23 Cognitive Mistakes that make People Play Bad Poker

Brain Fail

Like other complex activities, poker is easier to learn when you build skills in the right order.

So I’ve compiled the top 23 cognitive mistakes that make people play bad poker. I’ve listed these roughly in order of priority. In other words, if you don’t fix the ones near the top, it won’t really matter if you’re doing fine with the ones further down! You should think of this as the roadmap of errors that are preventing you from becoming a better poker player.

Ignoring evidence

Inattention is the tendency to fail to concentrate on information that could be useful for future decision making.

Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions.

Focusing effect is the tendency to place too much importance on one aspect of an event; causes error in accurately predicting the utility of a future outcome.

Availability heuristic is estimating what is more likely by what is more available in memory, which is biased toward vivid, unusual, or emotionally charged examples.

Not knowing the math (Innumeracy)

Neglect of probability is the tendency to completely disregard probability when making a decision under uncertainty.

Base rate neglect is the tendency to base judgments on specifics, ignoring general statistical information.

Attitude problems

Loss aversion is people’s tendency to strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains.

Self-serving bias is  the tendency to claim more responsibility for successes than failures. It may also manifest itself as a tendency for people to evaluate ambiguous information in a way beneficial to their interests.

Overconfidence is the state of being more certain than is justified, given your priors and the evidence available. For example, for certain types of questions, answers that people rate as “99% certain” turn out to be wrong 40% of the time.

Negativity Bias is paying more attention to and giving more weight to negative rather than positive or neutral experiences.

Optimism bias is the tendency to be over-optimistic about the outcome of planned actions.


Clustering illusion (Apophenia) is the tendency to see patterns where none exist.

Illusion of control is the tendency to overestimate one’s degree of influence over external events.

Gambler’s fallacy is the tendency to think that future probabilities are altered by past events, when in reality they are unchanged.

Just-world phenomenon is the tendency for people to believe that the world is just and therefore people “get what they deserve.”


Irrational escalation is the phenomenon where people justify increased investment in a decision, based on the cumulative prior investment, despite new evidence suggesting that the decision was probably wrong.

Pessimism bias is the tendency for some people, especially those suffering from depression, to overestimate the likelihood of negative things happening to them.

Projection bias is the tendency to unconsciously assume that others (or one’s future selves) share one’s current emotional states, thoughts and values.

Mis-remembering reality

Outcome bias is the tendency to judge a decision by its eventual outcome instead of based on the quality of the decision at the time it was made.

Hindsight bias is sometimes called the “I-knew-it-all-along” effect, the tendency to see past events as being predictable at the time those events happened.

Consistency bias is remembering one’s past attitudes and behavior as more similar to one’s present attitudes.

Primacy effect is the tendency to weigh initial events more than subsequent events.

Peak-end rule is how we judge our past experiences almost entirely on how they were at their peak (pleasant or unpleasant) and how they ended.

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10 Responses to 23 Cognitive Mistakes that make People Play Bad Poker

  1. nyarlathotep says:

    Nice list. Do you intend to offer a few examples on these points in the forthcoming posts? It would be most helpful… (at least for those of us who are still poker noobs).

  2. Pingback: 23 Cognitive Mistakes that make People Play Bad Poker | Rational Poker | Pondrr

  3. Ian says:

    As with so many things in poker, these are life issues in addition to poker issues.

  4. DIESEL says:

    I see a lot of players fall victim to the gamblers fallacy. Too many players expect certain outcomes based on past events but it couldn’t be further from the truth. Great article.

  5. Hagie says:

    Great article. Title should be “23 Common Decision-making Mistakes EVERYONE Makes”

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  7. Pingback: Chicago Boyz » Blog Archive » “23 Cognitive Mistakes that make People Play Bad Poker”

  8. informationasymmetry says:

    What is the cognitive bias associated with someone not folding a hand they should know is no good? For example, an overpair when the obvious draws come in on the river.

    This seems related to sunk-cost fallacy but I’m not sure that’s totally appropriate.

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  10. HalfSigma says:

    Any plans to update this site?

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