Finding weaknesses in our thought process is a critical part of improving as a player. A common weakness that many players have when it comes to betting decisions is cognitive dissonance in poker. The dictionary more or less defines cognitive dissonance as “inconsistent thoughts relating to a decision.” There’s one decision in particular that we have in mind here, and it’s something you should look out for.
Value Betting vs. Bluffing
Suppose you’re on the river in a heads-up situation, and you’re trying to decide if you should pull off a bluff. You may think to yourself that your opponent is calling a bet there entirely too often for a bluff to make sense, so you check behind accordingly. The key thought here that drives the decision-making process is that the opponent is calling a bet pretty often.
However, you might have been put in the exact same situation with different hole cards so that you were deciding if you should value bet or not. Something that happens to a lot of players is that, in the exact same spot as above, they’ll convince themselves that their opponent isn’t calling that much at all, so they probably can’t value bet profitably with whatever hand they have at the time.
This is cognitive dissonance because your thoughts about how your opponent is going to play completely changed. You were essentially thinking two different things at the same time when they were convenient. So why does this happen?
Pessimism and Lack of Clarity
Let’s be clear about something: There are some situations in poker where you shouldn’t bluff but still can’t value bet with a wide range. Situations where your opponent has a really strong range are good examples of this. However, that’s not what we’re really focused on here.
Instead, we want to focus on the two sets of competing thoughts that led to the decision to avoid both bluffing and value betting. These thoughts were completely different because in one case the justification was that our opponent would be folding a lot, and in the other case it was that the opponent wouldn’t be folding much at all.
Both of these can’t be true at the same time! What’s happening is that the player is running into some major pessimism because of a lack of clarity on the situation. So how do we fix this?
Correcting This Lack of Clarity
One of the quickest and easiest ways to correct this lack of clarity and avoid a lot of situations of cognitive dissonance in poker is to make decisions about our opponent’s likely range and play without thinking so much about the specific cards we hold (except for card removal purposes).
If you’re able to detach from the perceived value of your hand for a moment, then you can avoid tricking yourself into thinking that two different things are true at the same time. Detaching from the value of your hand before making your assessments of your opponent’s play and ranges will help you to be much more objective because your view won’t be skewed by the cards you hold.