Examining Spite Equity And Its Impact In Poker

Examining Spite Equity And Its Impact In Poker

I recently was listening to an audiobook called The Hacking Of The American Mind. In the book, they discussed a study which I found extremely interesting. Researchers did this test where they put two people in a partnership, with one being the “decider” and the other the “recipient”. They were given a $100 to split with the Decider determining what the split was between both people. The Decider could elect to personally receive $70 and leave the Recipient with $30, however, the Recipient had the option to decline the offer and in turn neither participant would receive any money. So essentially the way the game works is someone decides how much free money you will get and you can reject it in order to spite them and cost them money. There are no do-overs.

Turning the offer down out of spite and accepting $0.00 would be entertaining if $2 was offered. However, if $30 was offered and you’re a college student you should probably take the money, even if the split is not fair. Your options then would literally be $30 or $0. The other person existing doesn’t change the math. Interestingly, when participants took a serotonin depleting drink before the experiment, they would spitefully reject most offers, unless it was a 50/50 split. People repeatedly cost themselves good money for seconds worth of “work.”

Your Health And Your Brain

The Hacking Of The American Mind is a dense treatise on neuroscience and how social media, sugar, drugs, SSRIs, and a hundred other things interact with our brain. The doctor who wrote the book also did a fantastic job of teaching his audience how health insurance, diet, and your brain really works. I’d recommend you read the book yourself if you want to get the specifics on everything I’m talking about here, because I can’t profess to have 1% of the intelligence the writer has in that book. You shouldn’t quote my heavy paraphrasing either, because there’s a great chance I’m missing some details. The information gets pretty damn dense in that book. That said, with those warnings firmly in place, here are some cliff notes:


Dopamine is what your mind is flooded with when your brain experiences pleasure. It’s what you get from eating a sundae or doing a drug. Dopamine floods you with a good feeling, but it leaves you wanting more. It’s hard to become satisfied. More worryingly, the more you flood your dopamine receptors the less receptive they can become, thus causing you to go for a greater and greater hit.


Serotonin production instead is what your body creates when you feel contentment. Exercise causes serotonin production, for example. It leaves you content and not needing anything more. Instead of a sundae, think of a lean protein, some eggs, grilled fish, something along those lines. After you’re done eating, you are content. You don’t need anything more.

Combining The Two

Essentially, your body can either work on a dopamine system or a serotonin-inducing system. To get your body producing serotonin and defeating depression, you need to up your tryptophan intake and decrease your sugar intake. This means you need eggs, turkey, fish, leafy greens, and sunflower seeds. You need to exercise regularly and be social. It’s hard work.

Becoming a crusher at the table starts with crushing the fundamentals. Click here to see if you have what it takes.

The Problem With Dopamine

If you want to make yourself miserable, get on the dopamine train. Eat processed food, don’t work out, drink sugary drinks, wolf down some carbs, do drugs, and get yourself some alcohol. Your dopamine receptors will fry fast, and you’ll be chasing a dragon you can never catch. Of course, we all know which route is more fun, and has the better metal albums.

Getting your hit of dopamine on occasion is your God given right. No nation has the right to tell you what to do with your own body and life. If you want to play online poker in your own home and smoke a spliff while you do so, you should have every right to do that. But, what we should we be aware of is that the dopamine-inducing fun stuff should be an occasional treat. Because the science says if we do it every day, we’ll just destroy our neural connectivity and metabolic system. Now, taking this back to poker, what can we surmise from this experiment?

Breaking It Down

What we can see in this experiment is that there is documented evidence that human beings will cost themselves money just to spite another person they don’t like. More importantly, they are more likely to do this when their serotonin is being depleted. What depletes serotonin? Poor exercise and diet are repeatedly linked to depression. Almost everyone in a cardroom is chasing the dopamine dragon, which means their diet is in tatters and they like themselves some vices. Again, there’s nothing wrong with this, but it does mean they could be depleting their serotonin, and that means they will cost themselves money just to spite us.

In the experiment we examined at the beginning of this article, people were costing themselves money for the hell of it. They were doing it just to take out the other person. In poker, we have an added problem: further streets could destroy our hand. In our game, the serotonin-depleted soul has a chance to actually TAKE our money while they’re trying to spite us. What does this mean? It means you shouldn’t project how you look at the game on to everybody else.

You are the kind of person who reads poker articles. You likely study poker training products. You’re the type of person who hates losing money. If you were in the experiment we discussed at the beginning of this article, you would likely take the $30 offered to you and go, “Well, I understand I get nothing if I turn this down, so yeah, I guess…give me my money, but I think 50/50 would have been more fair.” You are the exact opposite of the person who would spite the other guy (and thus themselves) by turning down the offer.

“We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are”

Unknown (Possibly Talmudic)

Application To Poker

To effectively apply the teachings of today’s article, you must understand it will be difficult to fully understand your competition. We would fold to a three-bet when we’re out of position without a good hand. We fold on the river when our hand isn’t good enough to beat a hand worthy of a triple barrel. We can’t assume gamblers will do these things. There is evidence people of their neurochemical composition will actually cost themselves money to spite another person. They will chase us just because there’s a possibility they could take our money. Do not expect your three-bets to see folds, know that you are going to see a flop most of the time.

Do not expect your nuanced bluffs to work. Low-to-mid stakes players do not like folding pairs unless they’re given a horrible board run out. They will call you just to spite you. Do not expect your preflop raises to get the big blind to fold. Additionally, do not expect your continuation bets to work just because the guy likely missed the board. If he’s in position, he might be spiteful just because you’re acting like his position doesn’t mean anything. Once we understand our opponents more fully, we can be more precise with our strategies.

I hope these tips have been helpful to you and your game. Good luck to all of you.

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