The sunk cost fallacy can be defined thusly: it is a phenomenon that occurs when a person has invested heavily into a strategy and is unwilling to abandon it, even when abandoning it would be most beneficial. This has applications in every day life and in poker

Recently, my adorable daughter couldn’t sleep. At midnight my loving wife and I decided it was because she was still in a cot at home, but had slept in a normal bed the past few nights at sleepovers and was ready for the change. I assumed (horribly wrongly) that converting the cot into a bed was as simple as unscrewing the damn sides and that would be that. An hour of DIY later and the sunk cost fallacy sprang to mind. We could have just let our daughter sleep in our bed with one of us for the night and finished the assembly the next day, but we persevered only for our daughter to not want to sleep in the new big girl bed after all. Live and learn!

But what does the sunk cost fallacy mean in poker strategy? It can apply to many areas of this game we love.


poker table


One tendency of recreational players is the mindset that if they’ve called the turn, they have to call the river. They can fall into the trap of feeling like they’ve invested so much into the pot already, what’s one more bet? Of course the river card itself, and our opponents triple barrelling range make it plain to see that always calling in this spot is not a good idea, however it’s a tendency that has persisted for a long time in poker. It’s one of the reasons I think it is right to bet turns a little more frequently than GTO might dictate, and bluff rivers a little less in many tournaments. On the turn this type of player fears two bets, but by the river the sunk cost of the hand has them trapped into seeing showdown. 



Another occurrence that springs to mind are tournaments with unlimited re entries. Let’s say you’ve fired 3 bullets in what you believe is a good poker tournament to invest in. A fourth bullet would likely be a profitable investment as well on paper, however things may have changed in your mindset since the first bullet. If you were a small winning player for bullet one, but the bad run of cards has badly impacted your mental game, then all of a sudden bullet number 4 mightn’t be a profitable one after all.

Live and learn! 

Ian Simpson is a poker pro player and 888poker ambassador. A former teacher turned professional poker player. Ian has racked up $1,132,070 in total live earnings as of July 2023. With steady in-the-money finishes since 2016, he has proven himself to be a tenacious and extremely talented poker player.