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I hope you enjoyed my first column on Cognitive Bias on Self-Service Bias, Follow up on the Curse of Knowledge, and then Established Bias.
Let’s dive into the bias you’ve likely already heard of, the confirmation bias. This is our tendency to selectively find, observe, and recall information that confirms our pre-existing beliefs.
If you already think a politician is stupid, you are more likely to notice his mistakes and gaffes, and you are more likely to remember those mistakes when you think about them. If you think they are good, you are less likely to notice and remember their mistakes. As such, your opinion, which may have been formed early on before you had sufficient evidence, is only reinforced and corroborated by your misperceptions and inaccurate recollection of subsequent events.
In poker terms, you can form an early opinion about an opponent, and then maintain that opinion despite subsequent evidence to the contrary. If someone raises the first five hands on the table, you can form the opinion that he is loose and aggressive. Having formed that early opinion, you may not notice how much they flex for the next several hours, and still think of them as loose players.
Obviously, this kind of mistake will probably make you play poorly against them. If you are going to try to adjust your basic strategy based on your opponent (the so-called GTO play, see chapter 4 of my book FossilMan winning tournament strategies), you should have a fine line on this discount. Otherwise, your modifications will be incorrect, and they will cost you a lot of equity.
This bias also affects us in terms of smart strategy in general. If you miss a batch of streaming draws, it will make you think that you are not hitting the flush draws like you should. And it could lead you to play those draws incorrectly, based on this misconception.
This is part of the reason why it is difficult for players to develop good strategies before computer analysis. Counting how many times you have to sweep with two cards to get Hold’em is one thing. It is quite another matter to determine if it is more profitable to make a fixed call to raise when you are in a position with an AK, or if it is better to bet three bets. There are many confusing variables that depend on your memory, and remembering how well you did in each game over thousands of trials, spread over months and years, is almost impossible. Now, add to this confirmation bias that you felt one strategy was superior before you got the data, and you’re less likely to know if your original opinion was wrong.
Which leads to an effect related to selective memory. Selective memory is closely related to confirmation bias. Selective memory is the tendency to remember events that support an idea, value, or opinion more clearly, while at the same time less likely to remember events that contradict it.
If you’ve ever tried playing AK simply by calling, and at other times by upscaling, you probably have a selective memory regarding hits. Confirmation bias exacerbates this effect. If you get into it and expect the negative line to do better, you are more likely to selectively remember the times the passive line worked, and selectively forget the times the passive line didn’t work well. If you expected a more aggressive streak to be better, your selective memory will probably make you think it was better, regardless of what really happened.
Confirmation bias and selective memory are at odds with a well-understood concept. That is, in order to accurately find the truth, you must be honest with yourself and with yourself. We all struggle with this, whether in the game of poker or in every other aspect of our lives. It’s always hard to be true to yourself. We all have flaws, and most of us have many flaws, some of which are very serious. It hurts to face those flaws. But if we can’t admit our flaws, we can’t fix them.
The same goes for our poker game. If we can’t notice and acknowledge the flaws in our game, the mistakes we all make, we don’t even know they need to be fixed. This is partly why these biases exist. Like many other prejudices, they protect our ego from reality. In the short term, they make us feel better about ourselves. But, in the long run, wouldn’t you rather make more money?
If you say yes, then you have to learn to overcome all these prejudices. Only then can you truly know yourself, discover what you can do best, and become the greatest player you can be. It’s not easy to do, but if you do, it will be worth all the effort and pain it took to get there.
Enjoy and play smart! ♠
Greg Raymer is the 2004 World Series of Poker Main Event Champion, won several major titles, and has earned over $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.