The Illusion of Confidence

TAGs: Gary Neville, Jamie Carragher

This weekend, my son’s football team played against their local rivals. My son built it up. It was going to be heated. They hated each other. Blood would fly. Unfortunately, it was an anti-climax. They only had nine players and we swept them away 8-1.

The Illusion of ConfidenceThere has to be something wrong with the world when we can’t find 11 14-year olds to play football. It became the source of debate on the sidelines. The overriding opinion pointing to the video game industry as the main spoiler. Children don’t go outside to play anymore. They have all the entertainment they need at their fingertips. Virtual football is more appealing than sliding tackles in the dog dirt.

When I was a kid I had no video games. I would go to school, play football at morning break, go back to class, play football at dinner break, go back to class, head home, throw my school bag at my Mum, go out and play football, come in for tea, and then kick a rolled up pair of socks around the hallway with my sister.

I’m a football nut. I don’t play anymore, but when I was a kid I played Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning. I also watch a lot of football. Manchester United is my team. There was a time when nothing would prevent me from watching the mighty reds, or England.  At 40-years of age I would say I am a bit of an expert when it comes to football, but that all changed this past week.

During a trawl through those annoying videos on Facebook I came across a post match analysis of Man Utd v Man City. Former Man Utd legend Gary Neville, and former Liverpool legend Jamie Carragher, was taking the game apart, and what they said left me dumbstruck.

I had been watching United all season. They have been shit. I couldn’t remember watching such a boring style of football in my life, and that includes David Moyes term in charge last season. Louis Van Gaal was killing our team, Chris Smalling was a donkey, and Wayne Rooney was a shadow of his former self.

Then Carragher and Neville got stuck into the analysis of the game. They broke it down in a way that I had never seen before. Neville explained how Wayne Rooney had touched the ball less than any other time in his career, and yet Van Gaal would have thought it was his best game of the season, because of the job he did for the team.

They also went into great detail about how brilliant Smalling was at shepherding the United defense, before showing how the defense moved up and down the field dependent on the distance between them and Wayne Rooney. They were squeezing the life out of the opposition, leaving them hardly any room to play football, and this was resulting in a lot of possession for United.

It was genius.

I suddenly realized that after three decades of thinking I knew it all, I knew nothing. I watched that same game. I thought United were good. But I had no idea what was really happening behind the scenes. I now watch football very differently, but it’s not just my lack of football knowledge that this incident springs to mind.

I immediately thought about poker. There were definite parallels. I remember quitting my job to try and become a professional poker player. This was after I had won a few quid playing cash games, and had a few scores in some live tournaments. I thought I knew it all. I was going to be a star.

Within no time I was coaching people who lived nearby. I watched online training sites, I read books, and I played for hours and hours. I thought I was a tactical genius. There was nothing about poker I didn’t know.

After a while I started to lose.

After a while I realized I didn’t know as much as I thought.

After watching Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville teach me a football lesson, I realize I know nothing about poker.

I won’t be alone.

The illusion of confidence can be a dangerous thing. If I can trick myself into believing I know a lot about football, then imagine how many people fall for the same thing in poker, particularly when you consider the element of luck.

A lot of poker players won their fortunes when the game was easier than it is today. They have not evolved in line with everyone else. I remember Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier admitting to me that this was the case with him during last years World Series of Poker (WSOP).

Then you have players like Antonio Buonanno. In a few weeks time the best players in Europe will be heading to Monte Carlo for the Grand Final. Buonanno will be the reigning champion. You won’t miss him. He will be wearing a t-shirt with that claim stenciled on his back.

Buonanno is a player with an average level of skill, who managed to find the luck needed to win one of the biggest tournaments in the world. That victory, coupled with an increased bankroll, gave him the confidence needed to go on a little run. He went deep in a few events after that big score. I spoke to him in Cyprus and he was confident about becoming a great player.

The Italian, like so many other poker players, confused a win with ability. Just like I once thought I knew everything about football, and then later quit my job to play professional poker, Buonanno thinks he is a great player because he won one of the biggest events in the world.

It’s interesting that the actual confidence gained during that win, led to the illusion of confidence about his overall ability. Only the very best rise above this. They are the ones who keep on learning, keep on analyzing, keep on improving.

This isn’t a question of being humble. You can be humble and still be fooled by the illusion of confidence. It exists in everything we do, not just poker; it’s only exacerbated in our game because of the presence of luck.

So tell me. Have you been fooled by the illusion of confidence? How much do you really know about poker?


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