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.