Game Theory Optimal or GTO is a term used in online poker to describe an unexploitable playing strategy that helps improve your win rate. The science has several theories which we recommend you research in your own free time. Today, we shed light on one such theory, a theory that we think is imperative for poker players to understand, the Survivor Bias.

Survivorship bias or survival bias is the logical error of concentrating on the people or things that made it past a selection process and overlooking those that did not, mostly because they lack visibility.

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Best understood with illustrations from our own lives, here are a few:

  1. In History, the survival bias leads to the study of existing organizations than those that are extinct.
  2. In Architecture, the survival bias has lead us to believe that all old buildings were built beautiful and well because the old and weakest ones of history are long gone from the public view.
  3. The Billionaire story is a classic example of the survivor bias. Tales of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs flood our minds to formulate a fixed recipe for success. However the tales rarely look into the stories of the people with the same intelligence and drive who didn’t make it to the top of their field.
  4. In Military, taking survival bias into consideration lives were saved! The brodie helmet introduced during the WWI resulted in an increase in the hospital admissions. This generally meant, the army commanders needed to go back to the drawing board. However, a statistician pointed out that the soldiers who previously have been killed by hits to head were now surviving the hits and thus made it to the hospital.

The essence of this GTO theory: When once picks apart winners and losers, successes and failures, the living and dead by paying attention to only one side of the equation, one is neglecting the other. You see, we are wired to not see the losers. The game of online poker is similar too. The survival bias has certainly skewed our perception of who a winning and successful player is. Now, just because they survived, it does not mean they crushed!

Let’s take today’s example of our online poker hero’s (no offence meant to all you fans) who are enjoying the survivor’s bias. The best example is the notable WSOP Main Event Winner, Chris MoneyMaker. While he could continue to be the most famous Main Event Winner, was he necessarily the best player in the tournament?

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Less heard of Greg Raymer who won 16 coin flips in a row to winning the Main Event the following year. Jamie Gold and Jerry Yang, commonly considered as the ‘worst players’ didn’t share the same glory when they won the same title. The survivor bias unfortunately continues to celebrate the ‘consistent winners’.

For all you amateurs considering a professional skill based game of online poker:

  • It’s important that the survivorship bias does not freeze your brain into a state of ignorance from which you believe success is more common than it really is and leap into the conclusion that it is also ‘easy’ to obtain.
  • Don’t let the survivorship bias cloud your decision making and be aware of both the winners and losers and the hard work behind their successes and losses before you arrive at your success formula.
  • Develop a close to accurate assessment of reality and do not allow the prejudices that grant favour the minority survivors the privilege of representing the much larger group to which they originally belonged (i.e, the poker community including the recreational, regulars and professional players)

The culture of online poker around us easily has us believing that everyone is winning all the time. Great poker content is mostly created and aimed at winning players or losing players who want to ape the winning players formula. It ignores the rest. So don’t be surprised you have that FOMO when you read a winner’s article the next morning.

What’s important to understand is that we’ll probably never know who the best player in the world could be because they probably lost with set over set three times during the week they tried playing the game! Therefore, if you are reading this, you are one of the survivors in online poker and here’s our concluding food for thought:

The Misconception: You should focus on the successful if you wish to become successful.

The Truth: When failure becomes invisible, the difference between failure and success may also become invisible.