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Be Careful With Assumptions (Another Lesson Learned From Golf)

by Greg Raymer |  Published: Jun 02, 2021

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Greg Raymer Please let me encourage you to reach out to me with article ideas and questions for future columns. You can tweet to me at @FossilMan, or send me a message at info@fossilmanpoker.com.

I received a lot of nice feedback after my last article involving a charity golf event, and a lesson learned from it that applies to poker. (Issue 34, Volume 11) As such, I thought I would share another.

In 2005, I was invited to another charity celebrity golf event. This one was associated with the Skins Game. The Skins Game used to be an annual televised golfing event. It was a made-for-TV competition, with four of the top golfers in the world invited to compete. It always took place on the weekend after Thanksgiving.

They played nine holes on Saturday, and nine more on Sunday. Each hole had a designated monetary value. If a player won a hole by beating all three other golfers, he won the prize money for that hole. If there was a tie for the lowest score on a hole, nobody won, the money was carried forward, and added to the prize money for the next hole.

I had regularly watched the Skins Game on TV for many years. Though I was unaware, it turns out there had often (always?) been a charity event on the Friday before. With a chance to meet some great golfers and other celebrities, have a lot of fun, and help raise money for charity, I happily said yes.

When it was time to start, I was directed where to go. One of the volunteers helping to run things introduced me to four guys, all of whom were executives in the same company. I was to play nine holes with them in a five-man scramble, and then switch. Also, teeing off on that hole was another group who were there because their company had donated to the charity, and another celebrity who was playing with them until he and I switched groups.

We were having a good time for nine holes, and I enjoyed meeting and chatting with these guys. We then made the switch. The first thing I did was to apologize to my new foursome of partners. The other celebrity they had been playing with was a young newcomer on the PGA tour. Not somebody who was a famous golfer yet, but he was clearly infinitely better than me at the game. I started chatting with two of the guys in my new group, and learned they were executives at ESPN. (Awesome, something in common, since ESPN was airing reruns of the WSOP around-the-clock back then.)

I hadn’t had a chance that first hole to meet the other two guys in this group, but assumed they were also ESPN executives. I noticed that one of the guys had a large tour-style golf bag, with his name sewn into it in big letters. This is something that is commonly seen on the bags of professional golfers. However, two other clues here. One, it was obvious from having watched him play a hole that he was not a professional golfer, nor ever had been. Two, under his name, also sewn into the bag, were the words “World’s Greatest Athlete.” Now, he did look very athletic and all, but my first thought was this bag must have been a present from his kids.

As we were waiting to tee off on the next hole, I introduced myself. I also said, “I see your name (pointing to his bag). Tell me, how old are your kids?” He gave me a very quizzical look. I followed up quickly with, “Maybe I’m wrong, but I saw your bag. I’m guessing that you’re not a professional golfer, and assumed it was a gift from your kids.”

His response was, “No, I got that bag because I won the gold medal in the decathlon.” Realizing my mistake, I said, “Oh, you’re THAT Dan O’Brien.”

It turns out, he was also invited to be a celebrity participant, but they ended up with too many, and the ESPN people had a no-show in their foursome. That’s why he was with those three executives. Fortunately, it worked out fine, and he and I are still friends today. I’m lucky he didn’t hold my stupid assumption against me.

We all make assumptions, all the time, every day. The lesson is not “don’t make assumptions.” The lesson is, do not rely on your assumptions unless you have nothing else to go on, and a choice has to be made.

In poker, if I see somebody with a wild-and-crazy personality, it will often follow that they play a wild-and-crazy game. But I need to be careful. While my assumption will be correct a majority of the time, in some cases it will be completely wrong. In the first few hands of the game, facing a somewhat close decision, I will use the assumption to guide my choice. But before too long, I need to have looked past their personality, and to have observed the manner in which they have actually been playing.

Sticking with my assumption despite new information could cost me a lot of chips! So be careful making assumptions, and keep gathering more information so you can replace your assumption with real substantive data.
Have fun, and play smart! ♠

Greg Raymer is the 2004 World Series of Poker main event champion, winner of numerous major titles, and has more than $7 million in earnings. He is the author of FossilMan’s Winning Tournament Strategies, available from D&B Publishing, Amazon, and other retailers. He is sponsored by Blue Shark Optics, YouStake, and ShareMyPair. To contact Greg please tweet @FossilMan or visit his website.