Don’t let confirmation bias affect your play



Confirmation bias, as the term is typically used in the psychological literature, connotes the seeking or interpreting of evidence in ways that are partial to existing beliefs, expectations or a hypothesis in hand.
In other words, confirmation bias is interpreting information to match already held beliefs to prove one’s bias.

Someone may think an older, well-dressed player has deep pockets and generally is passive and tight. A young guy with a backpack sits and one assumes he’ll be wildly aggressive.

This may be automatic or subconsciously done. You build your case on loosely associated information you make to fit your bias and you confirm your bias. You make it true and you act on it. This is not the same as stereotyping.

So, why is this a problem? Your decisions may be based on self-fulling information that supports your bias and it may not be true. That young, backpacked maniac may be a true math wiz making excellent decisions. The older man may be a weak, weekend warrior who just wants to have fun and is willing to gamble at every turn.

You need to know your bias, fight it and use actual patterns.

But it’s inevitable that when you sit at a table you’ll scan the players and form opinions. This should be your working hypothesis not your bias. Work to disprove your initial opinion; don’t fit the facts to prove it.

A person’s comfort level at the table should signal someone who has been around. Watch the way people handle cards and chips. It’s unusual for players to comfortably move their cards and chips around without plenty of experience.

Another surefire sign is the way they first sit down; everything from the way they stack their chips to their overall comfort level will give you some clues to the player’s experience. People who sit in what you consider a bad seat and ask for a seat-change button obviously have been watching the game and know what they’re doing.

Players who inquire if the game is a must-move or ask the floor to put them on another list are probably experienced. People who know the waitresses and dealers or who are called by a nickname usually means a regular.

So with nothing else to go on, make sure you pay attention to the little things a new player does and you may be able to develop a working hypothesis that you then observe and even try to disprove. Keep your head in the game.

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

Ante Up Magazine

Ante Up Magazine