Black Friday life as a poker nomad, and more!

Plus, in our strategy segment, we discuss playing Kings when that dreaded Ace turns.

Elena plays on PokerStars as “thegroupie”, which is also her Twitter handle. Her blog contains a number of well-written trip reports, plus links to pieces she’s written for the PokerStars blog and Bluff magazine.

Thanks to Dara O’Kearney for suggesting such a great guest!


0:30 H&W
7:41 strat
28:34 interview


$1 tournament on PokerStars
Hero has 12K, one V has 8K, other two cover
UTG, U1, and U2 limp, Hero in HJ raises to 1200 with KK, first two call, last one folds
4620 in pot

*** FLOP *** [9d 7c 4c]
slavik199208: checks
glushchenkom: checks
Hero: bets 3000
slavik199208: calls 3000
glushchenkom: calls 3000

*** TURN *** [9d 7c 4c] [Ah]

slavik199208: checks
glushchenkom: checks
Hero: checks

*** RIVER *** [9d 7c 4c Ah] [6s]
slavik199208: checks
glushchenkom: bets 8400

11 thoughts on “Episode 172: Elena Stover

  1. As a current PhD student in psychology, I can certainly second all of what Elena was saying about the nature of academia and the current structure of the job market in academia.

    I’ll start by saying that, at least at my university, there has been a recent push to allow graduate students to expand their horizons and consider the opportunities that are available outside of academia (alas, as Elena alluded to, this might be the only option for many of us, especially considering our program is relatively small). The problem is with the faculty members who act as our advisors, who prepared for a very long time to enter academia and know no other life. They don’t know or understand anything about the industrial job market and the differences in skill set that are asked of people in academia vs. industry. Some are diametrically opposed to the idea of their graduate student pursuing an opportunity outside of academia at all, and others allow their own interests and egos to directly hinder student progress, e.g. insisting on a first authorship on a paper for which the student did more work, or when it would be infinitely more beneficial to the student to receive a first authorship. Therefore, it is up to graduate students, of their own accord, to understand the demands of a totally different job market with no guidance and sometimes active resistance from the person whose opinion carries more weight in their professional lives than anyone.

    This is not to say that I, myself, have soured on academia completely. I still love many things about it, even if it can be soul sucking from time to time. But I have no illusions about my own research record and my chances of getting a tenure track job offer directly out of grad school, and have become more willing now than I ever would have thought to simply consider getting a “regular” job right away.

  2. About the strategy hand. I agree with the fold, but in terms of the analysis I’d say it’s dangerous in these $1 tournaments to think in terms of having (e.g.) 1-pair potential bluff catchers and choosing them based on blockers. It quite often happens that villains don’t have proper bluff and value ranges, but instead they have an “I think I’m ahead” range and a “let’s bluff this time” range. For that reason it’s often best just to call the top however many percent of your potential bluff-catching range as villains often turn over things like middle pair (or in this example maybe a 9 with a weak kicker that assumes its probably good after the turn checked through) that had no business betting in the first place. On the other hand their pure bluff range is often smaller than it should be, so I’m happy enough to fold KK here.

    Obviously blocker effects still exist – I think if you move our hand one notch up to A2o its probably a lot closer to a call because of the blocker.

    • I take your point, but I do think that it’s important to think about blockers to hands they _will_ bet, as opposed to blockers to hands they _should_ bet. Although low-stakes players can be less predictable in their betting patterns in some ways, in other ways they are much more predictable–e.g., they’re often less likely to turn pairs into bluffs (even if sometimes they find ambitious value-bets).

      Probably this isn’t much of a disagreement with you, but I do think it’s important to avoid the trap of not trying to figure out ranges at small stakes. Once you’ve got (e.g.) value-betting and bluffing ranges figured out, blocker effects come along automatically, even if they’re diminished.

      • That’s all true. I think the trouble is there isn’t good terminology to describe bad play. Between the bluff range and the value range we can talk about a “middle range” of hands that are sometimes being bet incorrectly (I prefer not to call it an extension of their value range because it isn’t likely to get called by worse and villains aren’t thinking in those terms anyway).

        It’s true that they don’t consciously turn pairs in bluffs, because of the “showdown value iron curtain” between Ace high and a pair of 2s, and generally don’t bluff enough rivers, which is why we are told not to try bluff catching too much against weak players.

        On the other hand the lack of bluffs is balanced by bets from their “middle range”. Now once we are ahead of enough of villain’s bluff and middle range (relative to his value and remainder of middle range) we are indifferent to calling, just as we would be against a GTO bot and can choose bluff catchers based on blockers, but that only applies when we are towards the top of what our traditional bluff catching range would be. In terms of trying to play in a balanced way ourselves, we can think of his middle range as his “turned into bluff” range, even if he doesn’t think that way.

        So on this board the GTO bot would probably think 78 would be a better bluff catcher than KK, because we block various combos of sets, 2 pair and straights, but at this level it isn’t because it doesn’t beat enough of his middle range – or in other words it doesn’t beat all of his “bluffs+turned into bluffs” and is going to run into monsters like Qc7h.

        TBH I wouldn’t call with either hand though.

          • No, no. Thanks to you for all that you two share.

            And thanks for the compliment. $1 tournaments are my area of expertise – my strategy hand from episode 118 is about this buy-in level too and I eventually got out of it and joined the “nosebleed micros”, the $3.50 tournaments which are the highest buy-ins still visible with the Pokerstars MTTSNG micro buy-in filter turned on, before I moved to a HUDless site.

  3. I want to know why the hero did not bet on the turned A. It seems to me that hero already repped a strong hand that includes an A, the players in front of her checked. It seems to me that these oponents could be holding weak A’s that a semi strong bet would push off. If called or risedd then check or fold the rest of the hand. By not raising on the turn you gave up the hand to any pure bluff.

    • I don’t think we’re pushing anyone off of an Ace. As for losing to the occasional bluff, that’s not the end of the world. The best argument against betting is that V could have an Ace, and we don’t want to put in a bet drawing nearly dead. You have to weigh that risk against the risk of getting bluffed, giving a free card, etc.

  4. This is the first podcast I listened to all the way through, since the poker strategy section wasn’t a typical one. Elena is a fascinating guest, very insightful in her description of her job search and finding her way to professional poker. I’d be curious to hear a dialogue or panel with her and Tommy Angelo or one of the meditation-based interviewees. Great podcast!

  5. I’ve got a Ph.D. in Pharmacology, and ~20 years experience with a post-doc, short academic appointment, biotech and pharmaceutical experience to my credit. While Elena paints an accurate picture of the state of academic job opportunities for graduate students in the sciences (not just psychology), I think her bitterness at the experience does not permit her to fairly hold herself accountable for her lack of career options after completing her dissertation. By it’s nature, the role of graduate school is to teach someone to think critically, and develop the skills to create and test a hypothesis. I don’t think that cognitive psychology is that far from my field, a basic medical science taught to first year med students. While post-doctoral fellowships are common, and have tended to become longer in duration than when I completed my degree in 1993, they are not the only option for graduate students not interested in an academic career. And in any event, the role of a post doctoral fellowship is to broaden your scientific expertise/skills. My thesis work was in cardiovascular biochemistry, and my post-doctoral work was in complex disease genetics. Very different disciplines.

    With Elena’s skill set, and no academic career options, she would have been better served to apply for jobs in fields as far ranging as management consulting, finance (as an analyst for biotechnology/imaging device manufacturers), technical sales for imaging companies, or pharmaceutical research. Having an understanding in functional imaging is a valuable asset had she spent time speaking to people outside of a university career office. Did the fMRI she was using never break down? If she had developed a relationship with the field service rep, she would realize that those people more often than not have advanced degrees. The same is true for technical application specialists, sales staff, and even marketing staff. The science is the hard part. Once you prove you have the intelligence, work ethic and drive to complete a Ph.D., there are many opportunities outside of the niche work performed to complete a thesis. I’m not surprised she had a hard time finding a “job” where she could show up, do her work, and leave without taking it home with her. Those jobs don’t exist, with the exception of things like retail, and working customer service answering phones, and that doesn’t sound like something she was interested in anyway.

    She also didn’t discuss how her graduate school was paid for. For the vast majority of graduate students in biomedical sciences, tuition is covered by their department, and students are paid a stipend. Thus, unlike medical students, Ph.D.’s in those fields graduate with little to no debt (assuming a nitcast approved lifestyle).

    With all that said, even in the biomedical sciences, and thinking outside of academia for a long term career, the prospects for jobs are dismal without a postdoc, and still, very challenging. I give a few lectures a year in undergraduate and graduate classes at my state’s university. When approached by students interested in career advice, I universally advise them to go to medical school. Even if not interested in clinical practice, a medical degree will provide significantly more options for research and teaching than a Ph.D. Of course, >$200,000 worth of medical school debt might also not be nitcast approved….

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