Saturday, March 26, 2011

"I never change seats"

I was playing at Imperial Palace last night. The first open seat was #2, so I took it. I immediately asked for a seat-change button, hoping to move either to one of my favorites (1 and 10), or someplace else if it seemed that strategy were to dictate it.

There was a very pleasant man in seat 1. He heard my request, which prompted him to set about telling me how he had made up his mind long ago that he would never, ever change seats under any conditions. His reason? He played in California rooms with bad-beat jackpots, and he never wanted to have to face the realization that he had moved out of a seat where the jackpot later hit and thus have the regret of having missed it.

Maybe I'm overly steeped in statistical and probabilistic thought, but it took me, oh, about one-tenth of a second to see the gaping hole in his logic. I asked him, "What about the regret of failing to move into the seat where the jackpot would later hit? What if you pass up the chance to move to seat 6, and a few minutes later the new player there wins hundreds of thousands of dollars?"

He got a slightly puzzled look on his face and said, "I hadn't thought about that."

You can influence your chance of being part of a bad-beat jackpot by your initial hand selection, so it's not completely random. But given a particular style of play, which seat you're in makes no difference in your chances of winning a jackpot. It also makes no difference whether you decide to stay in one seat for the entire session, or play musical chairs at every opportunity. I think this guy was smart enough to understand that.

He made up his mind about never moving based on a purely emotional factor: avoiding regret. But for some reason, he was only able to see one side of that coin. Having regret for an affirmative action that he had taken loomed large enough that it decided the entire issue for him. He was willing to pass up any strategic advantage, in terms of having certain players to his right or left, in order to avoid wishing he had not moved. But in years of living with and implementing this decision, the possibility of regret over inaction had never even crossed his mind, even though the chance of that outcome is exactly the same as the chance of the one he so desperately wishes to avoid.

You human beings are kind of funny creatures, what with your emotions and cognitive biases and all.

Incidentally, for a thorough discussion of all of the "what-if" questions surrounding poker jackpots, see Grange95's post here. Cliff Notes version: A bad-beat jackpot requires lots of random outcomes (e.g., the shuffle) and arbitrary decisions (e.g., when a player decides to take a restroom break) all to be aligned just so; it makes no logical sense to assign special value to some of them while ignoring others.


Conan776 said...

hed asplode

Grange95 said...

This type of flawed thinking--ignoring the implications of choosing inaction--reminds me of my years of reffing basketball. In close games, a ref will make a call near the end of the game, and invariably someone will claim that the call "decided the game". Nobody stops to think, however, that failure to make that call--ignoring a foul or violation--"decides the game" just as much as making the call. But, the whistle, as an affirmative action, draws all the attention and criticism.

lightning36 said...

I was going to switch tables at Bally's while playing $1/2 NL. Before I could switch to the open seat at the next table, someone hit a high hand jackpot. Was I wrong in thinking the guy owed me a share of the jackpot since my presence would have meant no jackpot? lol