I fell victim to the “gambler’s fallacy” the other day at poker. The gambler’s fallacy is the belief that because something out-of-the-ordinary has occurred, it will be less likely to occur again. Casinos make a lot of money on this idea with roulette, because many people have a natural tendency to say, “oh, it’s been red 5 times in a row, better bet on black”, when in reality, the chances of the next win being black is just as likely as it ever was.
You can sometimes get this same mistaken belief in poker when an opponent gets a really good run of cards, and you keep finding it hard to believe they have yet another good hand. I was playing a $1-2 game, and a guy got pocket Kings four times in two rounds, and pocket Jacks twice. He was a really tight, predictable older man, and I had pegged him as such within 5 minutes of sitting down with him, just based on how he talked and acted. I told myself I should not be putting a lot of money in when he was betting, unless I was quite strong.
Then a hand came up where it was limped 5 ways in front of me, and I’m in the cut-off with 8Td, and I limp in, too. The tight man raises to $20, and 5 players call, so there’s $120 in there now, and I’m thinking, “this guy can’t possibly have a premium hand like Kings again – he’s had them three times in the past round. Much more likely he’s got AK or something.” And everyone else was playing pretty predictably and tight, so I raised it to $100, and he pushed all-in, for $100 more. It folded around to me, and of course at that point I’d priced myself in and had to call, and he turns over KK.
So, basically, I let the gambler’s fallacy get to me. If I was thinking more clearly, I would have remembered a hand that occurred right when I sat down where the old guy limped under the gun with AK, and when it got shown down, someone commented that he always did that. But without that comment, which I still should have remembered and heeded, I still would have done the same thing: most players are just way more likely to have a good Aces in that spot, and if he had had that hand, like a lot of players would have in his spot, I would have felt good about my play. It was just my forgetting of how tight he was that bugged me, when I’d already pegged him perfectly.
Also, this older guy exhibited a very unmistakable, very useful tell of handling his chips defensively when he was weak and it was someone else’s turn to bet. I could read him like a book, and knew when he would fold when we were in a pot, because if I started to look like I was considering a bet, his hands would immediately go to his chip stack, as if telling me “I might call”. When he had a good hand, where he wasn’t afraid to face a bet, his hands would not touch his chips. It was as blatant a tell as any Mike Caro ever described, and I hadn’t seen one this obvious in a while.
Funny thing was, this guy was telling everyone how he’d won some big 2,500 Euro tournament in France last year, and was going back to play again this year. I was just thinking to myself, “this guy should give me his tournament entry; he will not be repeating that performance any time soon.” Not to sound like a dick, but he was very weak-tight and was whining about people’s play in a $1-2 game, which is pretty pathetic.