Poker - The Mental Game Part 1
In the new article series "The Mental Game" we will be covering
on of the most intriguing yet over looked subjects 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 tilt, don't play drunk,
and never start playing angry/sick doesn't even begin to scratch
the surface. Avoiding tilt is difficult because most people
do it unconsciously.
Have you ever wondered why after reading every poker book,
every forum, and joining every coaching site you still can't
win? The reason is because while all those resources are filled
with great information they don't teach you the skills to
use their techniques and destroy your mental roadblocks. Once
I realized that some big pieces were missing from poker literature
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 pretty much anything else I thought might
help. Some of it was pretty fruity, but there were plenty
of gold mines that changed the way I thought about the game.
I was amazed at how many times I could have substituted poker
into a book about mental philosophy and it would have fit
Poker is a two front battle. You play against your opponents
and you play against yourself. The truth is: Your brain
is not wired to be a winning poker player. The way
our brain thinks makes your default poker setting LOSER.
That is why 95% of players lose money. They haven't realized
that they need to go inside and flips some switches to change
it to winner. In this series I'm going to share with you everything
I've learned and created on the topic of the mental side of
poker. Hopefully it will be the catalyst that turns all your
poker knowledge into cold hard cash.
Why You Play Poker
Brutal honesty is the first mental skill you need in order
to be a winning player. Be honest with others, but more importantly
you must be completely honest with yourself. It is so easy
to lie to yourself for a quick shot of false self confidence,
but this is just building an ice palace in the desert. It
feels good for a short time, but will eventually fall apart.
If you lie to yourself about poker you will not be a long
term winner. The majority of players don't have an issue with
understanding the game they just ignore the holes in their
game. The holes you have and your mental inability to fix
them are constantly being exploited by your opponents. Instead
of fixing them you just end up making excuses for your mistakes.
I could write a whole article on honesty, but its better to
just keep it simple. Why? Because being honest to yourself
about your poker results and hands isn't a hard process. There
are no crazy techniques to help you be more honest. If you
are dedicated to making the most out of your poker play it
should be easy. Just be conscious when you try to lie to yourself
and never let it get any further. If you are unable to be
honest with yourself and others about your poker results:
Why do you play poker?
One of the reasons I believe poker is so popular is it is
able to stimulate so many different needs that it attracts
a wide range of personality types. Think about all the different
types of players you face each day. You have the maniac, the
rock, the chaser, the bluffer, the professor, the boasting
pro, the grinding pro, the sheriff, the math guy, the feel
players, and all these range from 18 year old men to little
old ladies. In any given game the 10 seats at the table could
easily represent 10 different groups in the world population.
The beauty is all 10 could be playing for 10 different reasons.
In order to get your mental game down you first need to realize
the true reason you play poker. Almost everyone I ask gives
me the same answer "I play to win money". I've come to realize
that almost nobody's main reason for playing is strictly to
make money. The grinding pro is the closest to this mindset,
but even he could be making as much, or more, money doing
something else. He must have other motivation for playing.
Let's take a look at some of the most common reasons for playing.
- Love of action: The emotional swings from the
ups and downs are very appealing to people who lead an otherwise
- Competition - good: They love the spirit of competing
against the best of the best and the respect that comes
- Competition - bad: They love to crush the hopes
and dreams of everyone they play. Destroying opponents can
be a huge ego boost.
- Freedom: A professional poker player has an amount
of freedom unavailable in almost any other job.
- Camaraderie: Home games and live casinos offer
a place where anyone can go and be part of the group. People
who are looking for the company of others often pick up
the game for this reason.
- Be a Victim: Some players subconsciously would
rather lose to a bad beat than win the pot. The feelings
they get from others pity is worth more to them than the
pot. * Seeking Approval: This fits in closely with Competition
- bad, but also includes the "professor". 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 win.
- Love of the Game: This player truly loves everything
about poker. They love putting in time learning, the competition,
and the money they have to show for winning.
- 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 as
long as you're in action you probably have a gambling problem.
If you this is you please get help from someone such as
Those are only a few reasons, and as you can see some are
healthy and some aren't. What you must do now is figure out
why you play the game. You will have to be completely honest
with yourself, as you might find you are playing for all the
wrong reasons. To figure out why you play think back to what
attracted you to the game, what makes you happy when you play,
and what pisses you off? What was the high point and what
was the lowest low? Do you know what you want from the game
in the future, and are you taking steps to meet any goals?
Answering these questions should give you a pretty clear idea
of your poker motivations.
I'll use myself as an example. I believe that I play for the
love of the game. I remember first learning the game around
the time the WPT came out. I had always enjoyed card games,
and couldn't pass up such an exciting game... plus you could
I would play heads up matches with my roommate from 11pm till
the crack of dawn. We started playing for money, but soon
stopped once we realized we played just as hard without it.
I soon found the 6 max NL games on Party and I was in love.
The games back then were so passive we would have contest
on who could win the most pots in a row. The record was 22.
As time passed I started winning more and thoughts of going
pro entered my head. Even before poker I knew I would not
be the person to get a job they hated slaving out a pay check
week to week just to make ends meet. Poker just seemed so
perfect, like it was my destiny to play. At age 20 I moved
to Florida with some other poker players. While there have
been some ups and downs but 3 years later we still post great
hands on the wall, have amazing poker discussions, and go
crazy together when we are deep in a tournament or win a giant
pot. I play poker because I love everything about the game
and it allows me to live a lifestyle I wouldn't give up for
The reason knowing why you play is so important is that it
drives every single 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 out
ways the obviously bigger chance of losing. If you said to
yourself "Am I just making the call because I love the action"
you would immediately be able to reconsider your action. This
is the first step in actively questioning previously subconscious
Spend some time before your next sessions thinking about this
and watch what a difference it makes when you play. You will
probably discover you were making plays on auto pilot not
because they were right, but because of the emotions they
generated. The sooner you start taking decisions off auto
pilot and looking at them in an objective light the sooner
you will be able to make serious cash. An even better benefit
will be the ability to expand 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
restrict your pleasure.
For the rest of this great No Limit Holdem article series
Ryan Carter is a no limit holdem cash game pro and
a contributing writer for http://www.pokerdynasty.net
We offer No Limit Holdem articles and strategies that are
guaranteed to increase your poker profits. Our forum has some
of the most intelligent No Limit Holdem discussion online.
Come join us if you are ready to make serious money at poker.
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