Its Easier to Play Other People's Hands

Daniel Pink is one of my favourite writers, mainly because he is a journalist with a real enthusiasm for psychology in business, and I am a journalist with an enthusiasm for psychology in poker. He put out a really interesting article last weekend on the Sunday Telegraph last weekend about how people find it easier to solve other people’s problems than their own.

He cited recent research from Evan Polman of New York University and Kyle Emich of Cornell University, where they posed a puzzle to two groups, one group was asked to imagine themselves as the person in the puzzle, the other had to imagine another person the puzzle. The group that imagined someone else beat the first group hands down.

“Polman and Emich build upon existing psychological research showing that when we think of situations or individuals that are distant – in space, time, or social connection – we think of them in the abstract. But when those things are close – near us physically, about to happen, or standing beside us – we think about them concretely.” “Over the years, social scientists have found that abstract thinking leads to greater creativity. That means that if we care about innovation we need to be more abstract and therefore more distant. But in our businesses and our lives, we often do the opposite. We intensify our focus rather than widen our view. We draw closer rather than step back.”

This is something we touch upon in The Mental Game of Poker although nowhere near as much as we did in our original edit, which needed to be trimmed down by a few hundred pages. Basically it is around the subject of how we often know the right answer to how to play a hand when we are analysing it, or watching someone else play it, or are reviewing it for someone else – but in practice, it is much much harder to apply that knowledge, and we often find ourselves making plays we later know were wrong.

Your mind has only so much mental capacity when you are making a decision, and when you are under the pressure and scrutiny of playing the hand yourself, with money on the line, a lot of that mental space is used to deal with the pressure of the hand, rather than focus on the technical aspects of it. Pressure you don’t have when you are relaxing and in study mode.

It has always been a pet peeve of mine when poker players don’t understand this when they are watching hands unfold from the comfort of being a spectator. I hate it when players lay into each other for botching up hands they consider ‘standard’. In particular, it really gets my goat when it is a fellow journalist on the tournament floor slagging off someone who has made it deep into a large tourney. The blogger has the least pressured vantage point in the room and the player the complete opposite; of course the writers are in a great position to know what the player should do.  

Pink suggests in his article that the important lesson is to seek out more outside advice and mentoring. This nicely illustrates why getting poker coaches, or likeminded friends to share hands with, is so incredibly vital to improving as a player. I doubt there are many successful players from the last few years who have not benefited from the objectivity of friends at a similar level to them. Put simply, other people can see parts of your game that you cannot, just like you can see how other people should be playing when you are not under the pressure they are under. 


Jeff said...

Do you and Jared elaborate on ways to counter this tendency in your book?


Barry Carter said...

Yeah we do, not directly as this blog was something of an elaboration on this theme.

However, first of all we talk about the concept of 'gradation of skill' in the confidence section, basically where people think because they watch a cardrunners video, they thnk they can play like Brian Townsend. And the learning errors caused by it, and how to remedy that.

Secondly, throughout the book, we discuss bringing your C game closer to your A game, so that there is less range between the two, and that what your response when looking at a hand history and your response when under extreme pressure in a hand are the same.

We probably elaborate on it a few more ways too, but those are the main two ways I can think of off the top of my head.

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