The Impression That I Get

The Impression That I Get

Friday, 3 July 2015

Nick Wealthall on unconscious decision making.

As you know by now I’m a man of many talents. As comfortable at a football match as I am at an art gallery.

But what you may not know is that many years ago I solved the eternal ‘how to find your perfect partner’ dilemma.

I have received no such recognition for this feat despite years of lobbying and letter writing, but that’s fine. I don’t do what I do for applause… just the inner peace of knowing I helped.

So the main problem with ‘dating’ or looking for a partner (I mean the ‘take home to meet your parents’ thing.. not the ‘take home to meet your headboard’ thing) is that we don’t know what’s good for us.

You go with your gut (or maybe slightly lower down) on first meeting someone. Then confirmation bias kicks in. You only see the good in them, the attractive qualities. You ignore the bad or the differences between you.

Basically your first impression or ‘thin slice’ becomes your doom!

Because of this you literally don’t know what’s good for you when it comes to finding a partner. Luckily, though, there’s a super effective solution – take yourself out of the process.

Once you’ve met someone you think might be a candidate you step away from the ticking time bomb of your confirmation bias and allow others with your best interest at heart to judge. The next two or three dates should happen not with you but with your best friends or family members who truly care about you.

They have an absolute veto on whether you can see them again or not. If they decide they’re wrong for you then you forget them and move on, but if they can see this person in your future you pursue the next date.

There is almost no situation in our lives where our nearest and dearest don’t know what’s good for us romantically better than we do.

Whereas we can all agree that’s dating solved, the plan is sadly unworkable in practice. It’s unlikely your ideal partner is going to be thrilled by a second date with your mate from work, your best friend since school and your Uncle Ron as they make semi-formal assessments. But there we are. What do you want from me? I said I’d solved it not that I knew how to implement it - sheesh!

The idea of thin slicing or unconscious decision-making is interesting when it comes to poker. If you haven’t encountered ‘thin slicing’ before it’s the idea that your immediate decision making (or if you prefer your gut impulse) is as accurate or sometimes more accurate than your considered analytical decision-making.

This theory made its mainstream debut in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink. I love Gladwell because he produces books where you can read the cover and immediately know everything you need to - he constantly saves me a theoretical £7.99 every time he produces a book (seriously, after this article you never need to read Blink ever. Unless you’re stuck on a flight, his stuff is very good for flights).

More seriously the book isn’t great, it’s anecdotal rather than empirical but that doesn’t mean the idea of unconscious intelligence (or gut feeling if you prefer) is without merit, or that it won't be of use at the poker table.

Dating and relationships are an area where your impulse decision-making more often than not leads to catastrophe. (I just used it to start the article because I wanted you to know I’d solved dating…no biggie).

This is mostly because you don’t have comprehensive experience to draw on – your sample for dating and relationships will be limited and highly subject to variance - but also because you’re being presented with a false front. People on a first date don’t behave how they truly are but present their ‘best face’ so your first impression is likely to be inaccurate.

At the poker table this is often untrue and your unconscious impulses can be extremely valuable. First of all you have a potentially huge number of memories and pieces of evidence for your system to call back to.

Depending on how much poker you’ve played you could have millions of hands of experience that could tell you what’s going on without you consciously processing it. Or as Doyle puts it: ‘Whenever I use the word ‘feel’ .. it’s not some extra-sensory power I have. I recall what happened even though I might no consciously do it. I recall that this same play came up and this is what he did or what somebody else did.”

When you add in the fact that doing precise analysis at the table is very challenging for most players, there’s obvious merit to trusting your unconscious intelligence, or ‘feel’, for a situation – especially when it’s a close decision.

Thin slicing has another application in getting fast reads at the table. One of the things that separates winning players from average players is their ability to make good reads and to make them quickly.

One of the things that helps in getting to that point is understanding that players are predictable. I don’t mean you can take one look at them and know how they’ll play (although if you’re playing live you can make more accurate assumptions than you might thing when looking at a player for the first time). However someone’s early play is often very indicative of how they think about the game and how they’ll play for hours to come.

Most players think about poker in a very ABC way – they have their approach and they stick to it in a really inflexible way. Of course this doesn’t mean always, for example in a tournament a player may appear super tight early but actually be aggressive later on when it counts.

The practical application for this is to be super switched on at the start of a session whether live or online. Pay particular attention to things like how many hands they play, how often they 3-bet, bet sizing, aggression level and the hands they show down. Then trust these early reads and play accordingly while still remaining flexible if you see something that counters your early assumption – you’ll be surprised how often you’re not surprised!

Right, I’m off to write to the Nobel Academy about a prize for innovation in the science of love… and they had better reply this time because I’m losing patience.

Tags: Nick Wealthall