Gamblers fallacy: How to beat your mates at poker!


How an understanding of psychology can, if not help you win, at least understand why you lose when you gamble.

Hand over the money, turns out I wasn't bluffing!

Hand over the money, turns out I wasn't bluffing!

Gambling has proved a rich vein for psychologists to display our flawed logic. The classic is the gamblers fallacy.

This can be roughly explained as follows: 

'Martina watches coins being flipped for years on end and notices that a run of 21 heads in a row is unbelievably rare (1:2,097,152 to be exact). So she comes up with a cunning plan, saves all her money and waits for the next run of 20 heads. She then puts her life savings on it coming up tails, with the odds of at over one in two million for another head she has to win right?'

If only, by the time she gets to the 21st toss the unlikely event has happened the 21st toss is 50/50 heads or tails. The previous tosses have no impact on the last one, they are independent events. This explains why there is no such thing as winning streaks. We retrospectively assign meaning to a particular outcome that was mere chance. When you see real random sequences they are always 'clumpy' and you can always see 'streaks' in them. Only fake random sequences go: heads, tails, heads, tails, heads, tails.

There are other similar examples with people checking which numbers come up in the lottery and other 'systems' for gambling.

Someone who knows these things is hard to beat. You can win any individual game against them but over the long run, over many games they will know that on coin toss their odds are always exactly 50% no matter how many heads have come up before. So how do you beat one of these people at poker? Well, those people take this stuff very seriously so here's my advice to beat them:

1) Endlessly talk about how lucky or unlucky you feel, this will immediately cause them to become irritated, explain there is no such thing as luck and hence become distracted.

2) Play the first few hands completely logically, no bluffing but for low stakes. This reassures them you have returned to the world of logic.

3) Now start smirking to yourself, sighing, cursing your luck, rubbing lucky charms and anything else which is distracting.

4) For the killer blow; start betting like mad for high stakes, sometimes bluffing sometimes not. Those numbers people, like everyone, are reluctant to believe others see the world differently from themselves and will lose big as they struggle to find logic in your actions.

By the time they work out what you're up to they will have lost their shirt to a pair of twos!

Well, you need a bit of luck as well!

This may seem mundane, but for individuals with gambling problems the gamblers fallacy cognitive distortion plays a big part in maintaining their addiction. It feels so compelling people who no logically it's wrong can't resist it. 

As a final mind bender, go back to Martina above, now its you and her betting on the final toss BUT you are armed with an understanding of the gamblers fallacy, who's most likely to win?

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