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The Doom Switch and Psuedo-Improvement with the Regression Fallacy

I’ve always been impressed with how poker preys on so many weaknesses in common human reasoning. Deception certainly runs the industry.

I recently finished Carl Sagan’s The Demon Haunted World. It was a terrific read, and I recommend it to everyone. In that book, he referenced a book entitled How We Know What Isn’t So by Thomas Gilovich. Both these books point out weakness in human reasoning. I’m just getting started with Gilovich’s book, and I’m already in love with it.

One of the first things he mentions is called the regression fallacy. The regressions affect occurs when “two variables are related, but imperfectly so, extreme values on one of the variables tend to be matched by less extreme values on the other.” This can often lead to people taking more from random events than are actually there.

Gilovich gives an example of the Sports Illustrated jinx. Apparently many athletes have felt it bad luck to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated. The feel it jinx’s the athlete because they’ve often noticed athletes perform more poorly after they’re on the cover. While there may be other biases in these observations, Gilovich noted it’s quite possible there is some truth in the observations. Athletes often get on the cover of Sports Illustrated because of exceptional performances. It follows their performance is very likely to regress soon thereafter. Without understanding the principle or regression, athletes attribute the decline in performance to something else, a jinx from being on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Gilovich gives other intriguing examples of the regression fallacy, and it got me thinking about poker. Perhaps there is some substance to the famed doom switch. For those not familiar, players often feel a poker site throws a doom switch after a player makes a cashout. Things just don’t seem to go as well after that cashout. But, it’s very likely the reason they made a cashout was because the amount of money in their account grew past a certain point, which is likely the result of a pretty nice run at the table. It’s very likely things will not go as well as that session in the future. The statistical anomalies that had you running at 30bb/100 won’t continue forever, unfortunately for you.

I’ve often felt sorry for beginning players because they have little appreciation for the roller coaster ride the game can give a player. This makes it difficult to even find out what’s working and what isn’t. However, you often find players making some change in their game and then start watching the chips come their way. Finally, they’ve figured some things out! Similarly, you’ll often see a player post a graph after they began working with a coach. Right at that point the graph shoots up and to the right. Perhaps there’s something more to this as well.

Players naturally start making changes to their strategy when things aren’t going well. Again, when things are going extraordinarily poorly, we’re very likely to experience some improvement in results soon. Again, the statistical anomalies that you had losing at 100 bb/100 won’t continue forever. So, the player makes some changes to his strategy, and voila! They feel they’re finally starting to put the pieces together.

The way poker preys on our weaknesses of reasoning is why I always start teaching the game on the most fundamental levels. The core of the game is applying math to a set of assumptions regarding your opponent’s strategy (These are the main points to my books Poker Math That Matters and Hole Card Confessions). The more we understand that, the more we’ll be able to escape the mentally troubling roller coaster poker has to offer.

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  1. Nice read man ;)

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