June 22, 2022

How Cognitive Bias Affects Your Poker Game: Greg Raymer on “The Curse of Knowledge”

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

I hope you enjoyed my last column on cognitive biases. Let’s continue to discuss some biases that we all suffer from and how they affect our poker game.

The next one I want to talk about is The Curse of Knowledge. This bias makes us believe that others know what we know. This bias is part of a larger problem in poker, which is that we tend to expect our opponents to make decisions for the same kinds of reasons we do.

For example, you raise under-the-gun and the next player calls. On the river, the board is K-4-3-9-6, and you think your pair of kings must be the best, because it’s impossible for a player in early position to call your UTG raise with a hand like 7-5, let alone 5-2.

After posting 10-12 blinds in the first three rounds, you now happily get your last 200 blinds. Everyone knows these are stupid hands to play in this preflop situation. But just because you know it’s true doesn’t mean everyone knows it. And then you can’t believe it when they show you 7-5 off suit.

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

But reading an opponent is getting inside his head and seeing things like SHE OR THEY see them, not like YOU see them. This is why some players are so good at reading hands and do such an amazing job of narrowing down an opponent’s range, both by excluding hands that their specific opponent won’t have at that point and including all hands that opponent might have. Even if they themselves would never play those hands.

This also extends to what your opponent thinks of you. We have all seen this and been victims of it. You haven’t played a hand in a long time and you think you have a tense image. Everyone around the table must understand that you are expecting a monster. Now you re-raise shove, and someone calls with way too weak a hand, they get there and knock you out.

How could they not know better? Obviously you are playing very tight and you will only do so with a premium hand. How could they make such a bad call? This is easily explained. YOU know you’re playing tight, but they just haven’t noticed. They don’t know what you know, yet you expected them to know. You have fallen prey to the curse of knowledge bias.

This is also exemplary of another bias, the Spotlight effect. We overestimate how much attention people pay to our behavior. Most of the time we are ignored. Yes, someone might notice that little stain on your shirt, or the strand of hair sticking out, or whatever else about your appearance is bothering you. And they might notice the sullen look on your face or your happy smile. But most of the time, for most people, these things go unnoticed at all. Yet we tend to believe that people see everything we do and say, and what we look like.

The truth is, especially at the poker table, people often don’t pay much attention to you. On one occasion he folded to my button and I raised. The small blind folds. As soon as he did, the player in the big blind went on a wild rant about my button raise.

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

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

The question is not how tight or loose, passive or aggressive you played. The point is what to do SHE OR THEY think about your game. It’s not about what you know about your game. It’s the curse of knowledge bias, assuming they know how you play and will adjust accordingly.

Likewise, don’t be swayed by the Spotlight effect and think they’ve been paying close attention to your every move. Chances are they just didn’t notice most of what you did in previous hands.

Get inside their head and find out what SHE OR THEY think. Not this YOU think they should think. Not this YOU think they should know. This is how you overcome these two biases and are more successful in placing each opponent on an appropriate range of hands. This is how you gain the most from every opponent you face, regardless of skill level and attention.

Have fun and play smart! ♠

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