I am a bad poker player and an aspiring rationalist. I’m very good for a bad poker player though, and I have quite high aspirations as a rationalist. My game of choice is micro to mid limit large multi-table turbos or even faster tournaments. My favorite tournament is the PokerStars $5+rebuy 2x turbo. I eke out a solid enough $15/hour at a type of game that I find to be decidedly more fun than ring games.
Such games are filled with bad players making bad decisions. This is because in a game that moves so extraordinarily quickly, you are often forced to make bad decisions, and beyond a certain point the game quickly degenerates to the point where the only proper move is all-in or fold. The playable hand range in a turbo or 2x turbo is huge. Often, A9 is a monster but just as often it is nothing.
I consistently find myself internally rewarding myself for making the correct play based on what cards come; not based on what was the highest EV decision I could have made. If I reshove with A9 and my opponent turns over AJ and I won, it’s hard not to congratulate myself instead of reminding myself that I just got lucky and should stop making bad decisions. Similarly, during the early rebuy period when people are shoving with all sorts of hands and taking a coinflip seems like a good decision, I mentally reward myself for making the correct decision when I win, and when I lose I just rebuy with an annoyed grunt at how much the other player sucks at playing poker.
This is the Outcome Bias, which often results in people playing what is known as results based poker. This is the tendency to believe you made the correct decision by playing JJ against QQ, if and only if you win the pot.
What can we do? I work at reminding myself that results based poker is not poker. I try and congratulate myself for making the proper play even when the flop doesn’t go my way. Similarly, I try not to give myself too much mental reward when I win an all-in with the lesser hand. It’s hard to reconcile this with the extreme luck needed to win big turbo tournaments — I’ve never reached the final table in one of these tournaments without winning an all-in showdown with the worst hand.
As I continue to play, I notice myself relinquishing results-oriented thinking more and more. The changes are gradual but with each tournament I play, I’m becoming better able to mentally decouple the things I control from the things I can’t control. I’m able to take more pleasure in making the correct decision in a given situation and let the outcomes do what they may.