Gambler's Fallacy - What is it and how this terrible error of perception is ruining your game

Vladimir  «ABIVPlus» 
04 Jul 2024
Psychology Poker Basics
04 Jul 2024

We all want to always be successful and lucky. So that we constantly flop top pair and better. So that our draws complete over and over again. So that our opponents always pay us whole stacks when we have value, and always fold when we don’t have a made hand. And in general, so that each session is played at + maximum bb/100.

This is a natural desire because we strive to put in minimal effort and get maximum results. Our brains are tuned this way by evolution and practice. But since we are not bots, but living people with our own memory and psyche, we all have many illusions.

But first, what is called an illusion?

Illusion is a distorted perception of reality.

One of the most common illusions that poker players have is called the «Gambler's Fallacy».

Its manifestation lies in the fact that it seems to a person that if a certain event until the current moment occurred less frequently than it should, then subsequently it should begin to occur more often, and vice versa.

In today's article we will touch on this common thinking bug and talk about its negative consequences. If you remember similar behavior in your own game, then later you can reconsider a lot and begin to think about poker differently.

What is the «Gambler's Fallacy» and how it works?

Translated into poker language, we can say this: if the draws have not been completed for the 10th time in a row, then on the 11th they should probably complete.

But in objective reality - and not in the one that the player desires - this is not true, and the subsequent probability of an event does not change because it previously occurred more often or less often than it was «supposed to». In fact, everything happens completely randomly, regardless of previous results.

The most famous case of the «gambler's fallacy» occurred in Monte Carlo back in 1913. Players watched in amazement as the ball landed on black 26 times in a row, causing players to lose millions betting against what they believed was a losing streak that couldn't last forever.

That is, the majority bet on the red fields, because after so many hits in a row on the black field, the ball «should» eventually fall on the red field in the next spin. - But it was far from it. Therefore, the «gambler's fallacy» became synonymous with the «Monte Carlo Fallacy».

In poker, the odds don't owe you anything. Because the last 9 times in a row you didn’t flop top pair in a 3-bet pot, on the 10th time the chance of hitting it did not tend to one. This generally applies to any events at the level of coming and dealing cards, as well as the probabilities that «ensure» them. Therefore, if you are tired of not hitting the desired hand and keeping folding when you miss, then expecting it to be a guaranteed hit in the next such spot will be a costly mistake.

The probabilities remain the same at any distance: some on a billion hands, some in one specific one

But you, probably, many times hoped that «Well, I must finally be lucky.» - No, you shouldn’t, - Your hand can hit/complete, and this will be exactly luck, since the probability of hitting top pair or completing a draw hand is obviously much less than even 1/2, not to mention the «what's yours», the probability of which would be equal to one.

In the ultra-short range, you have a very strong belief that the flush will eventually complete. Or vice versa: if you hit it 3 times in a row, then in the next hand you don’t even need to play suited cards for another attempt to hit your flush.

Over a long distance, fact and expectation tend to converge, but here two important «buts» must be emphasized:

  • Over a long distance and 
  • Tend to converge.

To tend in terms of probabilities means to get as close as possible, but in no way an obligation. And a long distance is, in fact, an infinite number of hands for which you, as a living human, do not have time - you will not be able to play them.

On a short sample, a month/week/session and one hand, it will be normal that the probability less than 50% will not work. 

This is exactly what you should expect and set yourself up for. Set yourself up for the game without expecting positive results, but do what is right to do: call by the odds, bluff based on sufficient fold equity, etc.

The terrible fact of variance is that all those coolers, dominations, misses and other failures do not have to be balanced by opposite events, at least in their quantity. And we are not yet talking about the nature and quality of the positive results that you supposedly have the right to expect: after all, if you flop a full house, but see at showdown a quads or a higher full house, then you want to be «rewarded» rather in a similar spot, and not in any other. And for no less number of blinds. And the stake is not lower than the one at which you got coolered for the entire stack, etc.

So, forget about all hopes.

Getting into such spots is an extremely rare occurrence in general, and the positive side of them is wild luck. And as you know, the lower the probability, the more attempts you will need to gain distance on these particular spots. And how many situations will it be in order to get into a similar spot + no less amount of BB (or money) + the same opponent... In general, you should not waste your life trying to return the lost money in such an offensive way. This should be accepted as inevitable and move on, trying to make the best decisions from an EV point of view.

Cards / RNG in a particular room / the work of probabilities throughout the world do not care about your pain - this is how it happened, and that’s the end.

Therefore, while you believe that you are owed, your bankroll continues to be harmed by your reaction to failures, and not by the way the hands are played out at the card level - they are made of paper, plastic, or is it just a group of pixels with an attached number in the poker room code. But it will be difficult for you to detach yourself from the injustice and accept this terrible reality of poker.

You may be interested to watch: Getting Destroyed on Most Tilting Final Table Ever for $82.000!

The question is not how the cards are dealt, but our attitude towards a specific spot or series of events.

The cards have neither memory nor sympathy for the fact that you are in the minus by a bunch of stacks because flushes on the river are not complete for you. They are mixed by the dealer / machine / RNG and in each hand everything starts anew. The probability of making a flush in 1 street is still about 20%.

What is destined to happen in the next hand does not depend on the results of past hands. But it seems to us that yes. We, the people, put money on the line voluntarily, and against other people, but the cards «sort out» among themselves.

Just think how upset you would be if you got under the cooler and had nothing at stake? What if it were your 200+ big blinds, but you were playing with playmoney? Most likely, tomorrow you would forget about such an event and calmly play on, without being offended by either the poker room or the person to whom your doubled stack went.

Some striking examples of this illusion

First example

At the 2007 WSOP, professional poker player Hevad Khan shoved Q♠️Q♣️, and his opponent Rami Boukai called with A♦️A♣️. In the same round of hands, Boukai already dealt another overpair - KK, but the ESPN broadcast did not show this. As a result, Hevad Khan hit a quads on the flop and eliminated his opponent with an overpair from the tournament.

Here is an excerpt from Hevad’s then-remark to his losing opponent: It's so hard to put you only on AA or KK in the same circle, so I think you understand me perfectly...

Khan believed that QQ remained more than a strong hand when the opponent had already received his overpair to queens a couple of hands ago, and should not have them again so quickly. This suggests that many even professional players may not take into account the fact that each new hand is in no way connected with the previous ones.

Second example

Let's say you're dealt your favorite hand, and it's 76s. This is a good combination, but it should usually be played in position and against a minimum of opponents.

Maybe you've had luck with this hand before. But without much information on your opponents, you still shouldn't bring it into the hand when you encounter serious preflop action. Still, suited connectors are hands with low made equity, and stand very poorly against most hands with which opponents are ready to pressure you.

Therefore, you should not start gambling because your perception of reality is distorted. The opposite is also true: you should not automatically fold such hands just because your «luck reserve» should be exhausted, and therefore you are supposedly out of luck post-flop.

Third example

You are playing with an opponent for whom everything is closed and he wins every pot. Imagine you've been dealt J♥️J♦️ and a lucky opponent goes All-In on a super-draw-heavy flop like 9♣️8♣️7♠️. You are sure that at the moment your hand is dominant in terms of equity: if your opponent has a draw, then you are ahead no less than 60:40 or even better. If he has a top pair, then you generally have 80% chance of winning. And you only flip a coin against combodraws.

Question: Considering how lucky your opponent has been so far, what will you do with your overpair on this draw-heavy flop?

It would seem that it could be simpler: push it and hope for a positive outcome. But in the real world, where our thinking and perception are influenced by emotions and illusions, you may well press Fold with a favorite hand because you believe that your opponent will get lucky again and that now you do not have such a huge advantage in equity to take risks again.

We can be influenced not only by previous experience, but also by current factors: opponents, mood, outside distractions and, of course, our superstitions. That’s why we so often see a player on tilt behaving in an absolutely counterproductive way: pushing around and calling with trash, chasing trashy draws with a double lack of equity, trying to bluff someone who is clearly not ready for it, etc.

At such moments, the «Gambler's Fallacy» comes into full force.

This article can be also useful for you: The Art of Turning Fear into Power in Poker and Life

Tips for Avoiding the Gambler's Fallacy

  • Do not expect that the result of the new hand will be in any way related to the previous ones. - This logical error must be understood + accepted.
  • Don't try to win back losses. - You will often be tempted to bluff more aggressively in subsequent hands if you got called in previous hands. Instead, stick to a pre-established strategy, don't let short-term results influence you, and then come what may.
  • Don't go crazy in upstreaks. - The fact that you have won several hands in a row does not make you more likely to win subsequent hands with the same frequency or success.
  • Don't lose your head in downswings. - Reverse to the previous point.
  • Don't overestimate your skill. - In every session, it is important to remember that poker is a game of both skill and luck. So don't fall into the trap of thinking that you have become immune to failure at the card level. The presence/absence of skill (human level) does not at all affect how cards are dealt to the players and to the board.

And of course, never stop learning. Understanding the statistical probabilities of various poker events will help you make much more rational decisions. By studying the fundamental mathematics of poker and following it with discipline, you have no other result than increasing your win rate.

There are no comments here yet, you can be the first!