Monday, November 12, 2012

Poker Lessons from the Election - Mind the Data!

There’s been a lot of chatter on the liberal Blog-o-Sphere about the recent Presidential election.  I don’t mean the crowing, I mean the talk that most polls showed Barack Obama ahead, especially the state-by-state electoral count, and yet many Republicans felt “certain” that Mitt Romney would not just win, but win in a landslide! Yes, there were a couple of polls that showed Romney ahead in the popular vote, but NO ONE showed him winning by anything that could be considered a landslide.  Even when Fox News called it for Obama, there were many doubters.


Well, since this is a poker blog, and since I took a vow of political chastity until 2013 (I pissed off more than a few people on Facebook, I guess), allow me to answer that question and improve your poker playing at the same time.

First, people in general are lousy at calculating what we refer to as “risk.”  Americans are actually worse at it than others.  We underestimate our risk at being hit by lightning and overestimate being caught in a terrorist attack.  We underestimate our risk of losing our home to a fire or flood, and overestimate our chances of winning the lottery.  And so on.

Second, we tend to mis-calculate the odds when we really, really, really WANT something to happen.  We add “bonus points” to the odds to compensate for what we’d like to see occur, and disregard obvious signs that perhaps what we want to happen ain’t gonna happen.  Seriously - I just came across an article that discusses this phenomenon, although I must admit I’ve seen it enough on the poker felt to know it’s true.

So maybe that’s what happened last Tuesday.  Even though most polls showed an Obama victory, the Romney fans found “their own math” and “just knew” that Mitt would pull it out once all the votes were counted.

And when you play poker, are you the same?  Take this example:  Six-handed, it’s folded to you on the button, and you raise with a pair of red jacks.  The small blind folds, and the nitty big blind re-raises.  You call, and the flop comes Ace-King-Seven rainbow.  He checks, you bet about two-thirds the pot, and he raises.  Do you call?

Well, he either has air, or you are waaaayyyy behind.  And if he really is a nit, how often does he have air?  For most players this is an easy fold, but some folks get committed to their pocket face cards no matter what the data says.  If he has an ace or a king, you’re about a 9-1 dog.  In my book, that’s a landslide.

So pay attention to the cards and the data they provide.  Pay attention to the playing habits of your opponents.  If they never bluff and they like to chase flushes and there are three cards of one suit on the board and they go all-in…yeah, they probably have it.  You rarely have a complete situation like this, however.  It’s never quite this clear.  Poker is always a game of incomplete information, but often enough there IS plenty of information to make an educated decision, remembering that even being a 9-1 favorite doesn’t mean you ALWAYS win. 

Last election reference:  One pollster was accused of saying Romney had no chance of winning.  He replied, “I said it’s doubtful, not impossible.”  May the data always be in your favor, and for cryin’ out loud, pay attention to it when it’s not!

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