Related to: Problem of verifying rationality

We're excited to announce the (soft) launch of! It's a new guide developed by me, Zvi, Kevin, and patrissimo detailing how to use online poker as rationality training to conquer your cognitive biases. We want our community to go from knowing a lot about cognitive biases to actually having a training method that allows us to integrate that knowledge into our habits -- truly reducing biases instead of just leaving us perpetually lamenting our flawed brain-ware. In the coming weeks, we'll be making the case that online poker is a useful rationalist pursuit along with developing introductory "How To" material that allows those who join us to play profitably.

We want to make sure we aren’t wasting our time practicing an ungrounded art with methods that don’t work. Poker gives us an objective way to test x-rationality. The difference between winning and losing in poker once you know a small amount of domain-specific knowledge is due to differing levels of rationality. Our site will be presenting the case that a strong rationalist who can act on their knowledge of cognitive biases (a defining feature of x-rationality but not traditional rationality) should have a distinct advantage. We'll be offering the connecting material between the sequences and online poker to teach you how to apply knowledge of cognitive biases to poker in a way that verifies your current level of rationality and naturally teaches you to improve your rationality over time.

Incidentally, this also presents a solution for those of us looking to earn money from anywhere with a flexible schedule that leaves time for outside interests.

We’re just getting started so please be kind! Our site is definitely not a final product yet. If you're curious about where we're going with this though, add us to your RSS feeds or check the site every few days. We hope some of you who aren't convinced yet consider playing once you feel like we’ve finally given you enough information to understand why poker is a profitable rationalist pursuit. 

Also, if you sign up for one of the online poker rooms like Full Tilt using our affiliate links, the residuals get donated to Less Wrong/Singularity Institute. That way, the more poker you play after you sign up, the more money you direct towards raising the sanity waterline and creating provably friendly artificial intelligence.

We’re not counting on it, but even a very small group of us could theoretically fund SIAI in a very real and meaningful way just as a side-effect of playing a lot of online poker. I know I'm partisan, but this seems like an unreasonably exciting opportunity! So if you support SIAI and you (or your friends) want to sign up to play online poker anyway, please sign-up using our links.

Anyway, we hope some of you want to get stronger by joining us in the Rationality Dojo of online poker. You can be part of our crew of aspiring rationalists who want to increase our rationality, earn money, and help save the world -- all by playing a fun computer game with no boss, no schedule, and the potential for lots of self-development and personal growth.

So check out our site and let us know if you're interested in joining.

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Incidentally, this also presents a solution for those of us looking to earn money from anywhere with a flexible schedule that leaves time for outside interests.

Also, if you sign up for one of the online poker rooms like Full Tilt using our affiliate links, the residuals get donated to Less Wrong/Singularity Institute. That way, the more poker you play after you sign up, the more money you direct towards raising the sanity waterline and creating provably friendly artificial intelligence.

This all sounds great, but there is a nearly complete absence of numbers in this posting or at your site. Here are some estimates I came up with that may provide a more complete picture.

Suppose you sign up to play using one of their affiliate links, and then become very good at poker. Good enough to win (on average) $50/hr playing. If you play 20 hrs/week and 50 weeks/year, that gives you a comfortable $50K/year income (before taxes) and plenty of time for outside interests. So far, so good.

Next, I'm going to assume that you make that $50/hr by playing in 5 person games in which each of you bets about $2000 per hour. You win back a collection of pots totalling $2050 each hour - hence your $50... (read more)


Judging by this, it seems as though the best plan of all is to be the house.

It is, but there's a lot of competition in that market, and major established players (i.e. very popular very good poker sites, that put a lot of money into R&D and all else required to stay on top).

And what will change for the victims when our hypothetical player, moved by your analysis, selflessly decides to refrain from taking part in the game? Pretty much nothing. And now think of all the poor, confused consequentialists who got caught in your blast of moral indignation.

... your blast of moral indignation.

Clearly, you have never seen me indignant.

Yes, there was a subtext in my analysis, but you missed it. It wasn't that our hypothetical player is immorally stealing from the innocent fish. It is that our would-be shark runs a very high risk of just becoming another fish himself.

I would call that good, but not very good. Many poker players make an order of magnitude more, and that's without being one of the very best.

I would call that good, but not very good. Many poker players make an order of magnitude more, and that's without being one of the very best.

Or, perhaps, they could be very good at poker but poor at the meta game of finding high stakes players who are stupid. A far more important task! Actual technical skills are far less important than putting yourself in the right positions at the right time.

A far more important task!

This sounds emphatic, but I actually think you've underemphasized this point. So...

The key to making money at poker is to hunt fish ruthlessly. (via)

you may want to warn people that they need to play a large amount of hands for variance to go down to acceptable levels.

You may want to warn people that "a large amount of hands" means in the order of hundred thousand hands and more. And to be more exact, variance only goes down relative to the expected winnings. The standard deviation of a sample increases as a square root to the number of hands. Whereas the expected winnings increases linearly. In Limit Hold'em, a 1,5BB/100 hands expected winrate just barely covers two standard deviations from the mean over 100,000 hands. Experienced player can perhaps play 4-6 tables simultaneously, which means that he can accumulate approximately 500 hands per hour. So 100,000 hands would take around 200 hours of play. The real challenge of poker is dealing with the inherent variance of the game. The immense variance is the reason why poker is so profitable, but even the most experienced players are unable to cope with the most extreme swings of negative luck. The brain constantly tries to pattern-match the immediate results and however much you reason that it's just bad luck (when it really is bad luck!) it will make you sick psychologically. Note that we assumed we know the expected winrate of a given player. However, conditions change, profitability of the games fluctuate, etc, so it's practically impossible to quantify any given player's current profitability. This makes it vastly more difficult to know whether bad past results are because of variance or because of sub-optimal play.
200 hours is 1 month of 50 hour weeks, or 2 months of 25 hour weeks. Is it really that big a deal for your results to only matter month to month rather than day to day? I mean, yeah, it can be frustrating during a bad week, but it's not like the long run takes years.
As someone in the midst of a 500 big blind downswing despite mostly getting it in with the best hand, I can confirm this :/. (And that's not even that bad of a downswing compared to what some people suffer).
Depends on what your luck attribute is. I'm well above average, both in life and the poker hands I get dealt. (Yes, median Less Wrong user, this comment is a joke, mostly. You need to play a large amount of hands for your variance to go down to acceptable levels, especially with no limit poker).

The last time someone told me "Good luck", I replied, "I don't believe in an ontologically fundamental tendency toward positive outcomes."

I've always been fond of the Penn Jillette line, "Luck is statistics taken personally"

I remember a line from the book "Blindspots" by Sorensen that goes something like, "random selection is biased in favor of lucky people".
Thereby guaranteeing that this would be the last time that anybody said that to you. (^_^)
Eh, I think I'd do it again.
Statistical luck is definitely real but ontological luck isn't. Most poker players don't know the difference. I am nearly positive that I have had above average luck since I started playing regularly again in December (and I have the data recorded for me to actually calculate it, but doesn't seem worth it to figure it out if my software doesn't do it automatically). As an example, since you replied to my comment, I rode a <1/1000 wave of luck to 5th place in a poker tournament, for a $540 win.
Wanna bet? ;P
No chance that holds any truth?
So, a while ago I succeeded in phasing "good luck" out of my vocabulary, and I replaced it with "enjoy," which has the great virtue of being only 2 syllables. But reading that has inspired me to seek another replacement. At the moment, what comes to mind are "make your own luck," "think positively," and "prepare well." All of those are longer, though, and it's not clear they're better. Thoughts / suggestions?
How about just one syllable -- "win". Maybe this should be the standard well-wishing utterance among the Less Wrong Conspiracy.
Between members, perhaps, but most of the people I interact with are not part of the Less Wrong Conspiracy, and it's not clear to me what that would mean to them, whereas something like "choose well" seems less ambiguous.
Every Conspiracy needs a secret handshake.
I've used "have fun" for the past several years. "Choose well" occurred to me within the last week or so, I've been signing my emails with it. Both are two syllables, "choose well" works for rationalists and sounds like what you're looking for.
Oooh, I like that. I'll give it a try.
Be lucky! It sounds very similar to good luck, and is clearly a substitute; it's just a bit more active. It does have three syllables, however.
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I guess you could maybe get away with that reply if the correct decision theoretic generalization of anthropic selection (in a sufficiently big universe, ain't gotta be quantum) isn't technically ontologically fundamental... but alas, I'd bet the infinitely reflective meta-contrarian stack returns 'true' for Luck. (Just not Luck for people who aren't you (given some actually coherent definition of 'you', which of course might not look much like it does at the moment).) It's almost as if the Universe likes to laugh at prodigies of refutation, or something. (Maybe we should reify Irony, too?) Edited to add: This Wiki article) on the fallacious side of reification is mildly informative. LW talks a lot about map-territory confusion but it seems as if reification is a particularly dangerous special case. Also, kinda relatedly, I've started to notice how common is synecdoche, which is sort of worrying since in practice synecdoche seems to mostly be an accidental confusion of meta levels...

I looked through your site so far, and I didn't see any math or any hands, which was discouraging. It's good to think about cognitive biases and how to reduce them, but really the way to make money at poker (especially at SNGs and especially at small/microstakes) is to understand starting hand ranges, position, tournament strategy, and postflop play as deeply as possible, and then learn how to apply those concepts to hands. You can't do that by thinking about theory, you need to actually look at specifics.

To be brutally honest, it's hard to see how you're going to differentiate your product from the hordes of poker blogs and forums that are already out there but have the advantage of having great poker players contributing.

Try looking at the book Small Stakes Holdem by Ed Miller. It's a good example of taking fundamental insights about how poker players play badly and using them to create an actionable strategy that says "play this hand, raise in this situation."

Your third point about Ed Miller's book makes me think you missed the goal of our site. We're not exploring biases the way poker instruction typically does. Their method is, "Look at how biased your stupid opponents are! Hahaha! Here's how to exploit those chumps." Our point is "YOU are in every hand of poker you play -- so YOUR biases are the ones we need to focus on before we start worrying about the other players."

We fully expect to cover odds and statistics in upcoming posts. But we're writing The Sequences for Poker, not "another poker blog where we discuss our big hands from tournaments." Our feeling was that those things are covered well in other places but that the links between our own cognitive biases and poker have mostly been covered poorly or not at all... so this material is higher priority.

Also, if we follow your advice and craft our site to talk about how to grind SnGs and only discuss object level poker strategy, I agree, we would have lots of trouble differentiating ourselves. I think you're assuming that because this is how poker is presented on other sites. So your urging that we should change our style to be more like everyone els... (read more)

Thanks for the clarification. I understand your goals better now. That said, let me suggest that there's a tension between some of what you're saying. On the one hand, you want to focus on the links between rationality/bias-overcoming and poker. That's a great plan, and it seems like you could make a great contribution there. (I'm envisioning a less-mystical Tommy Angelo here.) But on the other hand, you seem to also be focusing on poker instruction, which I think might be a problem. Are you planning on deriving and teaching a strategy for poker based on first principles? I think that's impractical, because the game is just too complicated. However, it seems like any other approach would dilute your brand and distract your from making a truly novel contribution. I think you would be well advised to ditch the idea of teaching players who are complete novices and focus more on helping players who are at an intermediate+ level now develop a rational approach to the game. Best of luck with the project!
I agree with most of this, but I don't think it dilutes the brand to focus on our comparative advantage, namely highlighting the aspects of poker most relevant to rationality training. Thanks for mentioning Tommy - I should ask him if he wants to make any guest posts.
It seems odd that you are criticizing the site for not replicating the specific hand discussion which is done so well elsewhere, while simultaneously wondering how we will differentiate. Obviously, we will differentiate by not writing about the topics which are written about elsewhere ad nauseam, and instead add new thoughts, not often written about, and likely to be of interest to this audience - namely the connections between poker & becoming more rational. Perhaps these new thoughts are not as fundamental for learning how to win at poker, but they are different, and we believe, useful.

One of the things that troubles me about poker is that it seems like a major time sink and a deeply unhealthy lifestyle if you just want to calibrate yourself; but if you are interested in making some money as well or even making it your livelihood, it's still troubling because online poker is a negative expected sum game which is receiving a lot of media exposure.

Just now the New York Times is running yet another profile of a young geeky guy making and losing millions at online poker. If this were the first one, that'd be one thing, but I've seen quite a few such articles - here, on Hacker News, in my RSS reader.

It's starting to trip my general 'bubble' pattern-recognition system. This reminds me of the original Internet Bubble where you would read about young people making ludicrous sums for crap work or no real reason at all, and so everyone piled into computer science programs (or into law schools, for that matter).

I'm frankly confused about the whole issue of poker (both online and real-life). I know a lot of smart people who claim to have made ridiculous amounts of money playing poker casually in their free time. Judging from what they're saying, it would seem like there are so many suckers around playing for real money that a highly intelligent person willing to study the game can exercise a ridiculous amount of arbitrage. But if I accept all their stories at face value, then why on Earth do all these smart people toil at difficult jobs for mediocre salaries when they could be earning much more money gambling? In particular, why do even all these people I know who boast about their earnings at poker still maintain difficult and demanding day jobs? (Of course, they can reply that gambling is only a short-term opportunity while the career is more important in the long run, but they could still invest more time in gambling while scaling down their careers temporarily with a clear net profit. And even if that's not possible, with such vast profit opportunities, one would expect they'd be playing far more even in their presently available free time.) I don't know what to think of all this. Whatever the truth might be, either I know a bunch of otherwise honest and down to Earth people who are lying or delusional about this issue, or there is actually a screaming opportunity for making money on easy arbitrage that few people bother to exploit, and even they only partly and incompletely. Both possibilities seem to me highly implausible (but the latter more so).

Whatever the truth might be, either I know a bunch of otherwise honest and down to Earth people who are lying or delusional about this issue, or there is actually a screaming opportunity for making money on easy arbitrage that few people bother to exploit, and even they only partly and incompletely.

Otherwise whip smart people tend to be delusional about gambling. This applies also to the stock market. Gambling is a minefield of meaningless patterns which trigger our pattern detectors. I presume that's a large part of why it's so fun.

Some people reading that will say, "yes, I already know that for most people gambling is a pandora's box of rationality-killing delusion-inducing spurious patterns, I've incorporated into my thinking, so belaboring the point is just wasting my time". But what I have found is that, however much I think I have incorporated that insight into my thinking, I did not incorporate it fully enough.

My guess about your smart acquaintances is that they have been lucky and are delusional. As for why they don't dive into their delusion, quit their day jobs and destroy their life savings, which is the point of inconsistency that's puzzling you, it may be ... (read more)

Yes, in fact it happens that some of the same people I know claim to be able to beat the stock market too. I think your theory is probably true: both in gambling and on the stock market, people get deluded by occasional lucky windfalls and fail to keep track of the big picture. Yet few of them actually get deluded to the point where they'll go ahead and bankrupt themselves; the others remain rational at some level and refuse to actually put really significant sums where their mouth is, although they will brag around about their wins, possibly talking under honest delusions (but not actually acting on them, as with most beliefs that are held for signaling value). Of course, as the EMH predicts, being smart and hard working people, if they really applied themselves to gambling systematically and full-time, they would probably be able to squeeze out something of roughly the same magnitude as what they earn in their existing day jobs. (But certainly nothing like these spectacular wins they're talking about.)
One of my housemates in college was able to maintain a fairly decent middle-class income playing poker, starting from a few books on professional play and a few months of experience (as well as a preexisting Magic: The Gathering habit, which may have provided some crossover skills). He was a fairly bright guy, but not a genius and not unusually rational outside the game, so it can be done; I've got a few theories as to why more people don't. First, and probably most importantly, playing poker professionally is a job. It's often tedious, it's emotionally demanding, and since it relies on subverting the instincts that make gambling fun, it usually isn't. My friend spent ten or twelve hours a day playing, often on four tables at once, and while he was making about the same money that I now do in software, I never got the impression that he was working any less hard for it. Second, it's not a reliable source of income over the short term. The variance in day-to-day take is astounding: some days my friend would stagger out of his room thousands of dollars the poorer, either because he'd gotten in a bad emotional state and lost rationality (the jargon is "on tilt") or just because of a run of bad luck. Indeed, professional poker players are expected to blow through their entire playing fund on a semi-regular basis. I imagine that a lot of people wouldn't want to live that way; financial stability is itself a net positive for most, as evidenced by the existence of insurance companies. Finally, it's low-status. "Professional gambler" has a certain rough-edged glamour to it, but it occupies sort of the same mental space as "private investigator" or even "soldier of fortune": exciting but not respectable. Status considerations being as important as they are with regard to career choices, it wouldn't surprise me if this played an important role in limiting the number of people playing professionally.
Actually, the story of your housemate is precisely what the efficient markets hypothesis predicts: if you try hard to squeeze out some arbitrage profits from an efficient market, the profit you can expect will be roughly the same as what you could earn with other pursuits, including wage labor, given your talents and the amount of effort expended. So I'm not at all surprised to hear it; in fact, it would be surprising if the amount of arbitrage profits available were much less than that. What does confuse me are the stories of people who claim that the arbitrage profits they can supposedly squeeze out are far above what they earn in their day jobs, as well as their unwillingness to spend more money and effort in gambling, which seems strikingly irrational if their stories are taken at face value.
Well, a decent middle-class income is far above what most college kids are making. At the time it was an absolutely astonishing amount of money to me. In a broader context it lines up well with the efficient markets hypothesis's conditions, of course, but I wouldn't be surprised if exactly the kind of astonishment I experienced back then, suitably inflated by word of mouth and barroom exaggeration, was responsible for the stories you've heard.
It's really hard to exaggerate how many how silly people are playing poker. Right now I'm logged onto a pokersite that currently has 381793 people playing. Most of those don't bother to put work into learning how to play, so the "arbitrage" opportunities indeed are huge. Why then more people don't become poker professionals... well, I know quite a few who have, but I for one consider poker a really boring game. I couldn't imagine playing it if the opportunities weren't so good. Also, it can get really stressful if it's your sole source of income, as in many forms of poker there are strings of bad luck where you lose money. Then you can get scared/nervous, and "scared money is losing money" is a saying that's usually very true in poker.
A few different things going on here, but the bottom line is yes, there is a screaming opportunity for making money on easy arbitrage. You can easily and quickly make a decent living if you don't mind putting in the hours, and you can with hard work, dedication and hopefully some talent get vastly more than that. Why don't more people do it? There are a lot of places people turn away, from the legal issues to the morality of the activity, to the low status, to the swings and need for psychological stability, to the lack of a long term plan, to the fact that poker gets boring after a while and it happens quicker if you're maximizing alpha. It also doesn't scale that well; to get past a certain point and earn top dollar you need expert-style training and talent. Marginal improvements in skill are huge over the long term in gambling. However, I recommend that anyone who can't otherwise get a good job seriously consider poker. Gambling in general involves huge amounts of money being effectively given away, resulting in lots of low hanging fruit. Sports betting is actually even softer than poker.
Poker machines are also a reliable source of free money in the long term. If you calculate the expected value based on accumulating jackpots and have complete control over your risk taking impulses.
They're getting better at controlling for that, and actually exploiting this is as boring as it gets, but machines with jackpots that don't max out can be worth keeping an eye on if you're in a position to do so easily.
I 'd say that making a living by gambling is ambiguous so far as status is concerned. On one hand, it's using cleverness to win again and again, and on the other, it doesn't have the compliance and stability signaling you get from being a respected professional. Since the people who are capable of making a living at poker would have a substantial overlap of intelligence and temperament with those who can become professionals, there might well be fewer people going into gambling than could make a living at it.
That is certainly true, but if their grandiose claims are true, it still doesn't explain why they don't spend more of their free time gambling. I mean, I'm having a beer or coffee with someone who claims to be able to earn so much from gambling that, if true, this means that he's paying the opportunity cost of hundreds of dollars an hour for the pleasure of wasting time here with me and my friends instead of going gambling. That just makes no sense at all.
Even Bill Gates and Warren Buffett waste time playing bridge and eating steaks and going to parties.
Playing high level poker is mentally very taxing and tiring. Even if one can do it for 2-3 hours per day, it's often true that trying to spend too much time on it will result in losses.
People normally have diminishing marginal value for money, and need time off.
Poker bots reportedly have become extremely good. Given that bots can be scaled enormously, that makes the situation even worse.
Actually, they really aren't a problem, unless one insists on playing exactly those rather few variations of poker where they supposedly are common nowadays (haven't checked myself). In most forms of poker there aren't good bots commonly around, or even in existence as far as I know. (They're also banned on the major sites, which try to detect bots and kick you out without giving you your money back if you get caught.)
5Swimmer963 (Miranda Dixon-Luinenburg) 13y
It also sounds extremely boring. Then again, I also find video games and online multiplayer games equally boring, which could be a difference between me and the average LW poster...

Having a well-meaning site for teaching poker that doesn't link to Two Plus Two forums looks rather silly.

It's such a premier resource on the topic. High quality guides on most topics, and helpful people giving high-quality answers to anything a newbie might want to ask.

That link is all an intelligent person needs to become a winning poker player. (Assuming that one utilizes said resource, of course.)

2+2 is good by internet poker forum standards but the discussion there is only a touch above Fark or reddit. I don't imagine most people on LW could handle it.
Sounds like a strange comment to me. The threads I'm reading tend to stay very well on topic, be good treatments of that topic, and are about just as good as can be expected when the topic is poker, instead of something intellectually perhaps more refined.

Sure, there are good poker psychology issues. I'm in agreement on that.

But you can be a very fine rationalist without being good at cards, and vice versa. (I consider myself a fine rationalist, and I am very good at both poker and bridge; over the last 100 hours I've played poker (the last three years; I don't play online because it's illegal) I'm up about $60 an hour, though that's likely unsustainable over the long haul. ($40 an hour is surely sustainable.)

But you can be nutty and be great at cards. And if your skill set isn't this - and you're not willing to commit to some real time at getting good - you're going to get crushed. The idea that simple rationalism is going to lead to big wins is just wrong. You need the math and (less, I think) reading the opponents. You also need to develop the skill of being hard to read.


Our hypothesis isn't that simple rationalism will lead to big wins. It's that rationalists have an above average chance of becoming a winning player compared to the average fraternity brother that makes it through Calculus II with a B, which I think is about the level of math competency needed to really succeed at poker. It's also that we can help professional poker players be slightly better players by getting them to read the LW sequences. We want to create new players from rationalists, and turn existing poker players into rationalists.

We are hoping that getting rationalists to try poker will make them more aware of their own emotional irrationality if they turn out to be losing players, and if they turn out to be winning players, so much the better. If we somehow convinced 50% of LW users to devote 10 hours a week to playing poker (yes median LW reader, I know this is unrealistic), I would be surprised if a year later we didn't have at least one person making in the mid six figures via semi-full time poker playing.

There's way more to being good at poker than reading the sequences, but it certainly makes for a good base level of understanding.

1. I don't think you need any calculus at all to be good at poker. People who are good at poker tend to know calculus, but that's because the US has made the highly dubious decision to prioritize calculus over statistics for smart high school students. 2. It's not going to be emotional irrationality that's going to derail your target audience. I played poker in my college years - not enough to get great, but enough to get competent. Playing low-level poker is different than higher-level poker. Experience, intelligence, and presence are all helpful. 3. Mid-six figures? Seriously? Since I'm not playing online, I don't know except from reports from others... but if you're talking $300 an hour in profit (which it appears you are) I think you've misestimated. I've had nice conversations with a couple of poker pros, and I know some electrically smart people, and I don't personally know anyone who is making $300 an hour. [Edit: I know that such people exist. They are typically devoted to their craft, and have been doing it since a young age.] If you have someone from a standing start (little or no experience outside home games) and give them 10 hours a week for the next year.... well, I'm willing to play any of 'em heads-up for cash.
I personally know many people who have made those figures in the past, although high-stakes online poker has gotten much tougher in the past few years and it takes extremely high skill to make that much now. I have personally made about $240/hr at online poker ($200 NLH SNGs on Party Poker back before the UIGEA). But I couldn't make anywhere near that nowadays.
Might that suggest that we're beginning to see the system getting saturated with skilled players?
What specifically makes online poker illegal? I thought the popular interpretation of the Wire Act was that it only made the facilitation of gambling as a business enforcably illegal, and the more recent 2006 bill similarly did not apply to individual players. I agree that the intent of the US government is to make individual gambling illegal, but that doesn't seem to be what legal precedent has actually established. And under the Obama administration the intent is less clear to me. Hopefully the WTO gives the USA the slap it deserves in the next five years or so.
According to WSJ: So, basically, the government insists it is illegal. They just don't usually bother to interfere. Although under Obama, the feds have started seizing accounts.
AFAIK playing online poker is NOT illegal in any state except Washington. What is illegal is for US financial institutions to conduct transactions with online gaming companies. For a review see:

Upvoted purely for the willingness to cash out all this rationality talk in terms of operational improvements.

That said, I would also endorse incorporating some element of reliable testing into your project.

That is, if after six months you've got N people signed up on your site and making a bunch of money, and you want to evaluate your program to see how much of a benefit the program provided (as opposed to just attracting good poker players in the first place), will you be able to answer that question?

(I've only skimmed the site, so sorry if that's covered and I missed it.)

Sure. We will totally be public about revenue generated, once the results are interesting enough to share. I'm expecting it to be a negligible amount until we hook a whale, that could generate thousands a month or more. If we don't say anything, assume it's because we're not making an interesting amount of money. The longer we're around, the higher our chances of hooking an existing big player or creating a new one.

I would be interested in a program that allowed playing poker with fake money against bots, in a way that collects statistics and grades the quality of your play. Playing online poker for real money against real humans is not a precedent I want to set, even if it is a valuable training exercise.

I wish we could do this but playing without real money wouldn't work for improving rationality and I don't think it would even work for testing rationality in a meaningful way. Also, I think this sets a good precedent. People who will bet on cards are far more likely to bet on their beliefs in general, which is a sign that they actually have beliefs as opposed to just "things they would like to be true". Not taking +EV bets that represent negligible portions of your net-worth is epistemically irrational so it seems like a rationalist community should be encouraging betting when it is done at reasonable stakes as a way to train or test beliefs.

Not taking +EV bets that represent negligible portions of your net-worth is epistemically irrational so it seems like a rationalist community should be encouraging betting when it is done at reasonable stakes as a way to train or test beliefs.

After some amount of practice, playing poker should be +EV. Betting money while still a poker noob, however, is certainly -EV. I'd be more willing to bet money if I had some indication, preferrably in the form of an Elo rating, that I can expect to come out ahead.

After we cover some introductory material on our site, I plan to recommend people test out play money games after signing up to learn how the software works and get a feel for the game, then take these two tests. I'll try and get some scores from winning, marginal, and losing players so I can make a recommendation for a cut-off on whether to play or keep studying first.
The a priori argument that using money is important doesn't stand up under closer examination. If you are incapable of generalizing from in-game currency to dollars, you won't be capable of generalizing from poker to other activities. And player behavior does not seem to be grossly different - take for example the fact that prediction markets work the same with real money or fake money.

I've played poker for play money. There's not as much pain when losing so there is correspondingly less motivation to exercise discipline, come to correct beliefs, or deal seriously with the difficult psychological situations. Learning to take those things seriously and perform under "survival instinct"-level pressure is the point of this training. You want the actions you take to imprint your habits and reshape them to be more rational over time and play money can't do that. See the post I linked to above for a longer explanation.

The football study you link to shows me that in cases where there's already a rich information market, real and pretend markets both mirror it well. That doesn't indicate to me that people wagering in the play money markets had a similar visceral experience or would learn the same lessons from failure or success. I strongly suspect they didn't -- and would bet money on it if I could figure out how.

Playing poker for play chips online quickly teaches that there's a huge difference between $0.01 and $0.00 when it comes to quality of play. Games that don't require something be risked end up being jokes.

I think there's a place for it--A few months ago I didn't know anything about poker except the relative values of the hands. Then I got a free iPhone Texas Hold 'em app that has a few nice features, like a colored bar showing the current strength of your hand (although it doesn't seem to adjust for the number of opponents). I've picked up a lot more intuition, at the very least.
It may not be much different for prediction markets, but it is VERY different for online poker. Even if you play exactly the same with or without money, your opponents will not, and therefore you will be "training" on different data than you think. This applies especially to NL games; risking 1,000 points on one bet is a lot different than risking 1,000 dollars.
I have no idea whether you could set up a feasible system for this, but perhaps you could have people bet karma points instead of money.
This is an excellent idea. The ability to create a simple measure (profit/loss) for a complex subject obviously loses something in the process, but makes up for it by allowing reproducible experimentation with a robust and unforgiving metric. If we claim something is valuable, then we should be prepared to find simple metrics capable of measuring it. I think you have done so.
It might be worthwhile to write a post on this for
I thought I elaborated on my point in the link to the post I gave in my comment.
D'oh! Nevermind, The Stupid got me.

PokerStrategy provides you with a $50 starting capital if you pass their quiz. They supply all the information you need to pass on their size so it's an easy quiz if you simply look up the answers. The $50 counts as "bonus cash" so while you can play with them at real money tables you cannot withdraw them, unless you generate enough bonus points from rake.

If you want to try it, use this link to give me some referral credits ;)

One thing which I dislike about Poker though is that the feedback is NOT immediate. If... (read more)

8Simon Fischer13y
I've done this; I now have ca. 500$ without ever cashing in, but it took quite some time. This can not be said too often, the variance is quite high and it takes a lot of self-control to play consistently even if you've been losing money for a long time.
Yes you can withdraw them if you generate enough bonus points from rake, but I doubt that many beginners will accomplish that. Anyways, sorry for providing incomplete information.
0Kevin13y also does this.

Is there any kind of poker "bot" that isn't autonomous, but analyzes your hand and the context, and simply gives advice and probabilities?

They're not very good at analyzing the context, but sure, there are lots of assistant programs. Especially recommended are so-called HUDs (they overimpose real-time updated statistics on your opponents on the screen), that these days tend to be included in more general poker analytics software suites such as Hold'Em Manager. In general, if you people have questions regarding how to play poker, it's better to ask on a poker forum than here. (TwoPlusTwo is still the biggest and best, I think.)
It seems like, if these are legal, it would be rational to use them, unless they introduce new biases that are counterproductive, or you wish to develop your probability and card counting skills...
Of course, and indeed essentially all serious online poker players do use poker analytics suites. (They are legal. The point where assistant programs become disallowed by the sites is, essentially, if they start doing the mouse-clicking for you.) EDIT: It turns out that the above description of exactly where the line between allowed and forbidden is drawn is mistaken. See this FAQ for a comprehensive presentation for how e.g. the biggest poker site lays down the rules on this matter (may vary a bit between sites).
And, in a lot cases, even if they are not legal.
The difference between game theory and decision theory is that in game theory you need to worry about not just what is rational for you to do, you also have to consider what is rational for the other players to do. When you play online poker, you are placing complete trust in your analysis of the trustworthiness of the 'house'. The house could cheat you, if it desires, and probably not get caught. But you analyze that cheating would be an irrational thing for the house to do an a large scale - because large scale cheating would get caught and they would lose customers. So, what is your analysis of what they would do to a small number of their customers who violate their rules by using real-time machine assistance? They can't take those people to court. People who, if they were allowed to get away with it, would destroy the online poker business. Would it be rational for the Poker houses to try to cheat the rule-breakers? Would they actually do that? I used to count cards at blackjack. And when I did it in Reno, at a certain stage a new dealer would be brought to the table (outside the normal shift schedule). And from that point on, I would lose money. If I watched closely, I could see them dealing seconds.
More like: in decision theory, there aren't necessarily other actors to consider.
That's not a violation of the rules. Assistant programs such as discussed above are used by essentially all serious players and that's fine by the sites. Actually, online poker business is growing every year.
Use of real-time machine assistance to guide your play is not against the rules? Then apparently, I don't understand the rules. What kinds of computer assistance do they forbid?
(EDIT: I am mistaken in what I state in this comment. See comments below for correction.) Essentially the deciding factor whether an assistant program is allowed is whether the program does the mouse-clicking for you. Quoting from the Terms of Service of the biggest poker site: 5.6. AUTOMATIC PLAYERS (BOTS). The use of artificial intelligence including, without limitation, "robots" is strictly forbidden in connection with the Service. All actions taken in relation to the Service by a User must be executed personally by players through the user interface accessible by use of the Software.
That was a pretty remarkable example of selective quotation. Immediately above the paragraph you quoted was a link to this FAQ. Note the long list of software products which they say you are forbidden to use.
The first long list is about programs that are allowed, btw. But I guess I should have been been more specific that I was talking in the context of "bot-like" programs, and what I said is completely accurate in such a context. Of course additionally e.g. programs that show your cards to your friends are forbidden. And utilizing large centralized databases is forbidden. But programs that do such things are not "bot-like". EDIT: Ok, actually I am wrong. They go further in banning "bot-like" programs than I described here. I knew that the multi-purpose "poker analytics suites" that people like me widely use are allowed, and that real bots are forbidden, but I was mistaken where exactly they draw the line between these types of programs, since I hadn't really looked into such.
This seems like quite an irrational strategy on the casino's part, and a bad case of loss aversion. Suppose the casino calculates that it can afford to cheat one customer in twenty without getting caught (or any other proportion if 1/20 is unrealistic). Of all the people they could use this ability on, is the card-counter really the optimal choice? He may not have come in with very much money, and is likely to catch on reasonably fast at which point he will probably just leave. It seems much better to wait for someone who is at least slightly drunk and has come in with a lot of money to gamble, he probably won't notice and will just keep making and losing large bets. If I recall correctly the margins in card-counting are quite small and they may be able to take many times as much money from the second guy as the card-counter can take from them. Although you obviously have much more experience in this area than me, so please correct me if I'm wrong.
One of my friends made a living for a while by card-counting, but iirc, eventually he was banned from the casinos in Atlantic City. That seems like a cleaner way of handling things than bringing in a cheating dealer. What are the rules on video recording in casinos?
Hmmm. Does it also seem irrational of them to break the leg of someone who borrows a lot of money and can't pay it back? Wouldn't it be more rational for them to break legs of random drunks who are less likely to recognize their assailants? I hope my flip response doesn't seem too hostile. Of course the casinos that cheated me weren't doing it to make a few extra bucks. They were doing it to punish me. Of course, for blackjack card counters, simply banning the player is also a viable strategy. And it happened to me in more than one casino. But banning doesn't work so well with online malefactors.
Not a very effective punishment, since you could just get up and leave. If they really wanted to punish you they could have taken a photo of you and distributed it to every other casino in the country.
While I can't vouch for every single poker site out there, the chances of them trying to cheat you are almost nil. The amount of marginal income they would make compared to the risk of a tarnished reputation makes it a foolish play (note that to cheat you, they would need to not only rig the game, but have a shill in there to divert the money to). Unless this was 1950, I believe your eyes fooled you. They would ban you, yes, but the idea of a Reno casino trying to win their money "back" via slight of hand is a little silly.
That seems to be necessary somewhere along the line when implementing decision theory too. If you don't model the other agents in the system you will (obviously) end up making worse decisions. I don't make such analysis. I assume the worst case with respect to them choosing among plausible methods of reciprocation and instead focus on the logistics of whether calculator use can be detected. The house cheating seems to be a rather benign situation. The probability that the cards being dealt this bad or worse over multiple hands given fair deals can be calculated. If there is a high probability that the house is cheating you stop.

I'm very interested in this idea. Do you know of any good (preferably free) software for practicing against computers? (I used to be pretty good in high school, but I haven't played since.)

Still, do you think this is a good idea for a rationality dojo? Poker is at best a zero sum game (probably negative-sum, in practice), which seems like something aspiring rationalists should try to avoid.

Wouldn't something like day trading (where there is at least a general tendency for positive returns) be better?

I haven't tried day trading, but I'd be very surprised if it's easier than poker. There is a huge number of very silly people playing online poker (so it's very easy to beat them).

Poker training this Sunday in Berkeley:

This Sunday at 12:30PM, Poker Stars is having what will either be the biggest online poker tournament ever, or more likely, a strongly money added tournament.

It is an $11 tournament with a $1MM prize pool guarantee. The tournament may take as long as 10 hours or possibly longer to finish, but quite likely you will lose long before then.

Please sign up for Poker Stars in advance via the affiliate link at if you aren't already signed up. Then, make a $20 deposit using the bonus code STORM, for ... (read more)

I hope you'll make sure not to engage in collusion prohibited by the rules of the site.
I believe the site auto-detects you are on the same IP and never puts you at the same tables. You're allowed to play MTTs with people in the same household, just not cash games or single table tournaments. I have never heard the answer to what happens if you both make it to the final table. I believe the answer is something like they will audit the tournament hand by hand to look for suspicious behavior, and if they suspect collusion refuse to pay.

Thanks for this. I've been wondering about the best way to earn an income for a while, and I've for several years known several folks who make good money by online poker. Some of them good enough to earn a living. This provided the final nudge to convince me to try it out. (And I'll sign up through this site, naturally. SIAI donations made easy, what's not to love?)

I've put "try out online poker" on my to-do list for the summer. Do you have estimates regarding the shape of the function mapping time practicing/reading to revenue? E.g. how much practice does it take to reach, say, a 10$/h or 50$/h average profit?

Did you indeed try out online poker, and if so, how did it go?
I didn't.

This is a great idea. Congrats!

Personally, I don't gamble for money, because I would go broke very quickly, but this is such a great idea that I'm almost tempted.

Poker allows you to gamble for as little or as much as you want; Poker Stars has games where the stakes are $0.01/$0.02 and no one sits down with more than a dollar, and the game is low quality but real. Most sites have very low stakes games that are similar. If you want to experiment with little risk, that is one good way to do it.

Where did that belief that you would go broke very quickly come from? It seems, if you'll forgive me, a little irrational. If you improve your rationality and knowledge of basic probability to the point where it exceeds that of the average at the table you are playing at, you will (on average) make money.

Unlike sports. where height, reflexes and hand-eye coordination play such a huge factor, there is no intrinsic poker ability. Those who are "naturally" good at poker are simply those who are already more rational, at least in their playing of poker, and have a better prior knowledge (understanding may be a better word than knowledge, as most people do not take time to actually do the calculations) of the probabilities.

I think this is a great idea, though I do caution that people spend a little time practising with free games, or low stakes ones at least, as it can take a few games to get the hang of betting, and to get an intuitive understanding of the probabilities, as you will most likely not have time to calculate them while the game is being played.

The chance (pun intended) to make money off of rationality while doing something enjoyable and practising that rationality is simply too good to pass up.

I am bad at quick mental arithmetic, especially if the numbers are big. Yes, I could work on that -- but it's honestly not worth losing large sums of money to improve. I also have a very hard time with self-interested strategy. It's not a mode of thought that I understand easily -- to the point that I get confused by novels that involve plotting or strategizing. (HP:MOR included!) Finally, I am loss averse when it comes to money, and I think it makes sense in my case. Not making any money above my stipend means I still have a perfectly happy life. Losing too much money means I risk not being able to pay my rent/bills/taxes, which is disastrous. Losing is worse than not winning.
One of the reasons Hold'Em is popular is that it is easy to do the probability calculations in your head. We should probably post about that...
Hell yes.
Also, most of the time you're doing the same calculation over and over. People who can't do math are fine most of the time (but not all, and that matters) because they have the odds memorized.
That's true. When I first started playing, I ran a live screen scraping odds calculator on top of my poker tables, and five years later I don't use a calculator and I have the odds precomputed. (I should actually check and make sure my precomputed odds are still right... I suspect they are off in certain cases)
do you have a link to this program?
I wouldn't bother with that. I tried it and the latest version is incompatible with the current batch of poker software, they haven't updated it in years. You're better off looking at review sites for a more up to date application.
"If you improve your rationality and knowledge of basic probability to the point where it exceeds that of the average at the table you are playing at, you will (on average) make money." Only if you are playing in an unraked home game. In venues where you play for significant amounts of money versus strangers, there will be a house guaranteeing the fairness of the game and providing insurance against stealing, etc. and they collect a lot of money for this service relative to what a good player can expect to win. Unless you play nosebleed stakes (where the house can make a lot of money by taking a very small percentage of the pot), the rake will make somewhat above average players losers, and below average players big losers. In a typical low-limit game, the very best players will net on average about as much as the house is taking from each player. So you have to be about halfway from average to the best to break even.

You do realize that the owners of Ultimate Bet and Absolute Poker stole tens of millions from players? I think you would be wise not to act as an affiliate for that company.

Will players who sign up with you receive rake back?

That's a good point... I guess the cheating scandal was not something where they looked better at the end of it? I'll update the links tomorrow. Any sites you recommend instead? Our intention is that the would be rake back goes to charity, but rake back is negotiable.
Bodog, you've pretty much got it covered with Poker Stars and Full Tilt Poker though.

Do you have some statistics on the distribution of average percentage gain per hand among poker players, how it varies with practice, and how constant it is?

For instance, what are the average and standard deviation of (winnings / money bet) for professional poker players? What fraction of these professional poker players can be explained as just being lucky?

I would think that you would win at online poker not by training, but by getting a good computer program to lay your bets.

For the most part, programming a bot is a lot harder than just learning how to play and playing yourself, no matter how good you are at programming.
How much professional poker players make varies a lot according to their skill level. The best reliably make millions every year. Setting up a bot to play for you is a winning strategy, but ethically questionable since it requires breaking the rules of the site. And a necessary non-trivial part of the strategy would be evading the detection they engage in.

Would it be possible to design a game that encourages rationality?

It seems unlikely that there would be a game already existing optimized for our goals.

For demonstrating the value of the LW-style rationalism skill set, it seems better to you can use it for any mental-skill based game (including poker, chess, life itself even) -- after all, winning in a game, carefully designed to reward certain behaviours does not show us much about these behaviours. Still, indeed it would be interesting to see some game to train these skills. One thing I'd be particularly interested in to train my skills in making quick yet somewhat accurate probability estimations, and update them when new information arrives. Another area could be various logical fallacies and cognitive biases - some game that teaches the fine balance between bias-avoidance and bias-overcompensation.

Online poker is the most brutal rationality test I know of. As a one time “semi-professional” player, I experienced things which really strained my capacity to believe in a random universe. It would be amusing to watch someone like Eliezer Yudkowsky play poker; I can easily imagine him becoming an emotional, superstitious nut throwing keyboards against the wall like almost everyone else who plays poker long enough!

Well, if you can explain every outcome, you have zero knowledge. And your ignorance about Eliezer Yudkowsky is a fact about you, not a fact about Eliezer Yudkowsky. :-)

This is really great! I was hoping some sort of rationalist/poker mashup would materialize (and would have organized something like this myself if my rationalist knowledge matched my poker knowledge ;-)

I've always believed poker to be a great test for rationality. OK, maybe it's not perfect -- but who can suggest something better? Also, it's got mainstream popularity going for it which is very valuable.

That said, there are other details which contribute to being good at poker. Last year I conducted an informal study into the personality traits of online p... (read more)

I think this is a great idea, and I'm interested in seeing how it unfolds. It could form part of the more general project of training gut-level rationality into people. Gathering declarative knowledge about biases and heuristics and Bayesian statistics and so forth is very important, but the end goal is to actually change behavior for the better.

I recently had a similar idea, that learning magic could teach a person a lot about intuition and faulty thinking in people. Not Magic: The Gathering, but actual James Randi/ Derren Brown kind of magic. Brow... (read more)

Be aware that it's possible to cheat at online poker by controlling multiple players in one game and passing information between them. If you're not doing that, you can lose to other people who are doing that, no matter how good you are. The people running the game don't care, since they get their fees regardless.

Better to play with real cards and real people if you don't want to cheat.


Might it be a good idea to link to Less Wrong in some fashion from this site?

I'm dubious of the idea that I should be training mentally in an area that a computer program can already trounce all humans in. Playing optimal poker is computationally solvable and not demanding, except for figuring out the biases of the human players.

I assume that a human can't do better than a computer when playing against a player with no biases. At the professional level, play should converge closer and closer to the unbiased ideal, so that poker experience and human insight should become less and less valuable.

Do professional poker players make mo... (read more)

Bots only win at 1v1 limit poker. No bot can play professional no-limit poker, especially at a full table. Again, the best humans are much, much better at poker than the best bots. The idea that optimal NL poker is computationally solvable and not demanding is just wrong. No one has solved it yet.
This doesn't make sense to me. Why would no-limit be much harder than limit?
I'm no expert, but I expect it's because the game tree is sparser in limit than in no-limit.
Yup. There are also many more situations in limit poker that have a clearly optimal play than no-limit poker. In limit poker, you have the choice of check/call/raise/fold, where in no-limit poker the raising is fully continuous and you almost definitely don't have the complete information to make the actual optimal play across the full possible range of bets. Phil, if you wanted to read the best literature on this, The University of Alberta Poker group (run by the guy who weakly solved checkers, I think?), made a bot years ago that wins 1v1 limit poker against professional players and they keep writing about it while probably winning millions of dollars secretly on the internet. Or possibly they are too true of academics to actually run bots. They're working on no-limit poker now though, and I'd be surprised if bots haven't passed humans within 5 years. For now, humans still dominate.
I'm no expert, but I expect it's because the game tree in limit is helpfully pruned by the betting rules relative to the game tree of no-limit.
I believe that they can win LIMIT poker at a full table; does not have to be 1-1 in that case.
Out of curiousity, if computers were better to become poker players than humans (this is highly likely, in the long run), what would you say then?
Stop playing poker online unless you have a bot to play for you or a software tool to enhance and regulate your play.
You obviously have very little knowledge of the topic you're presenting yourself as an expert on. As is a logical necessity, most make their money off of non-professionals. The very best probably make more off of other professionals, though there are some very bad players even at the highest stakes (e.g. billionaires who just like poker). There isn't good public data on sponsorship deals. When one hears how much a particular professional makes, they are seldom included. The fact that you don't see computers beating the best humans (except in some somewhat marginal forms of poker, and even there it's debatable), and in most forms of poker, not even the semi-good players. This isn't a matter of "argument", but a matter of observing the facts. You don't usually get money for simple multiplication.
If I thought I were an expert, I would be answering questions instead of asking questions. That isn't an argument unless the best humans frequently play against computers. Do they? A human could be better than a computer at beating another human. In a game with one computer and four humans, I can easily believe that one human might win more than the computer did. In a game with four well-programmed computers and one human, I predict the computers will trounce the human regularly. I'm not an expert at poker; but I am an expert at computation, so I feel pretty confident about this prediction. (A game with 3 well-programmed computers, one human, and one poorly-programmed computer would count as a game with 3 computers and 2 humans.)
"Well-programmed computer" sounds like "sufficiently smart compiler" to me :).

Wow. A Full Tilt affiliate link on the front page of lesswrong. For those of you who aren't aware this means that if you click on this link and then subsequently sign up to that poker room and gamble then the author (actually the affiliate account holder) will get paid.

While I have to admire the effort and acknowledge the link between poker and rationality - I think the affiliate link tips this towards the realm of self interested marketing rather than helpful knowledge sharing. Of course it's probably a mix of both but it's important to be aware of the c... (read more)

That's mentioned in the article and they claim (believably as far as I am concerned) the proceeds go to the SIAI.
Thanks for pointing this out. I can't believe I didn't actually read the adjacent words. It does however serve to underscore the commercial value represented by this post and the associated project. Online gaming is an area that has some unique constraints on marketing, especially in the US and because of this it's valid to have an increased suspicion of spam. It may be a good idea to have a think about the appropriate level of commerciality in articles before someone finds a clever and entirely reasonable way to link transhumanism with 'Buy Viagra Online'
I would claim that the problem with spam is not the commercial value but rather the fact that it is off-topic. If someone really does have a clever and reasonable way to link transhumanism with the purchase of viagra, I would be curious to read it and would likely upvote it. There may be some difference between the promotion of for-profit and not-for-profit ventures, but it is difficult to see. Information about a for-profit cryogenics enterprise would be far more interesting to many of us than a plea to improve the financial standing of the ICRC. I have not noticed any non-profits currently resorting to spam - but if one does, I see no reason it should be treated any differently than a commercial spam.
There's a confluence between the commercial nature of spam and the off-topicness. I remember the fury at the early Green Card spam, and it seemed disproportionate. I've since concluded that the fury was based in an accurate intuition and/or theory that the rewards for cheap advertising are so high that all signal will be swamped unless precautions are taken. The thing that pisses me off the most about spam isn't so much the cost of preventing it (though I'm sure I underestimate the cost) as the useful communication which has failed to happen as a result of spam-- and the same hatred goes to trolls. If it weren't for spam, we'd have email directories. If you lost an email address or it had changed, you wouldn't be dependent on crumb trails and social networks. It would be like looking up a phone number in a phone book, only more convenient. Note that we don't have facilities like that for cell phone numbers, either. Of course, it's not just a problem of making contact-- it's all the messages which didn't go through because contact didn't happen and the legitimate messages which got blocked by spam filters.
I agree with this analysis. The specific case of "a commercial request that is on-topic and interesting" is much more costly than spam, making this a self-limiting event unlikely to turn into a problem. Spam's annoyance is possible only because of the low cost of production/distribution.

I've noticed lately a lot of websites seem to use some bizarre font that looks awful. But since they keep doing it, I'm beginning to wonder if it's just me that sees it looking awful. Does it look like this for anyone else?

Another term for font smoothing (mentioned by Kevin) is antialiasing. Try a different browser as well -- perhaps compare to IE or Chrome. Also, you could check out THIS? I run linux, but that's what my quick web search got me. Edit: I can't tell if that is Vista or 7... I assumed 7 but maybe I was wrong. Just search around for font-smooting or anti-alias settings or whatever Win version you run and you should find some help.
It's just you... I believe it wouldn't look awful if you had font smoothing turned on. I'm running Windows with standard, non-subpixel font smoothing and it looks fine. Do you have font smoothing turned completely off? You might want to try standard smoothing. I think there is some sort of broader problem you are having with fonts though. I previously remember have that problem on some sites and have no idea what caused it and why I don't see it anymore.