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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Memory Mistakes

Last night at the poker table, one of the players who saw my link to the story of the guy who entered the wrong World Series Of Poker tournament (in a version of the game he's never played, but managed to win it nonetheless) told me he'd recently heard of a guy who signed up for a small $125 buy-in event at Aria, but was mistakenly seated in the $25,000 buy-in event. He didn't say anything about getting such a huge entry discount, probably because he was doing well, even knocking out some big name pros along the way. After seven (!) hours, tournament staff realized the error and removed him and his chips from the tournament. As for the professionals he'd eliminated, according to Card Player, Aria didn't return their full buy-in, but did compensate them with a few thousand dollars.

That reminded another player of a guy who returned from a break at the World Series Of Poker Main Event a few years ago, sat down at the wrong table, and began using the chips at that seat as if they were his. When someone asked last night why no one else at that table had said anything, the answer was apparent -- they didn't notice it was a different guy. In a big tournament (the Main Event has thousands of entrants), players are constantly being moved to other tables to fill seats previously held by players who were eliminated. Often, these moves are conducted just before a break, so when you return from the bathroom, there's someone new sitting next to you.

I've even seen it happen in a cash game. More than a decade ago, I was playing in a $20/40 limit hold'em game at Ameristar in St. Charles when the player in the six seat returned from dinner and sat down in the five seat. That seat's occupant had gotten up to go to the bathroom, and no one noticed when Mr. Six sat down in Mr. Five's chair -- and played several hands using Mr. Five's chips!

Mr. Six was a notoriously loose, not-that-good player, and lost several hundred dollars before Mr. Five returned from the bathroom and asked what was going on. Mr. Six apologized and moved into his correct seat, but what about the chips he'd donked off? Fortunately, because it was a structured game, where you can only bet in increments of $20 or $40, the floor supervisor, players, and dealer (who also hadn't realized the error) were able to reconstruct the hands in question to everyone's satisfaction to figure out how much he'd lost, and that amount was moved from Mr. Six's stack to Mr. Five's before play resumed.

Again, the question was raised, how could no one notice? The truth is that while the majority of poker players pay close attention at the table, it's mostly to the hands in progress, not the things on the periphery. I can vouch that there have been many times when -- even with guys I play with all the time, for lengthy sessions -- I can't remember exactly who was sitting where and where they went when they left the table.

There were many days when I was a morning drive radio host -- which involved giving the weather forecast four, five, six times an hour -- when if you'd stopped me in the hallway a minute after the show ended and asked me what the weather was going to be that day, I wouldn't have any idea. I often couldn't remember anything we'd talked about in the previous four hours.

Memories can be tricky like that. There's been lots of evidence about the unreliability of eyewitness testimony in court, including some essential work by Elizabeth Loftus, who did a presentation at The Amazing Meeting in 2014. Not long after seeing Loftus speak, I tried explaining this lack of short-term recall to my wife after she had asked me to run an errand on the way home and it slipped my mind completely. She didn't buy my explanation.

Even when I gave her the complete five-day forecast.