Friday, June 25, 2010

LOL explainaments

It happened again. Not that it's rare, by any means. But I've been seeing it for four years now, and it still baffles me: The post-call explanation.

I was at Excalibur last night, not in the hand. There's about a $35 pot, three ways before the flop. Flop is J-7-x. Player A checks. Player B, who had been the pre-flop raiser, makes a pot-sized bet of $35. Player C folds. Player A goes all in for $53. It's $18 more to Player B. He calls, showing K-J. Player A flopped a set of 7s and wins it.

Then Player B goes for the explanation, even though nobody said a word to him: "It was only $18. I had to make the call there."

The call is, in fact, quite natural there. It's $18 to win about $123. That's almost 7:1 pot odds. If the sum of the times that your opponent is bluffing, the times that he is doing this with top pair but a weaker kicker, and the times that you start with the worst of it but catch up makes you the winner just one out of seven times, it's a break-even proposition. If you happened to know that this particular opponent would only do the check-raise all-in with a set, you could fold. But there are lots of $1-2 NLHE players who will do this with J-Q or J-10, so it's almost surely a call worth making, in mathematical terms. As Joe Sebok quipped at one point during the WSOP Main Event final table last year, you'd make the call even if all you're holding is a Snickers wrapper and a tarot card.

The puzzling thing for me is not the call, it's the speech. No matter how long I ponder it, I can come up with only one reason that a person would offer the explanation: He doesn't want other players to think he was stupid to put more money in when he was drawing nearly dead.

But that's why I don't get. If the call was correct, why in the world would he care if somebody else watching him thought it was a dunderheaded things to do? Most players seeing what happened will immediately understand the reason for the call. But even if they don't, if they're not sophisticated enough to understand the concept of opponents' ranges and pot equity, etc., what difference does their opinion make to you?

It's a poker-specific example of a general phenomenon that likewise always mystifies me. For example, somebody gets off the elevator on the wrong floor, takes two steps before realizing the error, then reverses course and gets back on. In my experience, most people doing this feel an irresistible urge to tell others in the elevator something like, "I thought that was my floor, but it's not." What--you think we didn't deduce that from your actions? Or somebody slips on a wet or greasy spot on the floor, and has to flail wildly to avoid taking a pratfall. After looking to see what he might have stepped in, it's nearly inevitable that this will be followed by a comment to whomever might have seen it: "I didn't see that slick spot there." Oh, really? Gee, we couldn't have guessed.

Why do people feel the need to explain themselves in such situations? It can only be because they care what this small group of strangers thinks about them. But why would that be? They're not a jury of your peers, holding your fate in their collective hands. Whatever they may think, it has zero effect on you. Their thoughts have no power to change your life in even the most minute way. Suppose that every one of them is thinking, "Wow, that guy is really stupid/clumsy." So what? How are you harmed in the slightest by their opinion, whether it is right or wrong? Even if somebody is rude enough to actually voice that opinion, what difference does it make to you? You ignore it and go about your day.

This whole concept of caring what total strangers think of you and trying to influence it is yet another in the long list of behaviors that you humans engage in that I have precious little hope of ever understanding.*

The most hard-core of my readers may recognize that I have written about this before--three years ago, here. But it keeps happening, and keeps baffling me, and I wanted to address it again, now that I have a significantly larger audience than I did back then. I still stand by the basic thesis I had then:

Furthermore, your explanation just reveals a pathological insecurity: you
are so afraid of what people will think of your call that you feel a need to
explain it. But why on earth would you care what the other players think? If it
was a reasonable call, given the range of hands with which your opponent made
his bet, and it turned out that he was actually at the high end of that range
with one of the few hands that would beat you, then be content with your own
analysis that it was the right move. If you correctly sniffed out a bluff or a
hand that was otherwise weaker than the bet represented, great, be proud of

Either way, what is the point of trying to change what somebody else might
think of your call by providing an explanation of it? If somebody is impressed
with a good call, they won't be made more so by your little self-centered
explanation. And if somebody is inclined to think you made a bad call
(regardless of the results), so what? Let them think you're a calling station or
a moron, and then figure out a way to exploit that erroneous impression (if, in
fact, it is erroneous). What's more, consider this: If it was actually a bad
call, your justification of it after the fact just makes you look that much
dumber in the eyes of experienced players, and they will go out of their way to
set you up to make the same mistake again, to their benefit.

*Yes, I do realize that in poker one's table image is an important entity, and it can be worthwhile to both monitor and try to manipulate it. But the post-call explanation, as far as I can tell, does not have that kind of calculated goal in mind. It is not trying to deceive in order to set up opponents to make a costly mistake later on. It is merely trying to save face, which is an entirely different thing.


Grange95 said...

I think you are a bit quick to dismiss the face-saving value of the kinds of comments you disparage. It is a reflexive part of human nature to care how others see us, and making a face-saving statement serves an important social function. Essentially, the statements give the person who made a blunder the opportunity to suggest an explanation other than personal incompetence as a reason for their blunder. Equally important, it allows those who observed the blunder the opportunity to "absolve" the blunderer of blame, even though everyone involved knows the "truth" about the blunder. The absolver feels magnanimous, while the blunderer feels appreciative relief.

The end result of these face-saving statements is that a person who blundered doesn't have to feel that they've been judged incompetent, and the observers assure the blunderer that s/he hasn't been judged. It breaks any social tension, and allows everyone to move about their business as if nothing happened. Sometimes, observers even offer blunderers an "out", making a joke or expressing that the blunderer was just unlucky, thereby suggesting that there is no reason for tension. It's just part of the "lubrication" that helps society function.

Now, you're absolutely right that, technically, it shouldn't matter what people think. In reality, it does matter to most people. Also, some people are substantially more or less concerned about what others think about them when they blunder when compared to the norm; there are usually fancy DSM-IV psychological disorders to label those folks ....

Rakewell said...

"Now, you're absolutely right that, technically, it shouldn't matter what people think. In reality, it does matter to most people." So why is this? Why the discrepancy between what is and what should be?

Also, if you're right that it "shouldn't" matter, then why would one to whom it actually doesn't be labeled as having a mental disorder of some sort?

Conan776 said...

::rolleyes:: Lord help any poor soul who tries to start a conversation with you around when you are in full on Grump mode.

I'm imagining a stranger telling you "Nice day" and you just staring back in silent horror thinking how dim they are for point out the obvious. Well of course it's a nice day, the sun is out, the birds are singing, what the hell is wrong with this person!

But yeah, anyway, it really is a nice day today. :-P

Grange95 said...

Many social conventions are not "logical". Instead, they are based on emotion, arising from hard-wired primal urges. So, asking whether a particular social dynamic "should" matter is rather beside the point, since it doesn't arise from a rational thought process; it's simply instinctual.

As for mental disorders, failure to conform to societal conventions is considered a diagnosable condition only in extreme circumstances (usually when the problem significantly impairs a person's ability to function in their personal and/or public life). Some people need more social reassurance than others; but there is a big difference between being "needy" and having a borderline personality disorder. On the other extreme, some people are less willing to give social reassurance than others; but there is a big jump from "blunt", "insensitive", or "rude" to having narcissistic personality disorder.

FWIW, I think this particular quirk of human behavior is more obvious to you and bugs you more at the poker table because your approach to the game is dialed very much to the logical/analytical side. You have a great ability at the poker table to turn down your emotional side. So, I think when people at the table make some irrationally based comments, you have a heightened sensitivity to those comments, given your Spock-like focus on the logical. Of course, those irrational comments then annoy you, giving you something to write about, and giving us Grump-lovers something worthwhile to read (and poke fun at!).

Anonymous said...

Well said, Grange and Conan! If the Grump would direct the energy and intelligence it takes to disparage people in such a manner -people who are doing him no harm - towards a positive endeavour, who know what he could achieve. A cure fo cancer, perhaps? Or one for baldness.

NoLimitDoc said...

I find this very interesting. Simply put the need to be accepted by others is a survival instinct. We like to think that we are individuals but in reality we are a collective whole that depend on each other. If we are not accepted by the whole we do not survive. Although certain situations might be truly trivial and matter not, it can be difficult to contain the natural reflex to be accepted. Sure it can be pathologic. Are you gonna talk for the rest of the elevator ride why you got off on the wrong floor? Are you going to go home and tell your friends and family why you got off on the wrong floor? Will you be talking about it next week?

Maybe part of the reason you do not feel you are part of the pack is that you do not desire to be part of the pack.

Memphis MOJO said...

"How are you today?" is a ritualistic comment. You don't really mean it and you definitely don't want to hear that their back hurts or they're getting a divorce or whatever - you are making a social greeting.

I'm guessing that what you've described is something similar.

Cardgrrl said...

We are all hooting baboons. Some hoot more than others. Some tolerate hooting more than others.

astrobel said...


you should definitely read "the naked ape" by Desmond Morris. Cardgrrl and Grange are spot on.

Paboo said...

And some just don't give a hoot.

Read this book to my 5yo this weekend and thought of the Poker Grump, "Axle Annie and the Speed Grump".

P.S. I'm wondering if you would be happy living on a deserted island.