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Poker Shrink Vol. 63: Confirmation Bias

Poker Shrink

Does this sound familiar? You have been working on your skills at reading players and you have improved a lot. You are actually surprised how many reads you had been missing in the past. You are pushing hard with winning hands, you are able to make chip-saving laydowns and your win rate is up. At some point you move up to the next-highest limit game and your reads begin to falter.

I have heard this story so many times that I have to believe there are many possible explanations. We assume the competition is better, which means on average the players are playing ever aspect of poker a bit better. Let’s take a look at one possibility for your failing reads that is a matter of not adjusting to the improved competition.

In psychology there is something called the confirmation bias. I am sure you have witnessed this in business or social situations. Confirmation bias is exhibited when someone has a position or an opinion which he believes in so strongly that he can only see evidence that supports his position. He completely ignores any information that would contradict his opinion. Such a bias can destroy laboratory research; you actually do not see what is right in front of you. Confirmation bias closes our minds to new information and will work against us in nearly any business, social, or personal situation.

Watch any of the political discussion shows on television and pick one where you don’t know the political leanings (left or right) of the commentators or guests. How long does it take you to pick up on their position? Usually, the first sentence right? These political experts make their livelihood by being walking, talking examples of the confirmation bias. There is no reasonable “other” side. There is no argument that can sway them from their position. They are completely closed-minded on the subject. They are absolutely sure of themselves and will hear nothing of any other positions.

So, back to that higher-limit poker table. Why are your reads so off? Well, you have gotten comfortable with those reads because they were working so well at the lower-limit tables. Now that you have moved up to a better class of player, you need to open your reading skill set up again and take into account the increased skill of your opponents. If not, then you are guilty of the confirmation bias. You think if that read was right before, it has to be right now. The continuation bet meant this and not that, why would it change now?

If you are able to readdress your reading ability with a new and open mind, you will find that your reads are really not that far off. Players change some from level to level, but it is still poker. What you need to do is tweak and adjust your previous position and you will find that some reads still work and others just need one more level of complexity. Actually, I have been told by many players that moving up in levels actually makes for easier reads, once you realize that the higher you go the fewer maniacs you encounter. But you have to be open to seeing that change and not locked in to your previous position.

The simple counter-agent to getting caught in the confirmation bias is just to remember that change is part of the game of poker. First, you didn’t read players at all. Then you learned to read the rocks and calling stations. Eventually, you got a read on the better players. As you move up in stakes, there are just more good players and you need to be open to more and better reads.

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