The Poker Shrink, Vol. 47: Convergent/Divergent Thinking
Who doesn't marvel as Daniel Negreanu makes those unbelievable reads on television? I mean, who doesn't want to say, "I am folding my quads to your royal flush," and be right? But be careful, trying to be as good and as entertaining as professional poker players can have its pitfalls. Trying to be too good of a reader can hurt you at the poker tables.
In psychology, when someone is trying to find that one perfect, exact answer; we say they are engaged in convergent thinking. This is process in which a person attempts to find the one, true and single correct answer to a question, a question such as: "What is the speed of a comet?" But convergent thinking may not be the best course of action, if your question is, "What is my opponent holding?"
We were all taught when we first learn to "read" other players that we should try to put our opponent on a range of hands. This is called divergent thinking, which is simply the thought process where you attempt to find many possible responses to a single question. Divergent thinking is very useful at the beginning of a research project, when one tries to figure out what possible answers must be tested. But more importantly for our poker application, divergent thinking allows us to consider that there really is more than one answer to the question. "What does he have in his hand?"
Players open with a range of hands and if you narrow that range too quickly, you can easily be tricked by a weak holding developing into a winner. If you put a player on A-K pre-flop and the flop comes J-4-2, you might bet hard with any pair. But if you had put the player on A-K, A-Q, A-J or any middle pair, then you have some cause to be cautious.
The second part of this divergent/convergent process is not to get too confident. I know a very successful NLHE cash player who always sits down with the maximum buy-in and tries to lose his first two or three hands. Really. He plays loose and shows his hands a couple of times in the first round after he sits down. He also orders a drink and loudly tells the cocktail waitress that he expects to see a lot of her, he then tips her big for everyone to see. He is trying to get other players at the table to make a convergent read that he is loose, aggressive and quite frankly stupid. He also is loud, overbearing and has too much money, which he does not value at the poker table.
The divergent thinking process in response to his "coming to the table" actions is either that, "Yes, he is an idiot and a cash machine," or that, "No, he is setting you up and will lose sixty bucks early to win your stack later." Guess what? It works.
Okay, so you are going to leave your options open and engage in divergent thinking. You are in a showdown situation and you are reviewing the betting: "Did you actually call my opening raise with a three in your hand? I can beat your two pair, but trip threes is a winner…." As you reconstruct how the hand was played, in order to decide if you are going to make the big call on the river; you have a distinct advantage in recreating the hand if you engaged in divergent thinking. If A-3 suited was a possibility for this player pre-flop, then it does have to be considered on the river. But if you have been reading this player all night and he never played a small ace to an opening raise, then your divergent thinking should have already ruled out A-3 and you can confidently make the call.
Divergent thinking works both ways. You not only leave yourself open to possibilities, you also can close off some of those haunting draws when you have divergently put your opponent on hands for several hours. Knowing what he doesn't have is sometimes just as important as what he does.