Running It Twice

How many times do you find yourself in a home cash game, heads-up in a large pot, one of you is all-in, and before the river, turn and river, or even whole board are dealt, the other player says, “You wanna run it twice?”

The first time you heard this question, like me, you might have thought the other player was trying to con you. (Not a surprise considering the degenerates sitting at the table.) After learning more about the concept of “running it twice,” however, perhaps you were okay with it.

I find that this issue polarizes poker players. Some of my “colleagues” refuse to run it twice (or thrice or more) and others are always open to “making a deal.”

So on which side of the fence should you reside?

Although poker can be a highly psychological and even emotional game, the answer to the “running it twice” question, in my opinion, boils down to variance.

I shall do my best to explain this concept in plain English (with some math, of course). Let’s start with an example.

Let’s say you’re playing $1-$2 No Limit Hold’em (NLH), you have a stack of $100, you’re holding QQ, and you manage to get your whole stack in the pot with someone who also has $100 and is holding AKs. We’ll say the pot is exactly $200 to make the math easier.

In this scenario, you have an approximately 54% chance of winning and 46% chance of losing (a tie is super rare here). This also means that over 100 identical scenarios, you should win 54 (lose 46), win 540 out of 1,000 (lose 460), win 5,400 of 10,000 (lose 4,600), etc. Thus, your equity in the pot is (.54)($200) = $108. Your long-term expected value (EV) is $108 minus your initial investment of $100, which equals +$8.

When you run it twice, you essentially split the pot in half and play one hand for each half – i.e. two hands, two pots. In the above scenario, if you and your opponent agree to run it twice and play two full boards, you have an approximately 54% chance of winning the first hand and an approximately 54% chance of winning the second hand. Therefore, your equity is (.54)($100) + (.54)($100) = $54 + $54 = $108. EV = +$8.

Yes, your equity when running it once versus twice (or more) is exactly the same! So why should you care if you run it once or twice? This brings us to variance.

Throughout the course of your poker career, whether you win or lose these scenarios will vary, and consequently, your bankroll varies with it. The more you “run it”, the more you decrease your variance, or swings. The more of these scenarios you play, the more you are able to capitalize on your positive expected value. If you play this exact scenario 1,000 times, over the long haul you should win $8,000. But, if you play this scenario only once, you’ll either win $100 or lose $100.

By running it twice, your chance of winning both hands is (.54)(.54) = .29 = 29%, your chance of losing both hands is (.46)(.46) = .21 = 21%, and your chance of a winning only one of the two hands is (.54)(.46) + (.46)(.54) = .50 = 50%. Since there is now less of a chance you’ll lose all $100 or win $100 and a greater chance of a tie, you balance your swings in that moment, even though the effect on your long-term earnings is the same as running it once.

As far as what you should do, think about how often you play and whether you can afford the swings in your bankroll (and the subsequent emotional swings). First, if you don’t play poker often, it behooves you to run it twice because you capitalize on long-term statistics. Think about it like this: Playing 50 hands twice is the same as playing 100 hands once. Second, although running it twice is a good way to manage your bankroll, you probably shouldn't play in the first place if you can’t handle the swings. Third, regardless of your bankroll, if you are having a losing session and you are on your last $100 for the day, running it twice won’t hurt for stack management (unless you are like my bonehead friends who like to “play catch-up” and focus on maximizing short-term earning potential – i.e., they rather run it once to increase their chance of winning the whole pot, in spite of the fact that their chance of losing it all increases as well). Lastly, despite the skill involved, poker is still gambling, and if you got a lot of gamble in you, you’ll probably prefer to run it once.

So, what do I do? It depends on the odds.

I like to make the money odds mimic the actual odds. If I have a 50% chance to win, I have half of the equity in the pot. Therefore, I prefer to run it twice in this scenario because chances are my opponent and I will split the pot, which would be my exact equity. If I have a 67% chance to win, I have 2/3 of the equity in the pot. Therefore, I prefer to run it thrice because chances favor that I will win two of the three hands, and I will get 2/3 of the pot. Sure, I could lose both hands in the first scenario or two or even all three hands in the second scenario, but by taking this approach, I capitalize on long-term statistics and increase the chance that my momentary earnings reflect my long-term earnings.

With that said, if you are the person who is behind in these scenarios, I suggest running it twice or more if your opponent is nice enough. Winning 1/4 of a pot is a gift if you are way behind. Cherish it.

I should also mention that running it twice can sometimes be fun for the players involved in the hand and the players observing. But the “fun factor” depends on the characters at your table. Also, if you have someone dominated in a hand and he has been getting destroyed all night, running it twice can be a nice form of professional courtesy. Personally, I am all for minimizing drama and maximizing respect at the poker table.

Lastly, I encourage you to read Barry Tanenbaum’s article on this topic:

Should You ‘Run Them Twice’?
  The mechanics, the math, and the reasoning

Barry does an excellent job of explaining the concept of “running it twice” and brings up a great point about how the psychology and action of the game can affect one’s decision to run it twice. Here is an excerpt:

Sometimes your game will have a very aggressive player who is constantly making big semibluff moves. If he wins because you fold, he is very happy. When you call him, he always clamors to run it several times, so that he won’t lose large amounts. He wants to keep swings as low as possible, so that he can continue stealing. If you can afford (financially and psychologically) to gamble, decline his offer. By seeing that he will face a bigger gamble if he makes an unsuccessful move on you, he may be less likely to try it.

Please feel free to share your views of this topic on the Discussion Board. I am always curious to learn about people’s thought processes when deciding to (or not to) run it twice. Do you always refuse to run it twice? Or are you always down to make a deal? If your decision varies, tell us why.