29/06/2009

Plotting a Way Through the Mental Minefield

Carl Sampson 'The Dean'

Lets face it... most of us on here already know poker pretty damn well. We bloody well ought to do, we do enough reading, studying, playing and talking about it. We may argue about the odd hand and how it should be played but in reality these are minor things in what is a far greater picture.

One player may have an edge over another player in terms of technical knowledge but just how important is that? I think that we all attribute too much importance to technical knowledge in poker as if it’s the be all and end all. At times it is easy to get lost in learning strategies for this and strategies for that and how to handle a certain player in this or that situation.

I know that I have probably spent too much time over the years studying poker theory. This is probably the reason why I am now struggling to retain concentration for even very short lengths of time as this is a part of the game that I never focused on. As I have mentioned before I have started reading books on sports psychology recently and am desperately trying to improve my concentration levels.

Strange as it may seem, I used to believe that a frequent loss of focus was an indication of a weakness of will but it actually isn’t. It can actually be a result based around your own individual brain configurations and may be something that you cannot combat easily.

Reading excerpts from sports stars who are at the top of their field and it is clear that mental preparation and the ability to concentrate at all times or to be able to shift concentration is a primary reason for success. My studies on this fascinating topic are ongoing but yet the possibilities are endless.

Quoting a line from a book that I am currently reading (for the fourth time), the ex-100m runner Mike Marsh said how sprinting was 90% mental and only 10% physical. Thinking about this for a minute, I wouldn’t mind guessing that poker has a similar ratio when you compare the importance of technical knowledge as opposed to psychological prowess and mental stamina and concentration levels.

Imagine a NL600 player who cannot play more than three tables at once who is earning $100/hour. To earn more than this then this player has three options, move up a level to NL1000, play more hours or play more tables. We will assume that this player is already very strong technically and that any further progress in that area would be very difficult and the effects therefore would be marginal.

What if playing more hours isn’t possible? Either through having other commitments or just because they simply cannot stomach any more hours sat in front of a computer. What if the decrease in value at NL1000 and the greater need for table selection means that their total earn at this level is no more or even less than at NL600?

Is this it... can this player not make any more money from poker? Well I don’t think so and I believe that the option to play more tables is a more viable option than what many players realise as a way of earning more money without moving up or playing more hours.

I used to switch from single tabling to multi-tabling and I initially struggled. What my problem was looking back was that I was playing more tables but I wasn’t increasing my concentration levels to match that.

This is an area of my game that I am really starting to work on because I believe that all players have the ability to be able to expand the level that they are currently at in terms of current earnings by expanding their concentration levels. Please don’t ask me for any concrete answers to this, I am still learning and improving as we speak and I will let you know what happens as I progress.

But imagine if our NL600 player could manage six tables with the same earn rate that he could achieve with three... suddenly $100/hour becomes $200/hour. The mental effort to do this would be considerable but yet this may be an easier option than moving to NL1000.

I am now getting to the stage where I am becoming immensely fascinated in this topic because it starts to ask serious questions regarding just what is possible for us at certain levels. Just how far can you push the barriers as a NL50 player? How hard can you focus and for how long? Can you turn that $20/hour into $50/hour by working harder mentally?

Just what is the “combat ceiling” of the level that you are playing at? A complex question with even more complex answers but maybe joining a mental gymnasium and building up your mental stamina and concentration levels could see you start to push the boundaries of your own particular level far beyond what you ever thought possible... watch this space.

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