Monday, 19 April 2010

Cognitive Dissonance and Poker

So in one of my insomniac wanderings of the internet, I started reading some stuff on cognitive science, and more specifically Cognitive Dissonance. For those who don't want to read it, simply put, it's about easing internal conflict. One example is the old sour grapes fable - the fox can't reach the grapes, and so concludes the grapes are probably sour anyway. The conflict of wanting the grapes but not being able to get them leads to the rationalisation that he doesn't want them, thereby making him feel better.

As with most things, I thought about how it applies to poker - and I think it does in a big big way. Think about it - how many times have you recklessly fired the 3rd shell, got called and thought 'Man, what an idiot, how can he call there'. Or made a fancy move which didn't work but rationalised that it was good because the guy played the hand weird and normally it would work great. Maybe it's just me (!) but I think it happens to most players, and I think a lot of players use these rationalisations a lot to make themselves feel better - often about their bad play.

Say you make a calldown in a spot where you're vaguely aware that he probably has it, but you haven't mentally set in stone that this type of situation is a fold - so you just press the call button (certainly happens to me a lot...). There is huge dissonance here - you're supposed to be a thinking, intelligent poker player, you're aware he usually has you, but you pay him off anyway. This internal conflict, this contradiction is unpleasant to you, so you rationalise it. You think 'He could've had the busted flush draw' or 'he probably isn't good enough to value bet top pair here'. You focus on the few times you've seen people show up with air here, even though it's far less common than when they have you beat, and decide the call was probably fine, you just got unlucky to run into a hand. This means you'll continue to make the same mistake, until you address the problem and actually stop calling in these spots.

The idea of lying to yourself isn't exactly new, but I think being aware that it's an inherent human trait, and not simply some vague thing 'that some people do' can really help to identify when you're just trying to make yourself feel better. Earlier today I made a pretty bad call with a flush on a paired board where it was pretty much never good, and rationalised it by thinking about players from years and years ago who could show up with weaker flushes in this spot. I knew it was a bad call, but I sort of decided it was more of a cooler since maybe he can have lower flushes, maybe a straight... and I sort of pushed it from my mind. Then I decided discussing the hand was probably a good idea, and my coach verbally slapped some sense into me!

So, that's the lesson for today kids. Be aware when your mind is simply trying to placate you - ignoring or rationalising your mistakes away or blaming them on others is easier, but it wont make you a better player.


Cottlad said...

But you said folding was bad!

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Razboynik said...

I think that we all suffer from cognitive dissonance, but the key here is to be aware of it. I try to detach myself from emotion, especially when playing poker (a Buddhist concept), but it's a hard thing to do.

Anonymous said...

Great post sir, anbd I actually read the entire wikipedia article, which made my head explode.

Plenty of times I've hit call despite knowing I was beaten and tried to make it ok in my mind to justify me being a donkey!

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