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Cognitive Biases: Part 2

by Greg Raymer |  Published: May 04, 2022


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I hope you liked my last column on cognitive biases. Let’s continue discussing some biases we all suffer from, and how they harm our poker game.

The next one I want to discuss is The Curse of Knowledge. This bias causes us to believe that other people know what we know. This bias is part of a larger issue within poker, that we tend to expect our opponents to make decisions for the same types of reasons we do.

For example, you raise under-the-gun, and the next player calls. By the river, the board is K-4-3-9-6, and you believe your pocket kings must be the nuts, because there is no way a player who is in early position would call your UTG raise with a hand like 7-5, let alone 5-2.

After putting in 10-12 blinds on the first three rounds, you now happily get in your last 200 blinds. Everybody knows those are stupid hands to play in that situation preflop. But just because you know this is true, that doesn’t mean everybody else knows it. And then you can’t believe it when they show you 7-5 offsuit.

If you want to do a better job of reading your opponent, and putting them on a proper range of hands, you have to get out of your own head. You need to understand that not every opponent knows as much as you do about proper strategy. Of course, some know even more than you.

But reading an opponent is about putting yourself into their head, and seeing things as THEY see them, not as YOU see them. This is why some players are so great at reading hands, and do such an amazing job of narrowing an opponent’s range, by both excluding hands their specific opponent won’t have at this point, and including all the hands this opponent might have. Even if they themselves would never play those hands.

This also extends to what your opponent thinks about you. We have all seen this, and been a victim to it. You haven’t played a hand in a long time, and believe you have a tight image. Everybody at the table should understand that you are waiting for a monster. Now you three-bet shove, and somebody calls with way too weak of a hand, they get there, and knock you out.

How could they not know better? You’re obviously playing super-tight, and only going to do this with a premium hand. How could they make such a bad call? This is easily explained. YOU know you have been playing tight, but they simply haven’t noticed. They don’t know what you know, yet you expected them to know it. You fell prey to the Curse of Knowledge Bias.

This is also exemplary of another bias, The Spotlight Effect. We overestimate how much people are paying attention to our behavior. Most of the time, we are being ignored. Yes, somebody might notice that small spot on your shirt, or the lock of hair that keeps sticking out, or whatever else about your appearance is bothering you. And they might notice the glum look on your face, or your happy smile. But most of the time, to most people, these things just don’t get noticed at all. Yet, we tend to believe that people are seeing all the things we are doing, and saying, and how we look.

The truth is, especially at the poker table, people are frequently just not giving you much attention. On one occasion, it folded to my button, and I raised. The small blind folded. As soon as he did, the player in the big blind went on a crazy rant about me raising the button.

“Give you ****ing pros the button, and you think you can just raise, raise, RAISE!!” And his rant continued for some time. The thing is, this was the sixth time it had folded to me on the button. The other five times, I had folded. Yet, in his mind, I was just raising like crazy. He simply wasn’t paying attention.

You need to monitor your image, and try to determine what the other players are thinking about you. If they think you’re super tight, you should be more likely to bluff. If they think you are too loose and aggressive, you should stop bluffing, but go for thinner value bets.

The point is not how tight or loose, how passive or aggressive, you have actually been playing. The point is what do THEY think about your game. It is not about what you know about your game. That is the Curse of Knowledge Bias, to presume they know how you play, and will adjust accordingly.

Similarly, don’t be swayed by The Spotlight Effect, and think they have been paying close attention to your every move. There is a good chance they have simply not noticed most of what you have done in prior hands.

Get inside their head, and figure out what THEY are thinking. Not what YOU think they should be thinking. Not what YOU think they should know. That is how you get past these two biases, and how you do a better job of putting each opponent on a proper range of hands. That is how you win the most from every opponent you face, regardless of their skill level, and regardless of their attentiveness.

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.