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I hope you liked my first column on cognitive biases about self-service bias, my damn knowledge follower.
Digging deeper into some of the common biases that affect poker, let’s examine the entrenched bias and The Availability Heuristic.
Established bias is our tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information that comes to mind or presents itself when making a decision.
Availability evidence is similar, and overemphasizes the first examples that come to mind when making a judgment.
When someone makes a poker decision (or any decision for that matter), they always have a reason. Oftentimes, they have a reasonable cause. The question is not, “Do they have a good reason?” But “did they fairly evaluate all available information before making their final decision?”
Oftentimes, we go with the first reason that comes to mind, and which decision supports it. How many times have we seen a player trick the river knowing, as we’ve seen, that it’s a hopeless trick? When they are called and they lose, you often hear them say, “Well, cheating was the only way to win.” Every time I hear that, they’ve been right. Every time, their hands were so weak, they had no chance of winning the showdown.
However, the fact that their statement was true did not mean that they had to try to cheat. They had good reason to cheat, but that reason is almost irrelevant when it comes to deciding to cheat.
The thing to think about when trying to cheat is not just that you can win if you check? Instead, you should consider how many chips you are risking, how many chips you will win, and how many times you estimate the opponent will go down.
If I’m playing on the board, and I’ll never win a showdown, it’s still silly to deceive if the opponent is always calling you. While cheating was my only chance to win, it was also my only chance to lose more chips in this hand.
You see similar mistakes being made in every aspect of poker. You reach the river, bet the second acorn in a row, and raise. Your first thought is, “The only hand that can beat my A-4s on this board is 6-4, and this guy is too narrow to play 6-4, so I’m going to move up.”
This is a strong and powerful argument for this decision. However, if the opponent is too short to play 6-4, isn’t he too tight to rise in the river without the nuts? Something does not fit, and you need to look closely.
You have to think about everything else you know about this player. Was he in the big blind? How much of a loser does a preflop play in this position? How many players have already participated? He’ll probably play 6-4, from the big blind, against the 2.5x increment beforehand, with three other players already called. Was there a tie on the flop? Maybe your c-bet called on the flop because he had a hunch and a flash draw? And if he didn’t have a 6-4, what could he have now?
If his range at this point is 6-4 or bluff, the increase is a bug. If he has 6-4, the increase will cost you. If he cheats, he will withdraw to your raise, and you will win the same amount as if you had just called.
There is always more to consider. If you limit yourself to the first thing that comes to mind, you will never be able to play well. If you overgeneralize the opponent, you will draw a lot of wrong conclusions about his playing style. You really need to dig into every detail of each hand and compare all those details to how they played the previous hand.
The trick is not to just look at the first idea, or even add another idea. The trick is to think of everything possible, while not spending too much time making every decision. Overthinking everything will lead to paralysis by analysis. Real skill goes beyond the first idea, but don’t go so far as to waste time. Once you master it, you are really on the right path to becoming a great player.
Enjoy and play smart! ♠
Greg Raymer is the 2004 World Series of Poker Main Event Champion, has won several major titles, and has earned more than $7 million. He is the author of FossilMan’s Winning Tournament Strategies, available from D&B Publishing, Amazon, and other retailers. Sponsored by Blue Shark Optics, YouStake, and ShareMyPair. To connect with Greg, please Tweet @FossilMan or Visit his website.