“The Mental Game of Poker is the only book I recommend” – Greg Merson In my 13 years coaching poker players, I’ve coached over 500 professionals, including some of the best players in the world, and helped thousands more with my two best-selling books The Mental Game of Poker 1 & 2.
Skill, luck and the mental game
Poor mental strategies are common in activities like sports, poker and investing. This includes attributing good outcomes to skill and bad outcomes to luck, or playing more or less aggressively when we are winning or losing. Success in managing one’s emotions in these areas requires some skill. These habits and behaviours are not necessarily innate or easily acquirable. Rather, these qualities require strategy and nurturing.
- The mental game may be more important in poker than in any other form of competition. It's one of the only games in the world where you can play perfectly and lose-again and again. Hundreds of poker players have turned to mental game coach Jared Tendler's revolutionary approach to help them play their best, no matter how badly they're running.
- The Mental Game of Poker: Proven Strategies for Improving Tilt Control, Confidence, Motivation, Coping with Variance, and More - Ebook written by Jared Tendler, Barry Carter. Read this book using Google Play Books app on your PC, android, iOS devices. Download for offline reading, highlight, bookmark or take notes while you read The Mental Game of Poker: Proven Strategies for Improving Tilt.
While we cannot resolve all our behavioural problems immediately, we can work on those that are most costly, frequent, emotionally draining or easy for us to fix. Jared Tendler’s work in sports and poker psychology offers many insights into managing the psychological and emotional aspects of activities like investing. This is best expressed in his book The Mental Game of Poker.
We found his book to be a nice complement to other works, like Annie Duke’s Thinking in Bets or Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. While Duke and Kahneman focus on the quality of our decision making processes, Tendler investigates the emotions and learning processes that underpin our choices and performance. In this brief post, we’ll review some of the lessons that we took from Tendler’s work. This includes his reflections on learning, and the emotional aspects that comprise the mental game of poker.
Learning the mental game of poker
To help improve our mental game, Jared Tendler believes it helpful to understand three important concepts to learning and development. These are the adult learning model, inchworm and process model.
Adult learning model
The adult learning model describes four levels of learning. Firstly, there is unconscious incompetence, where we are unaware of the skills and qualities that we lack. The second is conscious incompetence, where we recognise the skills we require and do not yet possess. Thirdly, we have conscious competence, where we are able to acquire skills through repetition and effort. Finally, we have unconscious competence. This is where application of skills are automatic and of low cognitive cost.
Tendler suggests that flaws in our skills and behaviours are bad habits that have reached unconscious competence. The challenge is in recognising and rerouting these bad habits. Since our brains have limited capacity, we can only work consciously on specific competencies or flaws at any one time. Prioritising our areas for improvement is important for developing effectively.
The second foundational theory is the concept of inchworm. The main insight here is that our ability sits on a range of possibilities, like a bell curve or probability distribution, as opposed to a fixed and discrete level. Development comes from increasing (reducing) the frequency of good (bad) performance. In other words, we want to move our personal bell curves in a positive direction, like an inchworm. Tendler suggests we evaluate our performance over a sample of outcomes.
The concept of inchworm has two interesting implications for learning. Firstly, to move our natural range of performance into more favourable conditions, we need to address both our strengths and weaknesses. Too often we neglect our unconscious incompetence, unable to recognise the skills we need to be developing.
Secondly, we should be kinder and more objective to ourselves when evaluating our performance and development. We are prone to compare our worst to our prior best, and/or vice-versa. Instead, we should compare our current worst (best) performance to a prior worst (best) performance at some reasonable interval.
Achieving mastery requires a disciplined and consistent approach to your craft. A (simplified) process model suggests we perform and learn in stages that cycle between: (1) preparation, (2) performance, (3) evaluate. The aim of preparation is to increase the likelihood that we perform well. This includes reviewing our long-term and short-term goals, common mistakes to watch-for, and other personal routines that allow us to perform better (e.g. meditation, exercise, etc.).
Documenting our thoughts, decision-making and interpretations can help our evaluation of progress. This provides Our goal is to be consistent, organised, measured and efficient when preparing, performing and evaluating oneself. Additionally, it is helpful here to recognise the level of discipline, emotional biases and whether incremental improvements were made. Some of us are only motivated when outcomes are tracking favourably. Others are only kicked-into-gear when outcomes worsen.
Skill, variance and illusions
World champion poker player Annie Duke described the tendency of ‘resulting’ in her book Thinking in Bets, where we tend to associate our good outcomes with skill, and our bad outcomes with poor luck. This failure to recognise our own strengths and weaknesses, and to distinguish between skill and variance, can impair our learning, evaluations and decision making. Tendler notes that this can create an illusion of control, illusion of permanence and/or illusion of learning. Our capacity to reflect on our own behaviour with some objectivity is critical to our development and performance.
Emotions and logic for the mental game
To improve our mental game of poker, Jared Tendler suggests that it is helpful to understand the hierarchical wiring of the human mind. In particular, we can lose control of higher brain functions when our emotions run too high. We might go blank, miss key insights and/or tunnel our perceptiveness. During such moments, we are more likely to rely on unconscious competence and old habits, whether good or bad.
This has several implications. Firstly, it is important to manage our emotions to avoid the threshold in which our higher brain functions shut down. Secondly, we should recognise that emotions can accumulate over time. For example, sometimes an awareness of our own anxiety can increase the level of anxiety we experience. Our emotional level may not completely dissipate, even after the trigger has passed.
The Mental Game Of Poker Pdf
Tendler suggests we inject logic as a strategy to manage emotions such as tilt, fear, motivation, overconfidence and anxiety. This is a short-term strategy, where we add a phrase to explain our flaw or faulty logic as emotion is building up. It is most effective when applied before our emotional threshold is reached.
However, it is critical that your logic correctly addresses the root flaw and trigger of your emotional game, and not its symptoms. A proper understanding of the problem is required. This includes understanding why it is natural for us to react in such ways, why such tendencies or reactions are flawed, and what is the optimal behaviour going forward.
Repetition and documentation
Repetition can help us to translate logic into a long-term resolution, freeing your cognitive capacity for more productive areas of focus. Similarly, documenting our emotions and logic, and tracking our incremental improvement, can be helpful here. The act of pen-to-paper can reduce what we have to remember and can help to dispel some of the emotional intensity.
Perfectionism and social judgement
Hating to make mistakes, expecting perfectionism and the fear of unfavourable social judgement are common emotional triggers. Unsurprisingly, it is important to evaluate our expectations, performance and learning process realistically. Mistakes and variance, particularly in investing, are inevitable. We can develop and perform more effectively by setting short and long-term goals that are realistic and more process-oriented. This can help us to stabilise our motivation to perform and learn, particularly when results do not reflect the quality of our process.
- Tendler, J. (2011). The Mental Game of Poker: Proven Strategies for Improving Tilt Control, Confidence, Motivation, Coping with Variance, and More. More available at < http://jaredtendlerpoker.com/ >
- Duke, A. (2018). Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts. More articles available at < https://www.annieduke.com/ >
In my 13 years coaching poker players, I’ve coached over 500 professionals, including some of the best players in the world, and helped thousands more with my two best-selling books The Mental Game of Poker 1 & 2.
My clients include November Niner Jorryt Van Hoof, EPT Champion Ben Wilinofsky, WSOP bracelet winners Justin Oliver, Kristen Bricknell, Jordan Morgan and Max Steinberg, and high stakes cash star Dusty Schmidt. I’ve also coached fifteen players to the status of Supernova Elite on PokerStars. I regularly get stellar reviews from my clients and players who have read my books. Please check out my testimonials page to read about their experiences working with my material and coaching.
The Mental Game Of Poker Book
These are the most common issues that I work on with players:
- Tilt (Running bad, bad beats, injustice, entitlement, mistakes, etc)
- Anxiety (performance, fear of failure/success, higher limits, etc)
- Motivation and procrastination
- Dealing with variance/downswings
- Playing ‘A’ game and ‘the Zone’ consistently
- Increasing session length and/or number of tables
- Efficient learning of poker
- Poker and life balance
- Discipline and control
The first step is identifying the cause of your mental game problems. To make that happen efficiently you’ll complete my new client questionnaire. I’ll spend around 45 minutes reviewing the questionnaire before our first session, so at the start of that first session I already have a plan that will get us focused on what’s most relevant to solving your problem. (Many clients also say that just filling out the questionnaire is helpful.)
By the end of the first session you’ll have a straightforward, step-by-step strategy to begin fixing your mental game problems. Part of that strategy will include information on key theories about the mental game that will help you better understand the rationale behind the strategy. In my experience, when clients know some basics about how the mind works, they’re more likely to stick with the strategy and thus more likely to improve. In successive sessions, we’ll continue to refine the strategy as you gain more experience and knowledge about your mental game until you have command of the problem.
My coaching is organized around your goals, so once they’ve been achieved, we either say goodbye, or we come up with new areas of your mental game to work on. I have clients who are satisfied with what we accomplish in just a handful of sessions and I have other clients who are so driven to improve that we’ve been working regularly for years. Ultimately, it’s up to you.
The Mental Game Of Poker 2
One of the benefits of my coaching that often surprises my clients is that they’re not only happy having their issues resolved, they also have greater overall confidence because they now know how to solve their mental game problems. I don’t just give players answers, I give them a strategy that allows them to understand how to solve problems on their own. I don’t just give them fish, I teach them how to fish.
For information or scheduling, click here to contact me.