Article: Why Do People Do -EV Things? (by: JH1)

There are things that are inherently +EV and pretty much all of them are necessities: eating, sleeping, making money, wearing clothes. Without these we would die of starvation or embarrassment.

-EV things are almost always non-necessities: luxury and entertainment. But are they really -EV? From an economical standpoint in real $, yes. From a quality of life standpoint in entertainment dollars (E$), no. We would die of boredom without entertainment. Dying is generally a -EV proposition.

The only logical conclusion then is that people actually never choose actions that they calculate to be -EV. People always choose the best option available in their opinion and in some way or another try to accomplish their goals. Because of this and for the purposes of this article, accomplishing goals, whatever they are, is always +EV for the person trying to accomplish them. At least at the time the decision was made in their own mind.

Everyone is free to miscalculate expected value by overestimating, underestimating or excluding any and all variables in any decision they make. This is why some people choose illogical or irrational actions that end up being massively -EV for them. All the stupid things we have done in life probably seemed like a good idea at the time.

One entertainment example is buying a ticket to a hockey game. It is a -EV economical decision. You watch the game, spend a bunch more on overpriced drinks and souvenirs and come home with nothing to show for it but the experience and memories and worthless artifacts. But these experiences and memories are what make life interesting and therefore it is very difficult to determine what an entertainment dollar is actually worth.

Even more so, when coupled with the fact that people have different reasons for undertaking the same economical -EV decision. Some people go to the game because they are fans of the team or players, some like the social atmosphere, some just like the idea of excessive drinking and screaming. I decide that the entertainment value for a mid-level ticket is E$40 and I’ll spend $15 on concessions. My breakeven point for deciding to buy a ticket or not is $55 total for the event. I manage to get a ticket for $30 and they are having ½ price concessions, therefore I am left with a pretty big +EV decision when balancing E$ with real $ and decide to go. This is why the closer to the action you get in the arena, the higher the ticket price is as being closer to the action is more entertaining and therefore E$ value goes up.

The overall EV of any activity whether it be economical value, entertainment value or a combination of both, needs to be +EV for everyone involved for it to continue and survive. If any one group of participants become -EV in the activity, the activity ceases to exist because it requires the participation of all groups to function.

Gambling is a form of unnecessary entertainment, an apparently -EV decision, for most people. Yet they continue to deposit one quarter after another into that slot machine for a variety of reasons. Some people like to go to the casino to hang out with friends, some need something to do to kill an hour before work, some are in search of that elusive jackpot. These all have E$ value.

And what happens when they hit their one in a million shot? Bells and sirens go off in celebration and the casino manager comes out all smiles with a monster check and congratulates the lucky winner despite losing a ton of money. He doesn’t inform the winner that a one in a million shot at a $50k jackpot in quarter slots should cost him about $250k to win on average. The fact is that the player has determined that the enjoyment of the anticipation of a jackpot win plus a $50k overlay outweighs losing $250k one quarter at a time.

What would happen if the monster check was written out to “LOL Fish” and the staff came out and ridiculed the winner? One of two options: he either quits gambling or takes his winnings across the street to the next casino and proceeds to dump his entire jackpot in the next few months.

So how does this translate to the poker table? Poker clients do their part to bring fish in by literally giving away millions of dollars in sign up and reload bonuses as overlay on their entertainment value. At the table, we need to act like casino managers and make sure that the entire poker system remains +EV overall to everyone involved. If people become -EV overall at the table, they will either quit or switch tables, the same way the slot winner will quit or change casinos.

Fred is a 20-something and enjoys gambling with online poker. More accurately, Fred enjoys the rush of winning a big pot more than anything. Fred just sat down on your right at a 100NL table for 100BB and plays in a peculiar fashion. He limps in with 100% of his hands and calls a postflop shove 100% of the time with any pair or any draw because of his love of winning big pots.

You pick up pocket 2’s in the BB. Everyone folds to Fred who completes in the SB and you check. The flop is A74. Fred checks, you check behind. The turn is the marvelous 2. Fred checks, and you shove for obvious reasons. Fred snap calls and flips over 74o for 2 pair with 10% equity and yells “One Time!” The dealer burns and Fred does bink a 4 one time.

Now before you go and type LOL Fish into the chat box think about what exactly it is that you are saying. In your opinion, Fred made a -EV decision because according to your motives for playing the game, real $ equity is all that counts. However, if the -$80 real EV plus the enjoyment and rush aquired through anticipation of winning $100 (E$) outweighs the direct odds he needed to make the “correct” economical play, he absolutely made the correct +EV play according to his motives for playing.

Telling him that he played incorrectly is just as absurd as him telling you that you’re a boring person that doesn’t know how to have fun based on the fact that you’ve folded every hand for the past hour while you were card dead. Your motives, and therefore your decisions, are completely different and neither of you are ever making -EV plays according to your goals.

But we have a reg with a tilt issue sitting across the table and he starts berating Fred. Now we don’t really know much about Fred but we do know that embarrassment is a horrible thing to experience and greatly reduces E$. Fred could just be an idiot and he’ll quit playing because he is now -EV in the game due to his E$ value being reduced. Or, Fred could be an Ivy league student who plays because it’s what the cool kids do and figures he’s going to become good at this game now and starts crushing it within months

Either result is detrimental to the ultimate goal (making money) of the reg, who finds berating to be a +EV decision for the purposes of blowing off steam but mistakenly excludes the variables that lead to him accomplishing his ultimate goal from this calculation.

So whenever Fred binks a 4 on you, just smile and say NH. As long as he’s having a good time, you’ll continue to have a good time, too.

Just consider it your turn to feed the fish.


3 thoughts on “Article: Why Do People Do -EV Things? (by: JH1)”

  1. Thoughtful and very well written. The guys who get me going are the ones who just stacked a fish (who has reloaded) and then call them an idiot for not folding. I usually type ” Hey!! Stop tapping on the glass!!”

  2. I wouldn’t even bother talking to a player berating a fish.

    no real point, and even fish understand the “tap the glass” comment now a days =)


  3. great read, thx.
    i like the analogy of the casino manager holding the LOL fish-sign.. 🙂

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