My good friend, who for purposes of this post I’ll call “Henry,” loves to play poker and is quite the student of the game. And like most of us, Henry suffers from some of the cognitive biases that help us stay sane when lady luck frowns in our direction.
One such bias is attribution bias, which happens when we invent explanations for behaviors with no basis in fact. For example, another driver cuts you off in traffic. You attribute her reckless action to a personality trait (rudeness) without considering other situational possibilities (running late, didn’t see you).
Then there’s actor/observer bias, where we explain our own behavior as being caused by the present situation. This bias is classically expressed in the phrase “The devil made me do it!”
And self-serving bias, the act of distorting perceptions in order to maintain our self-esteem. We might get a poor grade on a test, but only because the teacher didn’t explain the material well and the questions weren’t fairly worded.
Henry’s recent habit – a main dish of self-serving bias, flavored with attribution and actor/observer spices – is to blame whatever goes wrong on the dealer, and the dealer he’s encountering regularly is a very fine fellow who, for purposes of this blog I’ll call “Chuck.” What struck me about his most recent diatribe, however, was the way being in a tournament magnifies the bad things that happen to poker players. Regular readers know I’m not much of a tournament player. Let’s look at how Henry’s misfortune would have played out differently if this were a cash game.
Henry writes (very lightly edited for clarity and presentation):
Since I’m sure you are sick and tired of your fellow poker bros bitching and moaning their bad beat stories, I’m going to describe last night’s action as a ‘Chuck done me wrong again’ story, which is way more tolerable than a bad beat story.
So last night I’m playing in a local two table $40 tourney. Immediately after the second break, I’m sitting with roughly $80K in chips with the $2K/$4K level coming up. I’m probably 2nd or 3rd in chips at the table with the short stacks to my left.
I open this level in the big blind. UTG+1 opens for a raise to $11K, one caller and I look down at 9♦️ 8♦️. I think fold is correct, but UTG+1 is a very weak player and the other caller took quite a while to make their decision so I think if I get any kind of decent flop, I could get them both off their hands quickly, so I make the call. Flop is 228. I throw out $20K and UTG+1 calls for her remaining $17K, other player folds and UTG+1 turns over AA. I’m pretty much dead and lose $28K.
KKing David comments:The blinds were 2K/4K and you lost 28K. That’s a mere seven big blinds. In a cash game, that’s just a very tiny bump in the road. With 100BB cash game stacks, Henry also would be wary that UTG+1 has an over pair, after opening the action pre-flop with a raise from early position. As played, you got your money in as a huge underdog with less than 9% equity. While calling an early position raiser with suited connectors is a perfectly sensible thing to do in a deeper stacked cash game, UTG+1 only having 17K remaining after her pre-flop raise almost completely removes any skill edge from the equation.
A couple hands later, I raise and take the blinds so recover about $4K. Now the fun starts. The next hand I look down at QQ. UTG+1 from the earlier hand is in the Big Blind now and UTG raises to $9K, another player calls, and I ship it for $50K. The shortest stack in the blinds goes all in for less $20K. Original raiser and caller both torment but fold. Short stack turns over 99. Chuck waves his evil magic wand over the deck and peals a 9 on the flop. So let’s hear it for $30K left in my stack.
OK, so that was unfortunate! But it only cost 5BBs. From a cash game perspective, Henry would be incredibly LUCKY to lose a mere 5BBs. “Thank you Chuck,” he should be thinking, “for doing this to me when the Villain had such a tiny stack.” Henry was a heavy favorite, so this truly hurts.
The Big Blind works its way around to me. Villain from prior bad beat opens the action for $9K. Folds around to me and I have AQo.
No-o-o-o!!! Fucking Ace Queen (FAQ) never ends well. LMAO before I even finish reading this paragraph.
So again I ship it. Villain goes into the tank for quite some time before deciding on a crying call with A♦️ T♦️. I give Chuck a bunch of crap about, “go ahead F me again, I can take it.” Flop comes out Q83. There, I dodged the evil wand of Chuck finally. The turn is a J and the river is a 9. So I’m good. But wait…8,9,J,Q with the Villain’s T makes a straight. Chuck gets the bird and I quietly leave the game and get home at a reasonable hour.
When I get home from a live poker game at a “reasonable hour,” the first question from Mrs. is always “What went wrong?” A reasonable hour in the minds of the rest of the world is a disastrous hour to get home from a poker game. But I digress.
Henry’s loss on this hand is 12.5 BBs, making the total carnage from these three hands 24.5 BBs. Not fun, but that’s the same as being stuck $125 at a $2/5 cash game after starting with $500. With typical cash game stack sizes, Henry wouldn’t ship it all in with AQo. Heck, I might just fold. Even further, after Henry’s 3-bet, the Villain with A♦️ T♦️ might just fold. He or she certainly wouldn’t 4-bet. After the Q83 flop, Henry would bet again and the Villain would fold and that would be that. As played, the money went in pre-flop when Henry’s edge was ~ 69% vs. 31%.
Miss playing poker with you, sir.
Back atcha my friend. I’m running a private online tournament tonight on the PokerStars’ Home Games platform. Hit me up if you want to play. 😎
The dreaded AQ. I play it too much, and lose with it even more often (technically impossible, but it really does seem that way)
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It’s not really specific to cash games though, it’s about stack sizes. Granted, most of the time stack sizes in cash games are 100+ bb, but there are lots of times when it’s not. And in tournaments only the early stages are 100+bb effective. But if you learned to change strategy as stack sizes change it helps in tourneys and cash games.
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Mostly true. One other difference, not stated in the original post, is that in cash games you can always top off your stack after losses like these (subject to table maximums), whereas in tournaments that is not an option.