Whether it’s tilt, fear, lack of motivation or confidence, emotions can affect the way you play poker. The mental aspect of the game has caused the progress of many talented players to stall, and while most players recognise this part of the game exists and is important – few of them are really putting enough work into this crucial area. The question is, why? Strategic points are examined, discussed and learned in all corners of the poker world, but many misconceptions still surround the issue of understanding and improving the mental side of poker.
1) Having a good mental game is a gift: You have it or you don’t
When we take the example of mathematics in poker, some players can have a better aptitude for this part of the game compared to others. It’s easy to assume that this is a natural ability, but in reality, those players have simply trained their mind extensively until they develop these skills. If you work at any skill, you will improve at it. Nothing should be seen as an unobtainable gift. The quality and quantity of work you put in will govern how strong your mind becomes at controlling tilt or building confidence.
2) Emotions are wrong and should be blocked out or ignored
Being in denial about your emotional issues is never the right place to start. Some emotion can be caused by deeper worries or desires to gamble, and can also be accumulated over time through a difficult patch of results. If you want to start working on improving your emotions, you need to stop feeling like an emotional response is bad. Often the emotional reaction is the result of something deeper, such as the way you view poker, yourself, or a combination of both. First of all, accept that you have emotional reactions that can affect your play, then start seeking the logical roots of your reaction.
3) Simply wanting to change is enough to improve your mental game
Wanting, and willing yourself to stop emotional reactions from interfering with your decisions is not enough to cure the issue. They aren’t useless thoughts though, as wanting and willing are simply the emotions of desire and determination, and these can be used as fuel to help you work harder on your mental game – but you must find the core of your emotional responses in the right way. Looking at a poster each day saying “you can do it” won’t change the fact that you believe you should win 100% of the time with pocket aces, and are destroying computer equipment when you don’t. Your root problem may not even be poker related. Maybe you feel like you normally fail when you take risks in life and fear moving up in stakes, even though your results suggest you should.
4) Taking a break is a good way to address your mental leaks
Undoubtedly, stepping away from the table when extremely tilted is a good idea. If strong emotion is clouding your decision making, taking a break gives that emotion time to subside. You’ll stop yourself from losing more money in the short term, but you’ll always be taking these breaks through your career if you don’t solve the underlying cause of them.
5) The mental aspect of poker is a complex unknown domain
Many players are logical in the way that they manage their bankroll, or review a hand, but quickly lose that logic when they delve into their own emotional problems at the table. Emotional issues may seem too deep or complex to make sense of, but in truth, science already gives a great foundation of insight when it comes to dealing with emotions at the highest level in sports. If you want to find the best sources of literature in this area, which relate specifically to poker – Jared Tendler and Tommy Angelo are good authors to help you get started.
You need to start replacing the myths with a structured, logical approach to your mental game. Try to identify precise mental leaks that occur frequently and cost you the most money, take notes on how they affect your game, and seek out the root cause. Starting work on the mental game will help deepen your understanding of the triggers that cause emotion to take control. Developing this understanding of yourself will not only help you at the poker table, but may also help you in day to day life.
Article by Craig B, inspired by the work of Jared Tendler