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Poker Shrink Vol. 66: Illusory Correlation

Poker Shrink

A leads to B, and B leads to C, so A leads to C. We all have some sense of what is logical and what is not. But not everyone is a logical person and we all have certain beliefs that others would find illogical or strange, or even outright wacko.

But when you subtract religion and magic and mystical beliefs, most of us know what is sensible and what is nonsense. For instance, pocket jacks never win. Well we all know that is not true but we also know pocket jacks are susceptible to flops with an ace, king, or queen. These are logical numbers and odds, which do not support the statement: “Pocket jacks never win.”

No matter what the logic or math says there will always be people who believe certain non-factual relationships exist in their isolated little worlds. Sometimes people just “believe” there is some hidden relationship between one event and another. Even though we all know and we can prove these relationships do not exist, they persist in the mind of the believer. This is called an illusory correlation. People link together two events with no evidence but their own belief.

“Asian dealers always deal me bad cards.”

“Aces never hold up against a big stack.”

“Never play the last hand before a tournament break.”

“Luck wins out over skill every time.”

“You can’t win money against a table full of bad players.”

You can probably list another half a dozen similar unfactual, untrue, unthinkable and downright silly notions that you have heard poker players mutter. So what, they’re idiots right? Well yes, but are you sure you don’t have similar illusory correlations affecting your game?

Are there poker rooms you do not play because they are bad luck for you? I’m not talking about rooms you don’t like because of the staff or the lighting – just rooms with bad mojo. You really think you can’t win in a room because the poker ghosts in that room don’t like you?

Are there games you do not play or have not tried because you aren’t any good at them? Careful with this one. There are some very subtle skill sets for some games that are not as important in others and if you don’t have that skill, well maybe you should avoid that game. Deuce-to-seven, for instance, really is a position game. Pot-limit games put a big emphasis on betting and bet-sizing. Now we can make an argument that you would improve your skills if you tried those games, but we give you the “I don’t play that game well” argument as long as it doesn’t have some weird “because” attached to it.

“I don’t play razz because I just don’t get dealt bad hands.”

“I don’t play lowball because I just can’t draw to a low hand.”

Finally, I want to talk about those lucky charms, lucky card covers, and magical pictures that people bring to the table. Add to that players and fans who pray for their success. Whether you consider this magical thinking, mystical intervention, or sorcery, I would like to point out that you are invoking spirits, gods, demons and otherworldly powers to help you gamble! Might it not be the case that in these belief systems there might be prohibitions against such practices and might you not be invoking powers that will oppose your winning?

And might you not be basing your wins and losses on something as well-founded as: “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back”?

Illusory correlation replaces thoughtful action that I assume you have learned by playing solid poker, working on your game, reading good poker books and practicing your poker craft. Why would you want to set all that aside when you know that aces versus deuce-seven offsuit is always an 88/12 proposition? Always. Even when your opponent is a voodoo priestess with a shrunken head on her cards and bats flying around her head.

P.S. However, be very nice to her when your aces hold up, just in case.

What do you think?

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