Sports & Games

What Is the Gambler’s Fallacy? Learn How to Avoid the Gambler’s Fallacy in Poker

Written by MasterClass

Jul 17, 2019 • 3 min read

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In the game of roulette, there are 18 red slots, 18 black slots, and two green slots that the ball can stop on—the odds of landing on either red or black is 47.4%, but it is essentially a 50-50 coin toss for all intents and purposes.

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What Is Gambler’s Fallacy?

The Gambler’s Fallacy is the mistaken belief that if an event happens more frequently than normal during a given period, it will happen less frequently in the future, or vice versa. Every roll of dice, or flip of a fair coin, or dealing of hole cards in Hold’em, are independent events that follow random process.

The most famous example of the Gambler’s Fallacy occured in the early twentieth century, at the Monte Carlo Casino. In August of 1913, the roulette ball stopped on black 26 times in a row, causing gamblers to lose millions betting against what they thought to be a hot streak that could not possibly be sustained. This is why the Gambler’s Fallacy is also commonly known as the Monte Carlo Fallacy.

2 Examples of Gambler’s Fallacy in Poker

  1. Say you’re at a table with a player on a “hot streak”, winning every pot they get into and seemingly making every draw. Imagine they go all-in on a draw-heavy flop. You are confident that, at the moment, you have the best hand. If they are on a draw, you’re going to win the pot far more often than not. This decision seems straightforward enough, but in the real world, extenuating factors often play into our decision-making. Goading from other players at the table, mood, and superstition can all distract us from making the right call based on the laws of probability, and it is easy to see how players fall foul of the Gambler’s Fallacy time and again when emotions run high.
  2. Say you’re dealt your favorite hand, 6-7 suited, which can be a powerful hand but should usually only be played carefully and in late positions. Maybe this hand has been good to you in the past. Maybe you flopped a straight flush with it one time, and scooped an enormous multi-way pot. Regardless, without additional information, it should almost always be folded preflop in the face of heavy aggression because small suited connectors are speculative hands, and every new hand you play has an outcome that is not determined by past performance. Do not commit the Gambler’s Fallacy—in this instance, the hot-hand fallacy—and throw the hand into the muck.

2 Tips to Avoid Gambler’s Fallacy

  1. Understand the underlying logical fallacy. The best way to avoid committing this logical fallacy is to understand that every hand is a new hand. Your chances of being dealt Aces is exactly the same as that of the best and worst players at your table. The Gambler’s Fallacy is very real and a large reason for why casinos make money, because many people are superstitious and as a result commit the fallacy.
  2. Randomize decisions. One method to take emotions out of your decision-making is by randomizing your decisions based on naturally-occuring random number generators, such as the flip of a coin, or the position of the second hand of a watch. Having a balanced strategy in poker is critical for you to not be easily exploited, and very often introducing an element of unpredictability, in this case randomizing your moves, will make you a much tougher player to play against.

The great thing about poker is that at any point, you are free to walk away from the table at minimal cost. If ever you find yourself at risk of committing the Gambler’s Fallacy, take a breather to remind yourself that poker has no memory. Repeat this to yourself. Then return to your seat, secure in the knowledge that your next hand will be a completely new one.

Learn more poker playing techniques in Daniel Negreanu’s MasterClass.