Dispelling fallacies at the poker table

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In a recent column, I told you about the collection of past issues of Poker Digest that a friend gave me. And I discussed a column by John Vorhaus about Bad Beats and doing stupid things during the play of such a hand.

In another information-full issue, columnist John Feeney explored common fallacies — mistaken beliefs, misconceptions — in playing poker.

Feeney is an interesting personality. While earning his Ph.D in clinical psychology, he became fascinated by the game of poker, which ultimately became his primary focus. Working with poker genius David Sklansky, Feeney wrote, “Inside the Poker Mind: Essays on Hold’em and General Poker Concepts.”

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In his column, Feeney discusses three of the most common fallacies:

1. You are “on a rush during which you can expect better cards than usual.”

Assuming there is no cheating, the cards are random as they are dealt out of the deck; still, we all have experienced times when, hand after hand, the cards just fall into place to make you the winner — even catching Bad Beats on the river against powerful hands held by opponents. But, in the long run, it all evens out.

There is a psychological factor. When the cards are running in your favor, you are even more confident — whether it be self-assurance in your skills or, perhaps, the Poker Gods are smiling down on you. Your opponents sense this, and consequently are more cautious when you bet aggressively. Your bluffs become more successful than usual; and, the Esther Bluff is even more effective.

2. “A seat in which a player has been receiving good cards can be expected to continue to receive good cards.”

There will be times when you are running poorly and seem to be losing more than your fair share of hands. You observe a winning player across the board is getting ready to leave the game. Before anyone else does it, you announce to the dealer, “I’ll take that seat when he leaves.” Or, as he leaves, you may toss a coin, a chip, or your rewards card on the table in front of where he was seated. You are thinking, “Lucky Seat.”

Feeney labels this, “the hot seat notion.” And, indeed, that’s all it is — a notion with no realistic basis.

There are better reasons for changing seats at the table. Seats 4, 5 and 6 — just opposite the dealer — have a better view of the board.  If you don’t have 20-20 vision, one of those seats can help you to better read the board. A mistake can be costly. 

Better yet, if a maniac is seated to your left (so you must act before him), moving to a seat just to his left will gain you a significant edge.  Then, when maniac raises before you, now you can re-raise to build a bigger pot for your monster hand. Or, you can fold a borderline hand and save a bunch of chips.

3. Another fallacy that Feeney cites is that “certain dealers deal you more (or fewer) winning hands than others.” 

Unless there is collusion (cheating) between the dealer and a player, there is absolutely no basis for that belief. Many players would rather avoid certain dealers who are prone to make errors; unfortunately, there are some. 

I have seen some dealers who often shove the pot to the wrong player. Or, perhaps the dealer gets confused in dividing up the pot when there is more than a single winner, or the best hand has gone all in, or there are two (or more) side pots. 

And then too, you may prefer those who are pleasant and all smiles, as well as adept at their jobs as dealers. They show their appreciation for the tip with a big smile at you.

Feeney is pleased when opponents focus on such illusions — fallacies. Some do. In doing so, they “invest their energy in useless — sometimes costly — pursuits rather than in what really matters at the poker table: The quality of their play.” 

I fully agree.

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About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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