Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2008) in Poker Player newspaper.
Sometimes you’ll hear a recommendation that you should always take a specific course of action in poker under certain conditions. Such advice is almost always wrong.
Note that I said almost always wrong — that “almost” modifies today’s word, “always.” “Always” has its moments, but not many.
Your best tactics in poker and in everyday life come from assuming you’re always going to routinely do something and then try to find reasons why you won’t. That’s the function of “almost.”
If you don’t find compelling reasons to overrule “always,” you stick to your choice and do the obvious. If you do find reasons, you’re honoring the “almost.”
Don’t be bewildered by what I just said. The key is that if you try to make decisions under time constraints with no starting point, your evaluation is apt to be muddled. You usually won’t be able to organize your thoughts quickly enough.
So, it’s helpful and appropriate to begin with a bias. Understand that a bias, used in this way, isn’t a bad thing. It isn’t a real-world prejudice. Instead, it’s just an initial best-guess to which you have no emotional attachment and don’t care whether — after examination — it turns out to be right or wrong.
Today, I’ll continue this series that allows me to both ask and answer my own questions, and I’ll focus on the “almost always” method.
Question 21: When you have a choice to bet or check, which should choose as an initial bias?
Under the method I’ve just described, it’s wrong to start without a bias! This runs counter to the lifestyles of fair-minded thinkers.
In courts of law, jurors sometimes are told not to form an opinion until hearing all the evidence. But that’s stupid.
By doing that you give the evidence an opportunity to confuse you, because you won’t know where to start in your evaluation, and you might give more importance to issues that seem to stick out in your mind at whim. To be fair, you can evaluate evidence this way if you’re quite careful in your methodology and take the time to rate and compartmentalize all the factors.
But human beings who aren’t trained in being objective often fail as jurors when they try. So, what I’m saying is that, as a juror when you have almost unlimited time to weigh evidence, you can start from a clean slate without any bias. But it’s usually not the best method.
The so-called “presumption of innocence” makes sense, because it establishes an initial bias. But the advice to not lean toward a decision until you hear all the evidence doesn’t always make sense.
Wrong for a poker player
And if it’s not the best method for a juror with all the time in the world to evaluate, it’s definitely wrong for a poker player who has scant seconds to decide. Be initially biased and be proud of it! When you begin to employ this counterintuitive key to success, you’ll be rewarded almost immediately.
I’ll remind you one more time: In this discussion, I’m not using the word “bias” to mean that you’re not objective. This isn’t the kind of bias that causes you to seek conformation of your opinion and reject evidence to the contrary.
Instead, this is a contrived starting-point bias that you’ll try to override. As such, this is closely related to what’s become known as the scientific method — where you declare a hypothesis and then try to destroy it.
Now, as to checking or betting, which is the better initial bias? You could routinely assume you’re going to check and then try to find solid reasons why betting is a superior choice. Or you could routinely assume you’re going to bet and then seek reasons to check. Which is better?
Neither. Choose one that’s easiest for you. If you’re objective, both biases will lead you to the same correct decision!
Question 22: Is there a better method for choosing an initial bet-or-check bias?
Yes. You can make more powerful use of the limited time you have to make a bet-or-check decision my using these biases…
Assume you’re initially going to check if your opponents are tricky or if your image isn’t commanding at the moment. At all other times, assume you’re going to bet.
Then evaluate the situation right now and try to override that decision. If you succeed, do the opposite of your original bias — check, instead of bet, or bet, instead of check. Otherwise, stick with your bias.
If you use this simple method, you’ll be surprised how quickly and how clearly your poker decisions begin to improve. — MC