Martyball

Marty Schottenheimer, for those of you who don’t know, was a head coach in the NFL for 21 seasons. He’s a beloved character to many, but what I always loved about the guy was his creation of "Martyball."

What is Martyball? It’s a game he made for his players, a game that ensured he almost had a .600 career winning percentage.

The basic idea behind Martyball is do not turn the ball over, have a running game that spooks people focus on tight passes that won’t get intercepted, and by the way DO NOT TURN THE BALL OVER.

John Wooden, the winningest coach in NCAA basketball history, had a philosophy as well: Do not turn the ball over. They said 85% of his practices were passing.

Future coaches would take this philosophy and infuse it with shot selection. You took a two-point shot within the paint, a three-pointer, or nothing at all. And you did not turn the ball over.

Moneyball was a philosophy used by Billy Beane and company at the Oakland Athletics. The idea behind it was, "the shape of the player, his look, his mediocre defense…it doesn’t really matter. What really matters is how often he gets to first base. If you get guys who keep fouling off balls, wearing out pitchers, and walking to first then you’re going to win more games than you deserve to."

What does this all mean? Well, notice that all of these distilled systems have created champions.

They didn’t keep Marty Schottenheimer coaching for two decades because he was a nice guy. He was effective. John Wooden won 10 NCAA national championships in 12 years. A little team by the name of the Golden State Warriors would place more emphasis on shot selection and proficiency than any other team. The Oakland Athletics were one of the poorest teams in baseball when they set a record for a winning streak.

Why do these systems work?

Simply put, most people don’t have time to master a subject.

If you ask me, "Alex, what’s the key to playing out of position?" I could write you a book. I could discuss with you all the ways to set up a triple barrel, my favorite checkraises which are underused, hand selection, overbets, and a barrage of other data.

If I answered in that fashion, however, you’d likely get one trick out of it or nothing at all. When the Navy SEALs run missions they never give a soldier more than three to five tasks. Simplicity is the key to execution, they believe. In their tests, they’ve found people don’t perform as well when they have a laundry list to memorize.

I take it even further. If I was teaching you how to have a better golf swing, I’d likely tell you to focus on one thing every drive. I wouldn’t give you three or four directions until you were comfortable with each one individually.
And always, always, always I start with the most effective advice.

So if you ask me, "what is the key to playing out of position?" I am going to answer, "Be the raiser, get it heads-up, and bet enough on the flop to fold out ace high."

Sounds simple enough, but databases confirm this is a very profitable strategy.

Those "games" coaches and general managers came up with weren’t pulled out of their rears. They have their basis in analytics.

According to every deep dive into statistics there has ever been, turnovers are death in NFL football. One turnover throws off a game to a wild degree. One touchdown is such a high percentage of a final score. Anything leading to that can throw off entire game plans.

The average pitcher can’t go for more than 100 pitches. Many relievers aren’t even good for half of that. If you keep getting guys in the batter’s box with mediocre batting averages who foul balls off and never swing on a bad pitch, then you’re going to throw off a lot of pitching rosters.

The three-point shot is good for 1.2 points on average, given a proficient shooter. A 2-point shot within the paint is worth 1.2 as well. A non-paint 2-point shot is worth less than a point. Multiply your possessions with rebounds, remove turnovers, insure high-value point shots, and you win more games than average.

See? There’s a system to everything.

The average open raise is worth a big blind. The average threebet is worth two big blinds. Continuation betting into someone is worth a big blind on average. A good reraise all-in or open jam is worth a quarter of a big blind to a full big blind.

Flatting a threebet will lose you half a big blind on average. A cold call in position often doesn’t make more than half a big blind. You lose around a big blind every time you face a continuation bet.

See? Simplicity. Keep the betting lead. Threebet whenever you have a halfway decent hand, and you think you won’t be fourbet. Open when you have at least an okay holding and no one is going to threebet you. Make continuation bets that make sense. Don’t put yourself on defense.

Of course, this game has endless intricacies, but it doesn’t have to be endlessly difficult. Start with these basics, our own

"Martyball," and see how far you can go.

I call it "moneyball poker" for what it’s worth.

Good luck to all of you. 

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