Avoiding Conflict: Weighing Monetary EV vs. Happiness EV

WSOP Circuit at Harrah's Cherokee

Over the past week I played a number of single-table satellites at Harrah's Cherokee leading up to the World Series of Poker Circuit Main Event (which plays down to a winner tonight). I thought I'd share an interesting situation that came up during one of them, one that involved me choosing to avoid conflict over potentially profiting more.

These single-table satellites start 80 big blinds deep with the blinds more or less doubling every 12 minutes. The structure is so fast that you become pretty short-stacked fairly quickly. The correct strategy in this form of poker is to play very conservatively early and have solid push-fold ranges as the average stack size decreases.

Fortunately, many players do not understand this and bring their regular deep-stack strategies into this format, doing things like playing a lot of speculative hands and defending the big blind too widely. This makes these games very profitable, but it often causes conflict with players who don't understand why you are going all in so often.

In one of these single-table satellites I was the chip leader at the table with 25 big blinds. The guy second in chips had under 15 big blinds and was very unhappy when I started to shove the majority of the hands I played. Once after I had done it again, he slammed his hands on the table.

"Why are you shoving with so many chips? Are you stupid or something?" he muttered under his breath. He then proceeded to glance at me with a death stare that I did not appreciate.

At this point, I could have very easily fed into his negativity and engaged in a verbal argument, but I thought nothing good could come from that. Instead, I turned up the music in my headphones and tried to ignore him for the rest of the tournament.

There were times when I turned my music down in order to hear the other players or the dealer, and I would overhear him continuing to talk about me to other players on his end of the table. Play continued and this guy was generally jovial with the other players at the table, but whenever I played a hand the scowl would return to his face.

At one point, he raised my big blind from the button when I had {k-Hearts}{10-Hearts}. By then he had about 12 big blinds and I had around 20. Generally, I would go all in here, but this guy liked to make these steals with ace-rag and I didn't think he was in the mood to fold to me, so I just called.

The flop came {q-Hearts}{9-Spades}{3-Clubs} and I chose to open-shove for what was effectively about twice the size of the pot. This is a bet that needs to work only 66% of the time in a vacuum, and even when called by a pair of nines or worse, I would often have around 40% equity. Additionally, my tournament life was not at risk since I had him covered. He folded angrily and said something else that I thankfully could not make out over my music.

Eventually he and I got heads-up and I had just under a 3-to-1 chip lead on him. He seemed to have little-to-no understanding of proper push-fold strategy, so I probably could have run over him at that point. Instead, I offered to chop the prize pool according to chip counts. The offer seemed to catch him by surprise, but we agreed on a 3-to-1 chip-chop. I shook his hand and wished him luck in his next tournament even though I really wanted to punch him in the face.

I know some players might not have gone that route by chopping. Many view poker as an ego contest and would never chop based on an opponent's intimidating behavior. Others would refuse to do so based simply on their skill edge. But here was my thinking in this specific situation.

First, it is a social norm and generally a good idea to minimize variance in these spots, especially when you are on a limited bankroll like I am. I had around 12 big blinds to his 4.5 big blinds. In other words, it was basically coming down to a crapshoot.

In this specific case, chopping made even more sense because I did not want to have a one-on-one confrontation with this player that very easily could have escalated if he continued to talk. I am not used to verbal arguments and I did not trust I could avoid getting into something even more serious had he decided to take it there. That clearly would have been negative "EV."

I believe I did myself a favor by ending the tournament. The blinds were so high that honestly he could've conceivably gotten lucky to come back and beat me. If that had happened, I have a feeling he would've had parting comments for me that I am not mentally strong enough to ignore after losing in such an advantageous spot.

I had about 70 percent of the chips and got 75 percent of the money, so mathematically it was a good deal for me, but with my skill edge I believe I may have left some money on the table. However, in the end, whatever I gave up in monetary EV, I gained several-fold in happiness EV.

  • Choosing to chop 'em rather than pop 'em -- going for happiness over profit at the poker table.

  • Sometimes thinking "big picture" in poker involves making choices based on happiness not just profit.

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