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BS Claims

by Alan Schoonmaker |  Published: Oct 15, '10


The post office has a wonderful slogan, “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.”

That slogan is part of its campaign against mail fraud, but you should keep it in mind whenever you hear or read any claim about ways to get richer, smarter, or better off. When I read BLUFF magazine’s interview with Sam Chauhan (January, 2009 issue), I immediately thought of that slogan.

My doubts increased when I read that Chauhan has no respected credentials and uses neuro-linguistic programming (NLP). I asked Prof. Arthur Reber, the author of The Dictionary of Psychology, for his opinion of NLP.

He wrote: “It is a blatant piece of quakery. It’s filled with all kinds of scientific sounding stuff, but there’s not much evidence to back it up. There’s actually a long history on it. Some years ago the Army got interested in the possibility that some of the ‘new age’ things being touted might actually work and be usable to enhance performance. They asked a panel of experimental psychologists to look into them. It was a very solid panel with Bob Bjork and Ray Hyman on it. They carefully looked into virtually every program that had been put forward from the wacko (ESP and aura reading) to the possibly sensible (NLP). They found them all wanting.”

The BLUFF interviewer cited “evidence” that sounds impressive: “Paul Wasicka just won a major event, and he has said that he was been working with you. So has Josh Arieh, Gavin Smith and Antonio Esfandiari, and they have had a lot of success recently as well.” Since I know how often untrained people misunderstand evidence, I wasn’t convinced.

So I got Sam’s book, Mind’s Power Unleashed: A Guide to Understanding Why People Do What They Do. I’ll quote every word of the very first paragraph: “I want to share with you a secret. It might surprise you at first, so allow yourself to read it three or four times if you have to. That’s normal. Ready? All you have ever dreamt of in life can be yours if you want it.”

He did not restrict this statement in any way. If he said, “most” or “nearly all” of what you have dreamt of, or if he had said “within reasonable limits,” I wouldn’t write this blog. But the statement, “All you have ever dreamt of in life can be yours if you want it,” is utter, unadulterated BS. Worse yet, it’s obvious BS, yet some people, including top players, have apparently believed it.

If you can have “all you have ever dreamt of in life,” then midgets can play in the NBA, blind men can be jet pilots, and idiots can win the Nobel Prize in Physics. Or – to make it more personal – you can become a world class poker player. After all, you want it, don’t you?

By chance, that BS fits perfectly with a column that I had already submitted to Card Player magazine. It will appear next month. I wrote, “Most people – not just poker players – overestimate their capacity for improvement. This natural tendency is reinforced by the repetition of nonsense such as, ‘You can be anything you want to be.’

“No, no, no you can’t! Your genes and personal history have created extreme limits on your capacity to change. For example, you can’t significantly increase your intelligence. Hundreds of well-controlled studies prove that nothing you can do will make you significantly smarter. Nor can you greatly change your motivation or most other personal traits. They are like the cards in poker. You have to play the ones you’re dealt.

“So learn how to play those cards well. Work on the factors you can improve: your knowledge, skills, discipline, and situation.”

I really should not be surprised that top players believed obvious BS. Witch doctors, shamans, con men, and gurus have been deceiving people since prehistoric times. And some of their followers should certainly know better.

Let’s take two recent examples. Some highly paid, well-trained financial managers lost millions in Madoff’s Ponzi Scheme, and some of our largest banks lost billions by loaning money to people without incomes or assets. If they can believe BS, why can’t Arieh, Esfandiari, et al?

Let’s look at why people believe obvious BS claims.

First and most important, they want to believe. Nobody, including me, wants to believe that we are severely limited. But it’s the truth, and we had better learn how to live with it.

Second, they don’t know how to evaluate evidence. It takes intensive training to overcome the psychological factors that cause people to misunderstand evidence. The belief in ESP clearly illustrates this inability. Even today – decades after the flaws in the evidence were reported – millions of people believe in it. If you’re one of them, read my Card Player article, “ESP Is Nonsense!” (3/28/2003)

Third, luck combines with the first two factors to create what scientists call “the causal misattribution effect.” People may believe that something occurred because of factors that had little or no causal significance. That error is particularly likely to occur when luck is a major factor.

Luck plays a huge role in poker, especially tournament poker. Pros are most likely to retain a coach when they have been running bad. Then things return to normal, and they win some money. It’s called “regression to the mean,” and it will occur even if the player has not improved at all.

David Sklansky and I discussed this issue in “Background Probability,” pages 109-112 of our book, DUCY? Background probability causes people to draw totally unjustified conclusions about why performance has “improved.”

Chauhan’s clients’ successes could have occurred – not because of anything that Chauhan did – but because they got lucky. Since they wanted to believe that their play had improved, they said, “Aha! I’ve discovered the secret. All I needed was the right guru!”

Please note that I am not saying that Chauhan doesn’t help his clients. Perhaps he does, perhaps he doesn’t. All I’m saying is that:
• He has not provided any scientifically acceptable evidence that his approach works.
• If it does work, the positive results could be from a wide variety of causes other than NLP such as his ability to be a supportive, sympathetic listener or even the well-known placebo effect.
• He has claimed to do much more than anyone can deliver. And, if someone makes BS claims, you should be skeptical about everything he says.
• In fact, you should be skeptical about the advice you get from all “experts,” including me. Page 151 of DUCY? reported a study of 82,000 predictions by 284 experts. “The predictions of experts were, on average, only a tiny bit better than random guess – the equivalent of a chimpanzee throwing darts at a board.”
• You must resist your natural tendency to believe that you can be whatever you want to be. Poker is a ruthlessly realistic game. If you don’t accept, understand, and work within your limitations, you will lose, and you will deserve to lose. If you’re ambitious, you should try to “push the envelope,” but don’t pretend that there isn’t any envelope.

If you have a question, please add it in any comment section, or e-mail me Before emailing, please check my first blog, “What is poker psychology coaching?”

Any views or opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the ownership or management of


almost 11 years ago

Does this mean I have to ditch my lucky trolls, magnetic braceletts and sage bundles? :-D

IT just goes to prove

well over half the population have quotients of average or less intellegance.


almost 11 years ago

First off I completely agree with u that everyone is limited within their own capacities as to what they can achieve. However, we must be very careful not to typecast ourselves as something and therefore limit our potential in life. In the end we must use good judgement to determine what is attainable and what is just a fantasy. Many people (and I have certainly been guilty of this) dream big things, but really have no plan whatsoever as to how to attain such things. Almost like one day we will just wake up and all our dreams will come true. Anyone can daydream, but very few can develop a plan to get there and then have the discipline to stick with even when times get very difficult. In the end what I think that is what holds most people back is a lack of focus and perseverance.

The players mentioned above have massive egos, and SC is really just being paid to stroke their egos from what I gather. Sometimes people need to be reminded to feel good about themselves, and that is what he does. I think it goes to show how lonely and polarizing playing professional poker can be. What he does is nothing a good genuine friend couldn't do in my honest opinion.


almost 11 years ago

You neglected to mention the "prosperity gospel" preachers in your list of historical deceivers.

As a species, I believe that we are hard-wired to desire stories. I think that somehow they satisfy a genetic craving in our neurochemistry. This is obviously not a recently acquired modification as evidenced by the rich history of fairy tales, fables, fiction, etc.

I do think that some of them provide us with an unconscious enrichment of our imaginations. The historical benefits of that have contributed to the advancement of civilization.


almost 11 years ago

Does quackery include the claims of sports and poker psychologists?


almost 11 years ago

Quakery includes excessive claims, regardless of who makes them.


over 10 years ago

even if its all BS about getting everything you ever wanted, If someone just stepped up made a few changes in their life and got a few things they desired then its a win. some people are just lazy and want instant gratification and "everything you ever desired" will get a lazy asses attention. self improvement... plus this probably wont make sense in the morning im drunkkkkkk

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