Results orientation, imperfect information, illogical thoughts, and you [long]
Looking around the forums, it's becoming increasingly difficult to get away from threads and posts where individuals are becoming increasingly results-oriented.
"Should I have folded QQ on a Q73 flop because I ended up pushing and getting beaten by a runner runner flush?" is perhaps a slight exaggeration of some of these posts, but the underlying principles are the same.
So, before I get started trying to trace the background of this results-oriented thinking, let me make the main purpose of this post clear. You should never let short-term results dictate either your thinking or your subsequent play. I'll examine this in a little more depth later.
Life is a myriad of choices. Sometimes we make the correct choices, sometimes we make incorrect choices. Most choices we make on the basis of certain information we have available to us. We can therefore determine, to our best knowledge, which choice is 'correct', and act accordingly. Let's take a basic example. A guy goes to a local bar, packed with people (it's Saturday night) and meets a girl. They talk for a while and exchange phone numbers before she has to leave. The guy thinks the girl is attractive, and has enjoyed talking to her for the half an hour or so they were talking. The girl likewise.
So the next day he decides to call her and invite her out to dinner. She accepts, and they end up in a posh restaurant, but ultimately the dinner turns out to be a disaster. You see, it turns out the guy and the girl actually have nothing in common. They say their farewells and part amicably, but both know that the night has been a disaster and neither plans to contact the other again.
You may wonder where on earth I'm going with this. Well, let me ask you a question. Did the guy make the correct choice in asking the girl out to dinner?
The guy made his decision based on imperfect information. A half an hour liason in a noisy, crowded bar is not a perfect situation to get to know someone properly.
So, in making the decision to call the girl and ask her out, he was acting on imperfect information, but, and this is key, the imperfect information suggested that calling her and inviting her to dinner was the correct decision to make. Therefore, based on the information available to the guy, flawed as it was, he made the best choice. From this perspective, his decision was correct. From the results-oriented perspective, his decision was incorrect because the night was a disaster, but this is a terrible way of thinking, for reasons that should be easily apparent.
To coin a poker term, you could say calling the girl was +EV, given his read, but he got hit by a 3-outer on the turn.
This relates to poker more closely than you'd think. When we make a decision in a poker hand, we are also acting with imperfect information. There will never arise a situation where you will be able to put a player on one exact hand with a 100% degree of certainty. The best we can do is assign our opponent a range of hands, and act accordingly depending on whether we believe we are ahead or behind of this range.
The 'range' is imperfect information quite simply because it can lead to us making the 'incorrect' decision based on what follows. When your Kings run into Aces preflop, you should not have folded preflop if you can extend your opponents range to QQ and AK and/or any other hands. You have to act to the best of your ability on the information you have. Thus, if you think you are far enough ahead of your opponent's range, you call his push. For example, 30% of the time you will be behind, if your range is accurate and 30% of his possible holdings beat yours, but as long as you're winning the other 70%, you are making the correct decision.
Such is the beauty of the long run in poker.
When your Queens lose to 33 which rivers a set, it's frustrating. Does this mean that you shouldn't have called your opponent's push on the turn? Of course not. By our very nature, when 'bad' things happen we look to apportion blame. This can manifest itself in a whole variety of ways:
"Goddamn you you donkey fish I hate you and you suck at poker!"
"This site is soooo rigged!"
"I should have played the hand differently"
All people are doing when they churn out these statements is attempting to apportion blame. In the majority of cases, they are incorrect to do so, although it's difficult to combat basic human psychology when strong emotions are involved.
Again, I'm going to coin a very flawed, but appropriate real-life analogy. A person's best friend got hit by a car last night and is critically ill in hospital. Nobody knows what actually happened. The natural human reaction is to seek to apportion blame.
"The car driver was obviously unfit to be driving if he hit my friend"
"My friend is so stupid, walking through that area at night"
"If I had only said yes when my friend invited me out last night, this wouldn't have happened"
In the balanced state of mind you, the reader are hopefully in at the moment, you can see just how silly these statements seem based on the fact that the person has absolutely no information relating to the specifics of the accident. But 'bad' occurences lead to swelling emotions, which lead to illogical thoughts, and perhaps actions ("Tilt").
The same is true of poker. A bad beat leads to anger, which leads to illogical thoughts and tilt. Typically, the sort of person who would blame himself in the 'real-life' example would be the type of person who would look at themselves and wonder what they had done wrong if they lost to a rivered 2-outer after getting the money in on the turn (similarly "This site is rigged! = "The car driver was obviously unfit to be driving if he hit my friend" [blaming a third party] and "My friend is so stupid, walking through that area at night" = "Goddamn you you donkey fish I hate you and you suck at poker!" [blaming the 'villain']). This is illogical in all cases. In 'real-life', as earlier, the person made what we would assume to be the best decision possible given the information available to him (perhaps he felt tired or ill? perhaps he had another invite he considered to be a better prospect?). If someone had said, "Your friend will get hit by a car if you don't go out with him tonight", this decision may well change. But nobody can see into the future, and thus, again, the person's decision is based on imperfect information. The person can't beat himself up about this, he weighed up all the information available to him at the time and decided not to go out with said friend. He did not make an incorrect decision just because his friend got hit by a car, this is a (somewhat morbid) twist on the horrific results-oriented way of thinking.
Similarly, if you were to know your opponent held 33 and would river a set against your QQ, you would fold if he pushed on the turn. But again, the curse of imperfect information strikes! Even if you knew your opponent had 33, you are still basing your decision on the turn on imperfect information in the short term because you don't know what the river card is going to be. You know that 95% of the time you will win the hand, but that's all. To get back to an early point, you should never let short-term results dictate either your thinking or your subsequent play, simply because short-term results are flawed. The only way to acheive close to perfect information is to thik in terms of the long run.
So, what exactly am I getting at here? To be honest, I'm not sure. I just want people to read this and stop thinking in a results-oriented manner. I want people to read this and not be mad at themselves, or think they have made a wrong decision despite the fact they made the optimal decision given the imperfect information available to them. I want people to read this and not let their emotions lead to a flurry of illogical assertions, statements, and actions. I want people to read this and not post "Should I have folded QQ preflop with my 10bb stack because I ran into AA!?" anymore.
On a side note, this is my 2,000th post (I thought I'd try and come up with something useful for it ^^). I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Cardschat for being such an awesome community (no specific mentions though, because I'll miss people out and they'll get pissed ).
On another side note, please note that in my second example I am in no way comparing the pain of a friend falling critically ill with the pain of a bad beat. As I said, the analogy is obviously flawed, but appropriate.