Errors in Decision Making

There are a few other common decision-making errors besides the ones already covered in this chapter. The following list isn’t exhaustive, so always be sure to keep an eye out for any others that create unnecessary variations in your decision making.

• Confirmation bias
• Being too attached
• The “fuck its”
• The Dunning-Kruger effect • The flaw of hindsight

Confirmation bias. There are an incredible number of cognitive biases that influence your perspective, and ultimately your decision mak- ing. One of the most common, as well as the most costly, is the confirma- tion bias. This is where you seek out information that confirms a preexist- ing belief and you reject information that opposes it. The biggest confir- mation bias poker players have is about their skill levels. They believe they’re a winning player, so when they win, this belief gets reinforced; when they lose, they rationalize it as being a result of bad luck. This leads them to ignore good variance, since winning was a result of their skill and not good luck. Ultimately, they end up believing they run worse than anyone else in the game because in their minds, they never get their fair share of good luck.

Here are a few other examples of confirmation biases:

  • You want to believe you’re the better player so you dismiss any instances where your opponent may have outplayed you, claim- ing they just got lucky. This is a big reason why so many players don’t give other regulars enough credit.
  • When quickly labeling a player as a fish, you discount future information that shows areas of strength in their game because it doesn’t confirm your first impression. This lowers your edge against them and can make it harder for you to see instances where you made mistakes.
  • You believe you have mastered a tactical concept, so you only focus on the instances that confirm this belief and ignore ones that challenge it. This could stop you from working on an area of your game that might really need it.

To begin solving your confirmation bias, you have to break down the reason(s) that it exists in the first place. Here are a few questions to get you thinking:

  • Why do you want to believe you’re a winning player?
  • Why do you want to believe you’re better than another regular? Why is it hard for you to admit that another player is better than you? Don’t you want to actually be better, rather than pretending to be?
  • Why do you want to believe a fish is terrible in every way? Why don’t you want to understand how to best exploit their true weaknesses?
  • Why do you want to rush to believe you’ve mastered a concept? Do you wish you could be a better player instantly, without putting in the work?

When players hold rigidly to beliefs of superiority without being open to information that proves they have weaknesses, they have an underlying confidence issue. Their confirmation bias is protecting them from realizing that they aren’t as good as they want to believe. The reality is that every poker player on the planet has weaknesses in their game. Only when you’re realistic about your game are you in the best position to succeed in the long term.

Being too attached. You like your hand—pocket aces—and don’t want to give it up. Actually, you liked your hand; now you hope it’s still good. Deep down you suspect they’ve been cracked, but can’t bring yourself to fold such a good starting hand. You also might get too attached to a tip you heard in a video or put too much emphasis on a physical tell or previous history. When you have a strong attachment to your hand, new tactics, or a piece of information, you’re essentially blocking out new or contradictory information from your working memory. If you were truly open to it, your decisions would adapt.

You can’t solve this problem just by forcing your decision making to adapt throughout the hand, although you may need to do this in the short term. Ultimately, you want your decision making to adapt automatically, otherwise you’re using up valuable space in your working memory. In order to truly eliminate this problem, you have to correct the underlying flaw causing your tendency to become attached. Find out the reason and break it down using the mental hand history. Common flaws include trying to win every hand, needing to prove that you’re right, and wanting to be instantly better. After you discover the reason, work really hard to recognize attachment in the moment so you can inject logic and stop it from happening. With enough repetition, you’ll eventually break the attachment and automatically be more adaptive in your decision making.

The “fuck its”. “Eh, fuck it…let’s gamble.” This is a common phrase said by players who are unable to make a decision and choose to gamble instead of taking the less risky route. This may happen to you when you’re in a tough spot in a big game. Perhaps facing an all-in call and the pressure of the situation has gotten to you. Overwhelmed by the moment

and the number of thoughts rolling through your head, you can’t find an answer. Eventually, you just decide to roll the dice and make the call.

Having a routine that you can fall back on when you’re having trou- ble making a decision can help prevent you from giving up and hav- ing to gamble. Take a deep breath and use your strategic reminder. Methodically go through each step to remind yourself of what’s miss- ing from your decision making, and then make the best decision pos- sible. You may end up still choosing to gamble, but do so because that’s the best decision, not because you’ve given up trying to decide. Afterwards, win or lose, mark the hand for later review and do some work to find out what was missing and why you couldn’t arrive at the decision in the moment. The long-term consequence of the “fuck its” is that you fail to give yourself an opportunity to improve decision making in spots that are hard for you. It can also indicate a real gambling prob- lem, or a mental game issue such as tilt, fear, or accumulated emotion. If you find that you’re having trouble solving this problem, look at these issues as potential obstacles.

The Dunning-Kruger effect4. This refers to the tendency of poor per- formers to overestimate their abilities, and conversely, for high performers to underestimate their abilities. On one side, players with very little skill become overconfident because they are unable to recognize their own incompetence. On the other side, players who are highly skilled falsely assume that others have the same amount of skill and as a result have low confidence. This concept is a perfect example of why confidence is not essential for long-term success in poker. Players with a ton of skill but little confidence will always be more successful than extremely confident players who possess hardly any skill.

The Dunning-Kruger effect leads to decision-making errors when highly skilled players overthink or second-guess decisions, and when unskilled players outlevel themselves. A skilled player who lacks confidence may doubt their decisions, but they usually have enough tactical knowledge to still make the right plays. On the other hand, weak players think they have the capability to crush souls, when really they’re only able to have their aces come up against kings. Confidence is important for success in poker, but you want it to be a true reflection of your skill level. Whether you’re an overconfident weak player or an underconfident strong player, it’s important to get an accurate picture of your game using the A- to C-game analysis. It may never be completely flawless, but maximizing your awareness of your strengths and weaknesses can help you to avoid misleading levels of confidence.

The flaw of hindsight. Players often lose a hand only to realize imme- diately afterwards why they lost. If they had considered that piece of the action, they would have been able to make the right play. This doesn’t sound so unreasonable, but becomes problematic when they think that realizing the mistake is sufficient enough to solve the issue. This is wishful thinking that doesn’t get to the real mistake: Why they didn’t think about it during the decision. That answer is far more interesting and a heck of a lot more helpful. Here are a few examples of why your decision-making process can break down:

  • Aproblemsuchaslowenergy,tilt,bloatedbrain,orlossoffocuslim- its access to your full knowledge base and decision-making process.
  • Your mind is moving too fast to pick up all of the relevant details that are necessary to make the right decision.
  • Overthinkingthefactorsinthehandcausesyoutolosetrackofthe right line of thinking.

Only when you solve the root cause of why you made a particular mis- take are you truly putting in the work to improve your overall decision- making process.

Note: This error is related to the learning error “Immediately knowing the mistake,” which is caused by a deficit in knowledge.

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