Straight Man

Ockham's Razor

A few days ago, I picked up a novel at the local library, on the staff recommendations shelf… Straight Man, by Richard Russo.  Part I of the book, covering 20 chapters, is titled Occam’s Razor.  The protagonist is a devotee of this problem solving principle that says the simplest explanation is probably correct.  When you have competing hypotheses, start (or end) with the one requiring the fewest assumptions.

I’ve written about Occam’s Razor several times previously, including here and here and here and here.

Contemporary variations include the Duck test (if something quacks like a duck, walks like a duck and swims like a duck, it’s probably a duck), the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid!), Hanlon’s razor (never attribute to malice that which can be explained by stupidity), and the ad spokesman Captain Obvious.  Duh!

At the poker table, Occam’s Razor tells us that when another player makes a large bet, he or she probably has a powerful, winning hand.  So just give them credit and move on.  At low stakes in particular, few players run big bluffs.

So it was last night and I made too many mistakes, and each time the villain had what he was supposed to have, obviously, because the greatness of Occam’s Razor is to tell us to look for and rely on the obvious.

  • I made the mistake of calling a large river bet with KK, on a board of JJT-Q-4.  Of course he has a Jack!  He called my pre-flop raise with J7o.
  • I made the mistake of calling a medium river bet with JT, on a board of AQJ-8-T.  Of course he has a King!  He called my pot-sized turn bet with K9o.
  • I made the “mistake” of correctly folding JsJc on a flop of 763 (two clubs) after raising a small, donk lead bet, then seeing two players both shove their entire stacks.  One had 85 for an open-ended straight draw; the other a set of 6’s.  The turn and river were both clubs, so had I called (an actual mistake), I would have sucked out to win a 3-way all-in pot with a 4-flush on the board and my Jc.
  • I made the “mistake” of correctly folding T9o on a turn of 983-8, after an all-in bet from the pre-flop raiser and a call.  The shover tabled A8o, and I watched in horror as another 9 fell on the river.  Had I called (another actual mistake), that 2-outer would have given me another win in a 3-way all-in pot.  Just like the previous hand, I label this a mistake facetiously.  Folding was the right decision at the time; buy hey, last time I checked I’m still a human being therefore flawed and emotional and prone to the invisible and expensive effects of tilting when you look at the other players’ deep stacks and think about what coulda/woulda/shoulda been part of my own stack.
  • And finally I made the mistake of calling a river all-in bet with KTs on a board of 9xx-T-K.  Of course he has QJ for the nut straight, which I already knew, because what else would he have there?

For purposes of this blog, I’ll call the last of these villains “Greg.”  In Russo’s novel, the protagonist is portrayed as tall and handsome and 40-something.  Greg is tall and 40-something, and would like to be portrayed as handsome, more Matthew McConaughey than Hugh Jackman.  The name of the novel is Straight Man.  As I lay in bed, wishing and waiting for sleep, Greg morphs into the Straight Man, turning over his QJ and saying sorry dude.  Russo’s fictional hero becomes my nighttime villain.  Hours later, in the middle of the night, dead for nearly 800 years, William of Ockham is howling with laughter.

Ockham would have folded.  Because They Always Have It.


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