Confidence is the extent to which we believe we have what it takes to be successful. It is often acknowledged as a companion to success no matter what field we’re discussing, and poker is undoubtedly no exception. 

Most of us intuitively know that feeling confident is better than feeling a lack of confidence when we sit down to play. 

  • When we feel confident, we believe we can achieve our poker goals.
  • We are more likely to be motivated to work to play our best. 

Many research studies have shown that confidence is positively associated with playing and performing well. 

But it is possible to cross the line where confidence benefits you and becoming too confident - a condition known as overconfidence. Overconfident players believe that their poker success is likelier than it is. 

How Overconfidence Affects Your Game

Overconfidence in Poker

Extremely high confidence levels can lead to believing you can win without much effort.

For this reason, being overconfident can result in several negative consequences, including:

  1. Becoming complacent: If you believe that you have learned all there is and don’t need to work as hard anymore, you’ve become complacent. Complacency is the kiss of death when it comes to continued success.

    Overconfidence in your abilities and knowledge may prevent you from studying the very things that will bring you even more success. Long-term winning players advocate studying regardless of how much better you think you are than your opponents.
  2. Taking unnecessary risks: Sometimes, we take unnecessary risks in poker because we believe we are stronger and more powerful than our opponents. Most of us have had the experience where we labelled an opponent as weak. We then played against them as though they were weak no matter what actions they displayed.

    Say they’ve started betting and raising aggressively. But due to our overconfidence, we overlook what is right in front of us and take the bait. Or we might take unnecessarily high variance lines (fancy-play syndrome, anyone?) because we overrate our abilities. Either way, taking unnecessary risks has a way of shrinking the bankroll.
  3. Inability to see mistakes: In the previous example, our “weak” opponent got aggressive, and we paid off because of our overconfidence. We refused to accept that we were unlikely to win in this spot. When things like this happen, we often attribute our opponent’s win to sheer luck.

    We refuse to accept that we made a mistake and misplayed the situation. Believing that you are mistake-proof is a sure sign of overconfidence. It’s important to remember that mistakes provide us with essential learning opportunities. 

    Being “mistake blind” prevents us from taking advantage of all the learning benefits they offer. 

Mistake Blind

  1. Blaming others: Casting blame is a natural component of overconfidence. When you’re in this state, it’s natural to feel like you are never at fault. Poor results are always due to someone else’s shortcomings or behaviour. 

    If you find yourself blaming the dealer, the poker gods, or anyone else - you might be suffering from an overconfidence issue. Remember, taking responsibility is an essential component of success.
  2. Refusal to listen: Overconfidence may lead you to ignore the advice of other players and coaches. Accepting feedback and criticism becomes challenging. Keeping an open mind is critical because they may see an aspect you are missing. 

    While our beliefs are very subjective, others are usually able to see us much more objectively. Gaining a coach or friend's valuable insights may help you avoid continued mistakes in the future.. 
  3. Inaccurate predictions: Research has shown that overconfidence often leads to errors in prediction. Due to an overestimation bias in our abilities, we are likely to make errors in predicting how soft a game will be or how easy it will be to win a particular tournament. 

    Many factors will determine how easy a game or MTT is. So, it's essential not to let overconfidence cloud our judgment. 

It’s natural for our confidence level to ebb and flow. But it’s crucial to keep it at an optimum level, as to little confidence will likely lead to anxiety and fear. Too much is likely to lead to one or more of the problems mentioned above. 

How to Avoid Overconfidence

So how should one train their confidence to ensure it stays in the sweet spot?

The first step is self-awareness. How are your confidence levels? Take a step back and see if you’ve crossed the line in either direction. 

  • Make a reflection exercise a regular part of your study routine. A concrete and easy way to do this is to take a few notes after each session on how it went. Be sure to include some reasons (both positive and negative) for why the session went the way it did.
  • Don’t forget to rate your confidence levels during the session. Did you feel overly confident? Under confident? Or just about right? 

Regularly doing this exercise will help you see the bigger picture. It will create ideas for continued development and self-improvement. 

Poker player

Secondly, remind yourself that a little self-doubt can be a good thing. When there is a small gap between our goal and what we think it’ll take to achieve it, we are incentivised to work for it. 

  • If we are overly confident that it’ll be easy to achieve our goals, we lose motivation
  • I want to stress that the amount of self-doubt needs to be small. If we feel that something is outside of our capabilities, that is demotivating, too. 

Third, always work on your development as a player. Even the best players in the world utilise coaching! 

  • There is never a point at which you have mastered poker
  • If you are easily beating the stakes you’re playing, it’s probably time to move up
  • This strategy is much better than getting bored and complacent! 

Remember that belief is subjective. Just because we believe something about ourselves (I’m the best poker player in the world!) doesn’t make it objectively true.  It’s critical to have confidence in your poker skills and abilities. But you should also acknowledge that realistic (and more objective) expectations and ideas will contribute to your long-term poker success. 

Avoid letting overconfidence dim the bright poker future that you can create for yourself!

Dr. Tricia Cardner is the author of Positive Poker, Peak Poker Performance and co-author of Purposeful Practice for Poker. She podcasts at Poker on The Mind with her co-host Gareth James. You can find her at where she teaches poker players the most effective psychological strategies for optimal poker performance.