Many people do not engage in truly critical thinking about the game of blackjack. Instead of weighing the evidence, evaluating arguments, and rejecting bad ideas, they use shortcuts. One of those shortcuts is social proof, which involves doing what other people do, or believing what other people believe.
Why Can’t We Unlearn?
Most new players exhibit rigid thinking. I have found that the vast majority of beginning counters believe everything they read in a book or on the internet. This is understandable, because they are new, and don’t have enough information to be critical of so-called experts.
As a result, these new players are often unable to accept what I tell them about “cover.” I have personal experience, mathematical and statistical data, extensive reading and discussion with experts on the subject. I know that the advice they have been given is wrong. Why won’t they listen?
It’s not that these new players carefully evaluated my argument and rejected it. Rather, what I am saying creates cognitive dissonance, with the other advice they have been given. This, in turn, leads to psychological discomfort. They cannot listen to what I am saying, because it hurts their brains too much (not patronizing them, that’s an entirely honest statement).
How can I tell this is the reason people don’t listen? A dead giveaway is when a person intentionally mischaracterizes what I am saying. When people start by saying things like “So…” or “Oh, I’m sure Professor Expert is wrong about…” Then, they say something that completely misreads what I said.
This means that a person is actively resisting what I am saying, looking for reasons to reject it, and is finding them due to confirmation bias. I’m disagreeing with their ideas, and it is much more comfortable to simply dismiss me than to think critically.
You might even read comments on this very post that will be textbook examples of this resistance to an argument. Cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias are incredibly powerful, and frequently mislead intelligent people, and even experts! (remember Karl Rove’s election night meltdown?)
According to Wikipedia:
“Social proof, also known as informational social influence, is a psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior for a given situation. This effect is prominent in ambiguous social situations where people are unable to determine the appropriate mode of behavior, and is driven by the assumption that surrounding people possess more knowledge about the situation.
Social proof is a type of conformity. When a person is in a situation where they are unsure of the correct way to behave, they will often look to others for cues concerning the correct behavior.”
There are “standard opinions” in blackjack. Things like “You can’t spread more than 1-8 on double deck” or “you have to use cover. Don’t be greedy.” These ideas get spread around through books and internet forums, and gain significant persuasive power as a result:
“Multiple source effect
The multiple source effect occurs when people give more credence to ideas that are stated by multiple sources. This effect can be clearly seen when social proof occurs. For instance, one study observed that people who hear five positive reviews on a book as read by five different synthesized voices perceive that book more favourably than if they hear the same five reviews as read by one synthesized voice”
If everyone on the internet says the same thing, and some famous blackjack expert says it, how can it be wrong? Many new players understandably go along with these ideas, because they don’t know enough to be critical of them.
Many of you will who are reading this very post will angrily dismiss everything I am saying. I didn’t write a book, and I am criticizing people who did write books. How could this goofball on the internet possibly know more than members of the Blackjack Hall of Fame! (Hint: I don’t. They are in the Hall of Fame for expertise in different areas, and I am criticizing them when they go outside of their expertise.)
But people who know better are quite willing to kill sacred cows. Again, from Wikipedia:
“Possession of special knowledge
If one perceives that s/he is better advised about a situation than the surrounding group, then s/he is less likely to follow the group’s behavior…
Possession of special knowledge
If one perceives that s/he is better advised about a situation than the surrounding group, then s/he is less likely to follow the group’s behavior.”
I am quite critical of the “standard cover advice” because I know better. I know that you can go more than 1-8 on double deck because I’ve done 1-20. I also know that 1-4 won’t save you because I’ve been kicked out of casinos for doing it.
I know that all the cover in the world won’t save you from someone who is really sharp. This is based on my experience; I often recognize counter just by looking at them. James Grosjean said “it takes one to know one.”
The Proper Time To Use Social Proof
Social proof is useful when you’re at the in-laws’ house for Christmas, and you are trying to figure out the norms of the group. Go with the flow. Do what everyone else does.
Social proof is a horrible way to decide how to play blackjack for a living. Horrible. Less than 10% of the people on most internet forums are able to even count competently (I’ve got a sample size of several dozen on this). Most of the people writing books do not make their living playing blackjack, they make their living writing about blackjack.
To be a successful professional-level player, you need to form your own opinions. That means learning, and independently evaluating any claims you read, not blindly accepting them. What is the reason for the claim? What evidence is available? Is this person an expert? Is this their area of expertise?
It may hurt your brain. But it’s better than believing things that will kill your earning potential.
You might like our classes, like “Getting Away With It”, because we have a lot of experience playing blackjack, and we share what has worked for us.