Everybody – you, me, Doyle Brunson, Sigmund Freud – falls victim to it from time to time. We try to “put ourselves in the other’s shoes,” but see his situation with our own eyes, not his.
This fallacy can really hurt your card reading. For example, when trying to put a raiser on a hand, you might think of what kind of hand you need to make that raise, then assume that he thinks the same way you do. Since you would not raise without a certain hand, you may misread his hand.
I’ve made that mistake many times. In fact, I often fold a winner because I assumed another player would not have played a certain way without a very strong hand. The egoistic fallacy principle causes people to make all kinds of objectively foolish decisions: Check or fold winners, raise with losers, play in games they can’t beat, and so on. To read cards accurately, you must understand the players’ motives and beliefs.
Avoid the “We’re Different Fallacy”
You may object that people in other games make these and other mistakes, but the people in your game are tighter, looser, more sensible, better card readers, more deceptive, whatever. Don’t believe it; it’s the “we’re different fallacy.”
Everyone wants to believe that we are different, that people might do this or that in small games, or in another casino, or in Las Vegas. However, we are all subject to the same motives, fears, and foolishness. In your game these weaknesses may be less obvious, or they may be expressed in different ways, but none of us can help being human, with all the weaknesses it includes.
If you doubt it, just think of the rich, brilliant people who have taken extremely stupid actions. If Bill Clinton could risk his presidency for a little sex, or Mike Milken could destroy himself by stealing when he was a billionaire, you, and I, and everyone else can make foolish mistakes.
When your money is at stake and you have to make an immediate decision, you cannot read cards as well as you do when you are just observing. You should therefore work on this skill when you are out of the hand and/or out of the game. This time should also be used to develop another simple, but essential skill, counting the pot. All good players do it automatically, but it is hard to develop the right habits while playing. So practice while you are not playing.
During the game you have a great deal of dead time. You have folded, or the hand is over, and the cards are being shuffled. Most people waste that time, but winners keep working. They watch the action, trying to understand how people play. Between hands they review the action and make mental notes. “Tom will not raise unless he…; Charlie is a little on tilt. Sue calls with…”
Don’t think of it as work or try to do it every hand. Regard it partly as a way to relieve your boredom. You can get so tired of folding that you play weak hands or chase with marginal ones. Working on your card reading after folding will relieve the boredom, make the game more interesting, improve your skills.
It will also help you to see things you never even considered before. Nearly all of us resemble spectators at a football game: they just watch the ball and miss lots of important things, such as the quarterback’s being intercepted because he did not see an open receiver and threw to a closely guarded one. On TV the instant replays show us these things, but we miss them at the stadium.
There are no instant replays in poker, but if you work at it, you will see lots of things that you miss while playing. Then you are too intent on your own cards and the betting to see that Bill holds his cards one way when he is going to fold, another way when he is going to bet. Suzy looks intently at the bettor when she has a weak hand, but away from the action when she has a powerhouse. Tom fakes disappointment when great cards hit and looks elated when he misses. These things are happening right in front of you, but you will miss many of them while playing.
The best way to improve your card reading is to focus completely on it. Watch a game from the rail, or sit behind a friend and try to read everybody’s cards. Take notes. When you get a chance, quietly discuss selected hands. You will both benefit from it. Even if he reads better than you, your observer role will let you see and understand things that he misses or misinterprets.
If you do it for a few minutes a week, you will develop more card reading skill than you can develop in many hours of play. If you doubt it, just look at your current skill level. You would not be reading this website if you were satisfied with it, but you have played thousands of hours.