Hanlon’s razor is an aphorism that states “do not attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” Poker players can apply this wisdom to improve their play, specifically their mental game, and become better poker players.
At the end of the day, poker is a social game. Whether you’re sitting around the table in your buddy’s basement or you’re playing online on an app, you’re going to be affected by the decisions that other people make, and not just the strategic ones like betting or folding.
While there are some people who think that they can get an edge by tilting you off, most of the time people aren’t even aware that they’re doing something that could frustrate you. That’s why we need to lower our expectations and look through the perspective of Hanlon’s Razor.
One of the things that frustrates so many poker players is getting slowrolled. For instance, let’s say you’re on the river, holding a busted draw, and you decide to fire a big triple barrel bluff. Your opponent takes their time to think things over while you sweat it out, and eventually they call your bet, reveal a big hand, and scoop the pot.
You might accuse your opponent of Hollywooding, acting like they were making a decision, all while trying to upset you. However, this is too narrow sighted.
First off, your opponent might not even realize that they easily have the winning hand. Some people aren’t great at even remembering the hand rankings, and they might think that their hand is weaker than it is. Or they might see some combo that you could be holding, and they could be afraid of that. Another option is that they’re just not paying attention!
If your opponent doesn’t care about what’s going on and is busy looking at their phone, then it’s probably going to take them a lot longer than you’d like to snap off the call. That doesn’t mean that they were being a jerk—it just means you have different priorities.
Be Gentle with Yourself
This same logic applies to your own play. It can be tough making mistakes, especially when it’s a dumb one where we know better. This can make us mad, and it’s hard being mad at yourself.
However, we need to understand that everyone makes dumb mistakes. We didn’t intentionally call a big bet with a four card straight—we certainly weren’t trying to be malicious. Stupidity happens, and to move forward in a productive way, we should be gentle with ourselves.
Ultimately, if we can use Hanlon’s razor to strengthen our mental game, we’ll become better poker players.