Mental Game Coaching: How to Get Extra Advantage at Poker Table

Dennis  «Dennis_Stets» 
24 Apr 2024
Psychology Coaching
24 Apr 2024

In today's topic we’ll find out how to improve our mental state and gain superiority over opponents with the help of a mental game coach.

The importance of the psychological aspect in poker

As you probably already know from personal experience, gambling, especially where you are risking real money, can hit your psyche very hard. No human being is immune to the chemical / neurological reactions that occur in our bodies when we win or lose money.

The human brain is not designed to risk large amounts of money all the time, so things can go wrong in the process.

Poker can be called a game of advantage, while math and working on the game are by default part of the mandatory training program. Many players pay very little attention to the psychological aspects of poker.

Poker players whose psychological edge is higher than the rest of the field get a greater advantage. In live games, there are often situations in which not only poker math, but also the ability to read your opponents decides. And online, it's important to be able to make good decisions in stressful situations.

Fortunately, any skill can be developed and used with advantage at the tables.

Mental Game Coaching Basis

If you play poker professionally and regularly, you will occasionally have weeks, months, or even years when you play seemingly correctly, but there will be no results. Or even worse — they will be negative in the financial aspect.

After prolonged negative streaks your game may start to change — for the better.

You may start to fold too often because you may feel like you're wrong, for example every time you bluff-raise on the river. Or conversely, you may start to desperately call because you'll be paranoid that everyone around you is trying to bluff you.

And this is another of the reasons why you always need a professional coach around you that you can trust. And what's more, in addition to a technical coach who will be in charge of your strategy, you may often also need a mental coach who will be in charge of your mental state. In most cases, such an assistance can be performed by one person.

No one is immune to tilt and feelings of anxiety.

When a poker player gets caught in this spiral of negativity, when they have no one to talk to, they become discouraged. For example, someone starts stealing money or pours alcohol to cope with depression. Someone starts to fight more often with their loved ones. Someone starts to have less contact with their children. As you understand, this list goes on and on.

At times like these, mental coaches and mental health and development specialists come to the rescue. In almost all professional sports, in addition to technical coaches, there are always full-time sports psychologists. It's a very important component of any professional athlete's success.

A personal psychologist is expensive, but definitely worth it.

Especially if you're playing for huge money. I just can't tell you how many times mental coaches have helped poker players reframe something so that they can see the world more clearly or from a different angle. It's amazing how many things skilled professionals can see in your situation that you hadn't noticed before. 

Mental game coach helps identify a player's blind spots.

Why it's so important to have a psychological advantage

And it's not just about playing at the professional level, but the poker environment in general. Some 10-15 years ago, it was enough for players to just stick to a solid straight game to crush their opponents at the tables. Today, however, it is becoming increasingly difficult to gain an advantage over players.

Nowadays even at micro-limits you can meet some pretty skilful regulars.

And the higher a player goes up the limits, the stronger opponents he will meet. Therefore, it is important not only to be able to competently 3-bet, barrel, check-raise and much more. In today's realities, players need mental skills to fight against tilt, discipline, the ability to maintain psychological resistance and the ability to force themselves to work on the game outside the poker tables.

If we imagine a situation in which two regulars with approximately the same knowledge and skills sit down to play against each other, then the one whose psychological skill is higher will win over the distance. Of course, we are talking about a long one.

Unfortunately, you can't raise the level of your psychological skills quickly. It takes some time and a lot of work on yourself. And to get rid of some of the problems that significantly slow down the ascent to the poker tops, you need to know about them first.

Popular psychological problems that ruin poker players life

It is quite possible for a particular player to play optimally from a technical point of view, but still be a fish from a psychological one. Have you thought about that? As a rule, it is fraught with the fact that the player is not able to show his A-game at the tables often because of various psychological problems. The most popular of them will be discussed later in today's article.

#1: Tilt factor

This problem is the top-rated one. The famous sports psychologist Jared Tendler categorized seven types of tilt in his book «Poker: Mind Games». In the state of tilt even the most skillful poker player can make a lot of mistakes in simple situations and loose a solid part of his bankroll.

Despite the urgency of the problem, many players believe that tilt can go away on its own in a few years of play. And it is not even necessary to try to deal with this psychological face. Perhaps there is such an option to solve the problem, but during these years you can easily lose more than one bankroll and burn out to poker as a field of activity.

One of the top options for dealing with tilt problems is mental self-programming.

When emotions get out of control, players are advised to repeat to themselves an attitude like «I shouldn't tilt… I know exactly what it can lead to». It is believed that over time, the subconscious mind will learn to automatically suppress the first signs of tilt and the problem will only occasionally remind of itself in very stressful situations.

Of course, there are other ways to get rid of tilt, many of which are described in poker psychology books. A selection of popular books can be found at the end of this article.

#2: Fears and doubts

Often after a long series of losses players have doubts in their abilities, which gradually grow into the fear of losing every hand. And some newcomers even begin to doubt the fairness of the RNG (random number generator) and poker in general. As a result, players can stay at the same one limit for years, because they’re afraid to go higher.

There are plenty of different types of fear in poker.

However, the solution to this problem is quite obvious — the player should just figure out what exactly he is afraid of, and then decide what can be done to overcome this fear. Usually, the cause of all kinds of fears and doubts are gaps in theoretical training. With the elimination of leaks in the game, the problem with insecurity usually disappears.

#3: Lack of motivation

It's quite common for a player to feel devastated for a variety of reasons. Some lose interest in poker after a long downswing. Somebody, on the contrary, see no point in moving on after a big win in a «dream tournament», believing that such successes will never happen again.

In this situation, it is recommended to try to look at the problem from a different perspective and not to rely on past experience.

For example, you should think about the fact that all downstreaks come to an end sooner or later, which means that the upstreak will come very soon. All you have to do is to change the angle of view. After that, you will become more motivated than before.

#4: Lack of discipline

Superficially sticking to some goals in poker will not work. On the way to success you will have to master the art of planning and accomplish even the smallest tasks. It’s impossible to systematically improve your level and play the required number of hours if you neglect planning sessions and training — by yourself or with a coach.

Every poker player who wants to be stable at a professional level should approach the planning and fulfillment of goals as responsibly as possible. If, for example, his aim for the current session is to play 500 hands, he should play them no matter what. Having set yourself a stop-loss of 3 BI, you should close the tables after reaching this limit.

Everything is quite simple, but many players continue to hope only for luck in poker — and this often leads to unfortunate consequences. 

There are quite a lot of such psychological barriers: poker players often have problems with loss of concentration at the tables, with inflated expectations from the game, wrong self-esteem, etc. But it is always worth remembering that with the elimination of these mental edges, a player can gain an advantage even over opponents who are superior to him in the technical aspects of the game.

Helpful mental game coaching poker tips

There are many ways and techniques, thanks to which you can strengthen your psychological state. By the way, many famous poker pros have a lot to say about their mental preparation for the game.

#1: Pre-session warm-up

Jared Tendler, mentioned earlier, recommends doing a little warm-up before sessions to help set the mood for the game. In reality, not many players utilize this kind of a life trick and get straight into the game. With this approach it becomes difficult to focus on the right decisions at the beginning of each session, so it is better to start grind being «warmed up».

As a warm-up, you can remove all distractions that prevent you from getting in the mood for the game: turn on silent mode on your phone, turn off the TV, and log out of all messengers and social networks. A great option would also be to repeat your goals for the upcoming session or to review two or three hands before the start of the game.

You can also start a session in a more «light mode».

For example, if a player usually plays at 6 tables, he should play 3-4 tables for the first 15-20 minutes, and then start multitabling in normal mode. Such adjustment to the game can be carried out not at working limits, and go down lower.

These simple manipulations will take only 20 minutes and will allow you to start each session focused on the gameplay.

#2: Recreation and sports activities

Undoubtedly, the best cure for stress, which is enough during a busy grind, is a little vacation. A couple of hours in nature will help any player to forget about failures and be inspired for new victories.

For example, the famous poker pro Fedor Holtz likes to take a break from poker by playing soccer and spending time outdoors with people who inspire him.

Exercise is also a great way to build your mental resilience to tilt and has a beneficial effect on your performance at the poker tables. Physical activity will help you relieve stress, get rid of negative emotions after moves, cultivate willpower and self-discipline. Such an advantage at the tables is a must-have for any poker player.

#3: Meditation

Another piece of advice we can give you concerns meditation. An incredibly large number of successful people we know practice some sort of meditation. Part of the Getcoach team have been meditating for years, and here's what they told us:

You don't have to sit down and close your eyes to meditate.

It's certainly a powerful form of meditation, but you can also meditate just by just taking a walk in the park with a cup of coffee and no headphones.

Do you know why all your best ideas come to mind in the shower? It's the one place where you don't have your cell phone handy.

Allow yourself to just take a walk. The goal isn't to clear your mind, but to observe what your brain is thinking and why. Your goal is to start breathing deeply and try to slow down the pace of your routine. 

Allow your brain to think about anything. You will be amazed at the solutions that appear!

#4: Proper awareness of poker realities

Bad beats are the most powerful trigger for tilt, insecurity and other problems. Several upsetting losses in a row can throw even the most stress-resistant poker players out of balance. According to the mentalcoaching the problem lies not in failures, but in the wrong realization of poker realities.

It is necessary to realize that bad beats are an integral part of the game. They bring a certain element of luck to poker, attracting new players to the tables. A great way to overcome your resentment of losing is not to focus on winning money, but to concentrate on making the right decisions at the tables.

The famous poker pro Daniel Negreanu has his own opinion on bad beats: «The problem with the stories about bad beats is that there's no value in them. Why do people tell these stories? So they can complain: «It's nothing to do with me — I’m just unlucky!».

Recommended books on poker psychology

You can find many articles on the psychology of poker on the internet, but most of them are just a brief summary from books of well known psychologists and poker coaches. To fully work on the mental component of poker, it is worth reading the «full version». We have completed a list of top-5.

«The Psychology of Poker» by Alan Schoonmaker

One of the first to draw the attention of poker players to the psychological aspects of the game was PhD Alan Schoonmaker. His book «The Psychology of Poker» is perfect for beginners and micro / low limit players, and will be a starting point on the way to improving your mental skills at the poker tables.

Schoonmaker's other works are also recommended for reading: «Your worst poker enemy» and «Your best poker friend». In them, the author has already taken a more in-depth approach to solving psychological problems of players. All his literature is highly appreciated by poker community.

«The Mental Game of Poker» by Jared Tendler

Jared Tendler has been mentioned several times in this material for a reason. He wrote one of the most serious books on poker psychology, «The Mental Game of Poker». Many players consider Tendler's work to be the best of its kind.

It is worth noting that Jared, probably the best mental performance coach in the poker industry, studied all the nuances of poker quite deeply before writing the book. Two volumes of «The Mental Game of Poker» are written by a man who trained in terms of psychology of many famous and successful professional players.

«Positive Poker» by Patricia Cardner & Jonathan Little

Unlike Jared Tendler, Dr. Patricia Cardner is a bit lacking in teaching mental skills. However, in her book «Positive Poker», she has more than compensated for this with her research into the psychology of poker. The author's approach deserves special attention and this book is recommended reading for players who already have an idea about mental training in poker.

«Elements of Poker» by Tommy Angelo

Tommy Angelo's book «Elements of Poker» will also be useful for players who have not read poker psychology literature before. Despite some of the author's examples that are unlikely to be possible at the poker tables, this book will help the player build a proper perception of the game.

Why is it important to seek a mental game coach?

We would love to tell you more about meta practices, but frankly speaking, we are not yet qualified to do so. It's best to read the books we've recommended to you to get a better understanding from the source itself. If it is fundamental for you to get results in poker in the near future. There is no better way to improve your game than practicing with a personal mental coach.

The fact is that self-study requires high skills of personal efficiency in the field of education.

And even possessing them, sometimes it is difficult to separate the really important and useful from the secondary, which eventually leads to a large expenditure of time and effort with loss of motivation to develop further in poker. This happens because of the insufficient financial result compared to the invested efforts.

Mental game coaching is an additional expense, but the result can quickly become significant.

There will be inspiration and motivation to play and develop, and on these wings it is much easier for the player to achieve huge results, which will be a reason for him to develop in this profession further. It also happens and vice versa, that after lessons with the coach, the player realizes that poker is not his environment.

A good psychology coach dispels various illusions of the student and directs him to the path of disciplined work on the game. If the person is not ready for this, he simply quits poker or leaves it as a hobby, thus freeing up a lot of energy for other areas of activity, energy that could have been wasted on poker over years of ineffective self-study. So don’t stop and always improve your mental game to achieve better results faster!


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