26/06/2008

It's All in the Mind You Know

Carl Sampson 'The Dean'

I think that there comes a time in the life of any poker player where improvement in ones technical knowledge becomes more and more difficult. For serious students of the game then this point can arrive after only a couple of years or so of intense study. With others it can take longer depending on various factors like information sources and how each individual absorbs and interprets their own data resources.

Firstly I am not saying that there comes a time where serious players cannot learn anything else because that would be doing a game as complex as poker a serious disservice. What makes the game so fascinating is that you have the ability to learn something new every single day or at least you should if you are approaching the game in the correct way.

But in the early days, certain types of information may have seemed absolutely ground breaking to you and quantum leaped your understanding of poker. But these leaps forward in knowledge and understanding begin to slow down as you become aware of more and more information. This can then reach a stage where extra knowledge can even become counter productive if it steers you away from an already established successful style of play.

But there comes a stage where technical ability and knowledge eventually plateaus and when this time arrives (which it surely must if you work hard enough) then it is difficult to locate specific areas of information that will improve your earn rate. Knowledge after all is only useful if it can translate to earning you money. If it can’t then all it is really is general poker knowledge.

It took me a long time to realise that there is a world of difference between knowledge and money making knowledge. But also it will reach a stage where the old fashioned established values of what you think is required of you in order to be able to beat the game at a certain level may not apply. With the online game getting tougher by the week then this just highlights the case in point. It may no longer be enough to “know the game” or to take large volumes of notes. The ways that professional players achieved their edge in days gone by have lost much of their effectivness simply because too many people are doing the same thing.

But other factors begin to elevate in importance when technical knowledge becomes pretty standardised. Factors like game selection become critical and even picking your times of confrontation for instance. Poker is when all said and done a mind game and if your mind is not in the proper state or has not received the proper preparation then the chances of you playing your “A” game are slim.

In fact I mentioned this in a post by Barney a while back which gave me the idea for the article. In that post Barney talked about planning for another tournament whilst still be active in the current one. Far be it from me to preach to him because he knows full well what I am talking about anyway. But this leads me onto another issue and that is physical preparation. This is another underestimated side of the game with proper sleep being critical to a full time player or a player who is scheduled to participate in a long tournament.

But poker isn’t about fat middle aged men sat around a table wearing a Stetson and smoking cigars anymore. The average ability of the young and up and coming players now can put the older generation to shame (most of them anyway). They are younger, fitter, sharper and more receptive to learning and utilising new methods of improving their games. They also have greater levels of mental stamina now with many of the young guns having proper diet and exercise regimes installed. There is far more to playing successful poker these days than merely knowing how to play cards.

The old guard can’t even rely on their experience because the online players are getting the same amount of technical experience in a fraction of the time due to the increased pace of online play and the facility to multi-table. But no amount of reading poker books or learning how to play a certain hand in a certain position can combat an undisciplined lazy mindset or bad mental preparation.

If you are lazy and lack discipline in real life, what makes you think that you can just switch this on at the poker table? If you are ahead by $2000 and having a great session and then persist in blowing half the money back by becoming too aggressive and reckless with your winnings all because you are cock a hoop then this is a discipline problem.

No amount of reading or studying or even experience for that matter can correct this unless the study is geared towards behavioural issues. It is no good reading some book that simply tells you “not to tilt” or “don’t ever play while tired” or whatever. All these statements are so obvious to most people that they become almost worthless. The key is to look deeper within your own mind as to why you do certain things and what you can do personally to prevent destructive personality traits because this will differ from person to person. But one of the areas that you really need to be looking at is in mental preparation for every session and also making the effort to ensure that you are on your “A” game mentally because this is where you really need to be on it.

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