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The Poker Problem - What Does Your Behaviour Say About YOU?

 photo preachercasy151: Poker coach and player, specialising in the psychology of decision-making. Sport Psychology Masters. www.christykeenan.com
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In his latest Tiltbook blog, Christy introduces Correspondence Bias, and explains why it can harm you at the tables

Brian take the train a lot. When he is travelling solo, he likes to read a book and relax. There are days, however, when groups of boisterous teens or arguing couples ruin his relaxing journey.

‘Those inconsiderate so-and-sos’ thinks Brian, ‘how could anybody be so rude and oblivious to the noise they’re making? Anybody making that much commotion on a public train is clearly a selfish person. I bet they were brought up badly by their parents.’

This time it’s different!

A week later, and Brian is travelling to the cup final with his friends. Some beers get cracked open, a sing-song is started. Brian is loving every second when a middle-aged lady catches his eye. He knows exactly what she’s thinking: ‘those inconsiderate so-and-sos…’

But this is different. It’s the cup final! Brian is with the guys! He hasn’t seen some of them for years! Plus, it’s a one-off. Brian doesn’t usually act like this…

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Can you relate to Brian?

Here’s the crucial bit: when reflecting on others, we tend to use their behaviour to make judgments as to their character. Someone who is obnoxious in public is a rude person.

When reflecting on ourselves, we tend to use circumstances to explain our behaviour. When we are obnoxious in public, it is because of the external factors. It is cup final day, or it is because we are excited at catching up with friends.

We do not re-evaluate our character because of our actions, but we do use them to evaluate the character of others.

This is called correspondence bias.

In poker, we are quick to label players as fish (or nits, or nutters, or whatever) based on a hand that we deem bizarre. We use scanty evidence to make judgments as to the character of our opponents, deeming them tilt-monkeys or probable-drunks or likely-degens, because they played a hand of poker a little strangely.

However, when we make a reckless re-jam or a loose call, we dismiss it as a mis-read or a mis-click or a mystery. We blame the circumstances – often with due reason – for our errors in judgment. Even when we know that we are on tilt, we write it off as an anomalous development which is not representative of our typical poker game.

Character vs Behaviour

There are people who have multiple affairs or who commit fraud or who bite other players on the football pitch who will argue that they are not bad people, but they had a momentary lapse in judgment.

Outsiders looking in, so quick to judge, will label them ‘scumbags’ and speculate that they are bad parents, liabilities as employees, and selfish in all aspects of life.

Brian on the train will argue that he acted selfishly, but is not a selfish person. Then in his next breath, he will argue that the couple having a shouting match on the train are selfish people and terrible partners and bad parents.

Correspondence bias in poker can be kept in check by refraining from making judgments as to the character or traits of opponents, based on moves that could be explained by circumstances (game flow, erroneous belief in fold equity, mass-multi-tabling mis-clicks etc).

And, by extension, it is important to task your poker coach with keeping you in check when it comes to justifying your own play. Sometimes you will be on tilt and eager to blame it on external factors. Make your coach earn their money by keeping a close eye on the development of leaks that you are eager to blame on easily-explainable errors.

Does correspondence bias ring a bell with you? Have a little think about scenarios in which you are too quick to extend your judgments as to behaviour onto their character, and give the article a share on Facebook and Twitter!

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