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The Mental Game of Poker
In the new series of articles “The Mental Game” we will cover the most intriguing and even more familiar topics in poker. Most poker content focuses on the technical aspects of poker hands, but neglects what goes through your head to get to that point. The simple advice of don’t lean, don’t play drunk and never start playing angry/sick doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. Avoiding leaning is difficult because most people do it unconsciously.
Have you ever wondered why after reading all the poker books, all the forums and joining all the training sites you still can’t win? The reason is that while all of these resources are full of great information, they don’t teach you the skills to use their techniques and destroy your mental obstacles. Once I realized that some important pieces of poker literature were missing, I branched out into other areas to find the answers I needed. I’ve read books on psychology, self-help, meditation, hypnosis, body language, and just about anything else I thought might help. Some of them were quite fruity, but there were many gold mines that changed the way I thought about the game. I was surprised how many times I could have substituted poker in a book on mental philosophy and it would have fit perfectly.
Poker is a two-front battle. You play against your opponents and you play against yourself. The truth is, your brain is not set up to be a winning poker player. The way our brain thinks makes your default poker setup LOSE. This is why 95% of players lose money. They haven’t realized that they have to go inside and flip some switches to change it to a winner. In this series I will share with you all that I have learned and created on the subject of the mental side of poker. Hopefully it will be the catalyst that turns all your poker knowledge into cash.
Why do you play poker?
Brutal honesty is the first mental skill you need to be a winning player. Be honest with others, but more importantly be completely honest with yourself. It’s so easy to lie to yourself for a quick shot of false self-confidence, but that’s just building an ice palace in the desert. It feels good for a short period of time, but eventually it will come crashing down. Lying to yourself about poker won’t make you a long-term winner. Most players have no problem understanding the game, they just ignore the holes in their game. The holes you have and your mental inability to fix them are constantly exploited by your opponents. Instead of fixing them, you just end up excusing your mistakes.
I could write a whole article about honesty, but it’s better to keep it simple. Because? Because being honest with yourself about your results and poker hands is not a difficult process. There are no crazy techniques to help you be more honest. If you’re dedicated to getting the most out of your poker game, it should be easy. Just be aware when you try to lie to yourself and never let it go any further. If you can’t be honest with yourself and others about your poker results – why are you playing poker?
One of the reasons I think poker is so popular is that it is able to stimulate so many different needs that it appeals to a wide range of personality types. Think about all the different types of players you face every day. You’ve got the maniac, the rocker, the hunter, the bluff, the teacher, the swaggering professional, the grinding professional, the sheriff, the math guy, the sensation players, and it all ranges from 18-year-old males until old In any given game, the 10 seats at the table could easily represent 10 different groups of the world’s population. The beauty is that all 10 could be playing for 10 different reasons.
In order to reduce your mind game you must first realize the real reason why you play poker. Almost everyone I ask gives me the same answer “I play for money”. I’ve noticed that almost no one’s main reason for playing is strictly to make money. The professional grinder is the closest to this mentality, but even he could make as much, or more, money doing something else. He must have another motivation to play. Let’s take a look at some of the most common reasons to play.
* Love for action: The emotional swings of ups and downs are very attractive to people who lead boring lives.
* Competition – good: They love the spirit of competing against the best of the best and the respect that comes with winning.
* Competition – bad: They love to crush the hopes and dreams of everyone who plays. Destroying opponents can be a huge ego boost.
* Freedom: A professional poker player has an amount of freedom not available in almost any other job.
* Company: Home gaming and live casinos provide a place where anyone can go and be part of the group. People who seek the company of others often pick up the game for this reason.
* Be a victim: Some players would subconsciously rather lose in bad weather than win the pot. The feelings they get from others pity is worth more to them than pot.
* Seeking approval: This fits closely with competition – bad, but also includes “teacher”. He will tell you what he thinks you did wrong even if you didn’t ask and even if it hurts the amount he can earn.
* Love of the game: This player truly loves everything about poker. They love to spend time on learning, competition and the money they have to show to win.
* Gambling Addiction – This is the love of action turned unhealthy. If you need to play higher and higher just to feel alive and don’t care if you win or lose while you’re in the action, you probably have a problem with the game. If this is you, please ask for help from someone like Gamers Anonymous.
These are just a few reasons, and as you can see, some are healthy and some are not. What you need to do now is figure out why you are playing the game. You will need to be completely honest with yourself as you may find that you are playing for all the wrong reasons. To figure out why you play, think about what drew you to the game, what makes you happy when you play, and what annoys you? What was the highest point and what was the lowest? Do you know what you want from the game in the future and are you taking steps to achieve any goals? Answering these questions should give you a pretty clear idea of your poker motivations.
I will use myself as an example. I think I play for the love of the game. I remember learning the game for the first time when the WPT came out. I’ve always loved card games, and I couldn’t pass up such an exciting game…plus, you could win money!
I would play face-to-face games with my roommate from 11pm until dawn. We started playing for money, but soon stopped when we realized we played just as hard without him. I soon found the 6 max NL games on Party and was in love. The games back then were so passive that we would fight over who could win the most pots in a row. The record was 22.
As time went by I started to earn more and thoughts of going professional entered my mind. Even before poker I knew I wouldn’t be the person to get a job that hated slaving over a paycheck week after week just to make ends meet. Poker seemed so perfect, like it was my destiny to play. In my 20s I moved to Florida with other poker players. Although there have been some ups and downs, 3 years later we still post great hands on the wall, have awesome poker discussions, and go crazy together when we’re in the middle of a tournament or win a giant pot. I play poker because I love the whole game and it allows me to live a lifestyle that I wouldn’t give up for anything.
The reason why it’s so important to know why you play is that it drives every decision you make at the table. Why do you think you make calls when you know you’re beat? Well, it’s probably because the small chance of winning a huge pot means that the chance of losing is obviously greater. If you say to yourself “I’m making the call because I love the action” you might immediately reconsider your action. This is the first step in actively questioning previously subconscious decisions.
Spend some time before your next sessions thinking about this and see what a difference it makes when you play. You’ll probably find that you were making plays on autopilot not because they were right, but because of the emotions they generated. The sooner you start making decisions off autopilot and looking at them in an objective light, the sooner you can start making some serious money. An even better benefit will be the ability to extend your enjoyment of the game. Poker is much more entertaining when you allow yourself to enjoy all aspects of the game instead of letting your subconscious mind restrict your enjoyment.
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