This is an edited excerpt from Jeff’s book, Advanced Pot-Limit Omaha: Small Ball and Short-Handed Play.
When we sit down at the table (or the computer) and classify our opponents as good/bad, loose/tight, passive/aggressive, or weak/strong, or make any judgment about what they would do in any given situation (“Would he bet with a weak hand here?”), we are profiling them. Unfortunately, because individuals are both unique and complex, our opponents can sometimes be difficult to profile accurately. This is especially true in the short period of time that we sometimes have to make a judgment about a player before we get involved with him, such as the first few times around the table.
Moreover, profiling requires us to pay attention and constantly put our brains to work in between hands, which can be exhausting. As a result, we often take shortcuts; these shortcuts often lead to profiling errors, the definitions of which I borrowed mostly from Essentials of Organizational Behavior (Ninth Edition), by Stephen P. Robbins and Timothy A. Judge.
When we judge people on the basis of our perception of the group they’re in, we are stereotyping. Stereotyping isn’t necessarily wrong — as most stereotypes have some basis in reality. However, stereotyping can be costly if your opponent provides sufficient evidence that the stereotype doesn’t apply to him, but you continue to play him as if it does.
For example, you’d expect a mature woman (say, in her 70s) to play fairly conservatively and rarely bluff. So, naturally, you should tend to play her as if she always has the nuts when she bets, until she gives you evidence to the contrary. But if, after a few rounds, you notice that she plays every hand and bets every flop, you might want to reconsider your initial read and adjust your play accordingly.
Alternatively, let’s say that an Asian male in his 40s sits down at your table. Your first guess is that he is probably an action gambler, and a maniac. And he doesn’t seem to disappoint; after about an hour or so, it seems as if he is always raising before the flop, and he seems to say “Pot” a lot after the flop. But after a couple of hours and upon closer inspection, you notice that he raises a lot only from late position, and that he plays quite competently after the flop.
So, while this player appeared to be a maniac at first, subsequent evidence suggests otherwise. So, if the flop comes 9-8-7 rainbow and this player bets the pot from the small blind into five opponents, you probably don’t want to call him down if all you have is two pair.
The primacy effect is our tendency to give undue weight to our initial observations. Some very strong players take advantage of primacy bias by switching gears. They might convey a loose image at first, so that everyone at the table profiles them as a certain type of player, and then switch to a tight style to get paid off on their big hands.
When we draw a general impression of an individual on the basis of a single characteristic, we are subject to the halo effect. For example, we may be more likely to assign a good-looking person favorable traits — such as being smart, funny, ambitious, and courteous — even though we may not have any other reason to believe that the individual actually possesses any of those traits. Likewise, when we label a player as being a skilled and experienced “professional,” we may be quick to assume that he will three-bet without aces before the flop, that he is a threat to check-raise light in heads-up confrontations, or that he is capable of calling a check-raise on the flop with air and then follow through with a bluff-raise on the turn, even though we have never actually seen him do any of those things.
Sometimes, you are going to be wrong.
Projection is the tendency to attribute one’s own characteristics to other people. Much like the halo effect, this problem occurs frequently in poker when we may give our opponents credit for making plays that they might not even know exist. For example, we may assume that because we float, our opponents must be doing the same, or that because we are capable of calling a check-raise on the flop with air and then bluff-raising on the turn, our opponents are capable of doing the same thing.
Projection is sometimes the excuse that we use to make bad calls or silly plays.
Fundamental Attribution Error
Fundamental attribution error is the tendency to underestimate the influence of external factors and overestimate the influence of internal or personal factors. In poker, we might assume that our opponent took a certain action for a reason, when the reality may be that he has absolutely no idea what he is doing.
For example, your opponent — a tourist who has never played poker before — bets $600 into a $1,000 pot on the river. You wonder what he has. You wonder what he thinks you have. You wonder what he thinks you think he thinks you have … and so on. And you try to analyze his bet amount.
For all of the multiple levels of thinking you’ve done, it’s possible that his bet size and action is completely random. Maybe the minute timer on his watch read “00,” and maybe a girl walked into the room who looked like a “6,” so he simply put the “6” and “00” together and decided to bet $600!
The point is, you have to be careful not to over-think a hand, because sometimes your opponents are not going to be at your level.
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