Learn to analyze decision-making

April 15, 2017, Stephen Bloomfield  

An excellent recreational player recently told me he doesn’t mind suckouts or having the second best hand because he accepts this as part of the game. But when he makes the wrong decision, he tilts. He believes he has control over his decisions but not over the cards and the variance, which makes sense.

We’ve all experienced the frustration of making what seemed like a good decision only to lose. What to do? Analyze how you made the decision.

• Did I make the decision because of ego?’
• Did I fall prey to confirmatory bias?
• Did I make a tentative decision and stick with it beyond the data?

Solutions lie in awareness.

You just got bluffed by the villain and now all you can think about is getting back at him. Then, later on he sucks out on you and you go on tilt seeking revenge. You play hard and fast and keep losing. Why? His stack is 10 times the size of yours and your bets don’t affect him.

He’s getting exceptionally lucky and you play marginal hands hoping to hit the turn and river, hands you wouldn’t play against someone else.

Confirmatory bias is a tendency to search for, interpret, favor and recall information that confirms yours pre-existing beliefs or hypotheses. Stereotyping is the most obvious. Certainly, it’s reasonable to think the old guy joining the game is more tight and maybe more passive. We make fast decisions on limited information.

But if you act on this belief without watching his game, you are doomed. Lots of good players cultivate a false table image just to play off your confirmatory bias.

I play every Sunday. I get to the room around 7 a.m. To the overnight regulars, my arrival means the day shift has arrived. The waitress brings my regular coffee.

Anyone watching would know I’m a regular instead of an old guy coming for some fun. Someone not watching will think bluffing is not in my wheelhouse; check-raising and three-betting are foreign to my game; at least I hope they make these misperceptions.

Holding on to bad decisions when the data contradicts is disastrous. Some people wildly overbet J-J preflop, never fold A-A or K-K when it’s clear there are flush and straight draws on the board.

Decide how much time you want to devote to analyzing your decision-making so you can keep your head in the game.

— Dr. Stephen Bloomfield is a licensed psychologist and avid poker player. Email him at editor@anteupmagazine.com.