Does the gambler’s fallacy apply to poker?


The gambler’s fallacy is the belief that the chances of something happening with a fixed probability change as the process is repeated. Basically it says something happens, the thing that happens differs from what is normally expected and therefore it won’t happen again, e.g. flips of a coin, red-black and other games of chance.

Poker, as we know, is a game of skill with opportunities (some call luck) and with incomplete information. I want to try to expand the information aspect.

In poker, gambler’s fallacy takes the form of, “he had aces last time, he couldn’t possibly have aces again,” or “he sucked out on the river for a flush, that can’t happen again.” Assuming everything remains the same, the odds are the same each time.

Conversely, we lead ourselves to think, “I’m due; I will make my trips because I haven’t made trips in so long.” No, the odds remain the same.

So, do you fall into the gambler’s fallacy when playing, betting or raising? Because when it doesn’t happen, you’re surely likely to tilt and blame your misfortune on thinking something was likely to happen when the odds really stayed the same.

These fallacies are fallacies in games of pure chance.

What about poker? Statistically, the odds of getting pocket aces don’t change. The odds of flopping a straight don’t change.

Poker isn’t about pure chance; there’s skill involved and there are numerous decisions on each street that confound the game.

But we fool ourselves all of the time. A poker room runs a high-hand promotion and the room fills up. The high hand every hour seems to be a straight flush, often a royal flush. What happened to the odds? Maybe we just remember the straight flushes, or maybe people play differently when there’s a big promotion.

Now take it to your normal table. When you’re factoring in the math, the patterns, the tells and you’re about to make a decision, don’t decide the villain can’t have pocket aces again. It’s just as likely the villain was dealt pocket aces this time as last time or even the next time.

Don’t let this so-called logical scenario rule your decision-making; the gambler’s fallacy is what keeps the house in business. For poker, keep your head in the game and don’t fall for this fallacy.

— Dr. Stephen Bloomfield is a licensed psychologist and avid poker player. Email him at