In Pursuit of Rationalization

Rationalizing: attempting to explain or justify one’s own or another’s behavior (or attitude) with logical, plausible reasons, even if these are not true or appropriate.

Rationalizing doesn’t mean being rational. It’s quite the opposite, a defense mechanism that allows one to justify bad behavior or feelings or bad poker play in my case, by distorting facts to make things look less bad than they are in an effort to convince oneself or others that whatever you did was perfectly fine.

Sounds good to me, and I can totally rationalize if I want to. Maybe it will come with cathartic benefits. While searching for logical, plausible reasons for my failure to win – and win big – during my March Madness trek to Las Vegas, I remind myself of what former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli reportedly said: “there are three kinds of falsehoods: lies, damn lies and statistics.”

The first few days left me feeling like an accursed biblical character, leading to this ‘woe is me’ blog post. I followed that up with my last post, observing the dearth of pocket aces and dismal results with pocket kings, setting the table for rationalizing.

Based on the number of hands played, I estimated I should have AA nine times, winning seven of those. In search of hard data on average win rates with AA, I reached out to Mark “Poker Bug” Warner, who writes the Exceptional Poker blog. I highly recommend it for anyone wanting to improve your game.

Mark, in turn, used this as an opportunity to introduce me to Sky Matsuhashi, creator of the “Smart Poker Study” podcast and blog. I’ve enjoyed many of Sky’s podcasts, so this was a real treat. His focus is on how to study poker better and he excels at using HUD software to mine for useful data and analyze play.

Sky was quick to provide some useful data, which I am quick to turn into logical, plausible reasons for not crushing the cash games in Vegas. Since the beginning of 2018, Sky has been dealt AA an average of once every 208.4 hands, pretty darn close to the expected average of once every 221 hands. His average win rate on those hands is 8.6 big blinds per hand.

Live game flow isn’t the same as online, and much of Sky’s play is at 6-max tables, and he won’t be playing these hands exactly the same as I would, so it’s likely that my results over a similar sample would be different from his. But data is data. It’s all I have right now and I don’t want to procrastinate when it comes to rationalizing.

So… let’s extrapolate. If I had AA nine times in Vegas, as expected, and won 8.6 BB/hand, that would be a total of approx. 77.5 BBs won. Instead I had AA three times and lost twice for a net loss around 40-45 BBs. Let’s call it 42.5. This means I underperformed against expectations by an estimated 120 BBs. Given that I was down 395 BBs for the entire trip, the dearth of aces may account for as much as 30% of my net losses. Wow!

Sky also reported a win rate of 5.2 BB/hand with KK. Since KK shows up just as often as AA, I should expect to have won 47 BBs with nine KK hands while in Vegas. I didn’t make notes on all of my KK hands, but it was definitely a net loser. As noted in the previous post, twice I was on the wrong end of AA v. KK confrontations (combined 155 BBs lost), and another time I got felted with a K-high flush that lost to an A-high flush (another 90 BBs lost). And at least two other times I folded after an A-high flop and pressure from other players. I made quads once and won 35 BBs and won some other small pots with KK.

I’m going to make a SWAG at net losses of at least 150 BBs on my KK hands, although I think it was more than that. With an expected win of 47 BBs, I underperformed on these hands in the neighborhood of 200 BBs over the course of my trip. That accounts for another 50% of my losses. Double wow! Isn’t rationalizing fun?

I was stuck 395 BBs overall, but with logical, plausible results on my AA & KK hands (for Sky Matsuhashi playing online poker, that is), the loss might have been as small as 75 BBs… less than a single buy-in. On the one hand, that takes some of the sting out of a disappointing trip. On the other hand, it doesn’t get me into the positive, leaving me to conclude that I didn’t play the other 1,980 or so hands particularly well.

Or maybe, just maybe, if I had the ability to replay each hand, I’d also see villains hitting their draws more often than the odds would predict and myself hitting draws at a below average rate. That seems logical and plausible to me.


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