This is Element #35 from my book, Elements of Poker.
35. The Rating Game
We have been designed by natural selection to overrate ourselves at poker. It all started with sex. Gal attracts guy. Guy attracts gal. Genetically speaking, this arrangement works, so nature favors the genes that rate to get us a date.
DNA is not interested in truth. If straight talk culminates in conjugal consummation, your DNA is happy. If trumping up your own attributes gets you laid, your DNA is exactly as happy. Just as long as the deed gets done. It doesn’t even matter if you believe your own story or not. If you have sex because you lied and you know you lied, for example, “You look marvelous,” that scores the same as if you have sex because you lied unknowingly, such as, “I am funny.”
If we carry in our mind a false image of ourselves, and that image gives us confidence, and the confidence itself increases the probability that we will procreate, then it doesn’t matter that the image is false. Delusion will be naturally selected. And that’s what happened. In the same way that evolutionary pressure has provided us with things like eyeglasses and ethics, it has also given us the tools, capacity, and propensity to overrate ourselves, at many things, and poker is just one of them.
With some games, like chess and tennis, you can’t get away with thinking you are good if you suck, and you can’t get away with thinking your opponents suck if they are good. There is not enough slack in the perception of reality for delusion to take root. Poker is not like that. We have The Gray Area. Once inside it, we can convince ourselves of anything. Add to that the high amount of self-worth currency at stake at poker, and we begin to see the poker table as an environment rich in the nutrients upon which delusions feed. Anyone with the naturally evolved human tendency to overrate themselves and underrate others can go a really long way with it at poker, even to the point of being a losing player who thinks of himself as a winning player. The result is a refraction in the player pool. It turns out that 75% of all poker players think they play better than the other 75%.