25/07/2011

Mental Game of Poker Excerpt 3 - Fear Profile

Jared Tendler

The Mental Game of Poker
The Mental Game of Poker
by Jared Tendler and Barry Carter

We have the third excerpt from The Mental Game of Poker written by Jared Tendler & Barry Carter. The book is now available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.


Before addressing your fears directly, first recognize and understand them better. The best way is to identify your patterns of doubt, anxiety, and fear. Here are a few questions to get you started:

  • What are the situations that typically provoke doubt, anxiety, or fear?
  • What are your earliest signs of fear?
  • Can you identify the point when anxiety goes from helping you perform to being excessive and causing problems?
  • How do you experience anxiety? (Heart pounding, sweating, nausea, dry mouth, foot or hand tapping, etc.)

When analyzing your pattern, think about the presence of the five common symptoms of fear described below. Poker players often view these as being inherently negative and bad for their game. They’re not. They are associated with the underlying flaw(s) causing your fear. When you understand them, you’re a step closer to removing them and solving your problems with anxiety and fear.

1. Overthinking

Fear causes your mind to race, to go around in circles, and to obsess over one thing. This happens because your mind can’t find the answer(s) to your underlying question(s). The antidote to fear is certainty, so the mind does everything it can to find an answer. When really desperate to find an answer, the mind continues until it’s exhausted or gets distracted.

Since the mind is limited to a finite number of things it can think about at one time, write down your thoughts. Writing down what you’re worried about makes it easier to figure out the underlying question(s) you’re trying to answer. Once you’ve identified the question(s), write out the answer(s).

Overthinking creates confusion and clutter in your mind. A cluttered mind is like a cluttered desk; it’s difficult to find what you’re looking for. Writing helps you to clear out the clutter and use your mind more efficiently to find answers.

2. Not Trusting Your Gut

You know the right play, but go against it. Why? It’s because you don’t trust the answer your gut spits out. This begs the question, “what the hell is the gut?” If you don’t know what the gut is, it makes sense why you wouldn’t trust it. Essentially, the gut is skills at the level of Unconscious Competence reacting to the situation with an answer. It’s the mental version of an athletic reaction in sports.

One example of this is when a basketball player driving to the basket instantly adjusts the placement of the ball in his hand to avoid a defender’s attempt to cut him off. There’s no thinking in this athletic move, it’s a purely instinctive reaction. The same is true on a mental level; the gut doesn’t think to come up with the answer, the answer is just known.

Mental reactions, just like athletic ones, happen thanks to deeply ingrained skill. If you don’t trust your gut, you don’t trust all the work you’ve put into learning the game. When your gut is right, you learn it’s something you can trust and use as a part of your decision making. However, sometimes your training is old or flawed, so your gut is wrong. When that happens, it means you’ve found a weakness in your knowledge base to correct. Once you correct that weakness, your game becomes even more solid because your gut is more accurate.

3. Second-guessing

While you’re playing, the urge to know the correct decision in hands where you lost or made a mistake can be so strong that you replay them repeatedly in your mind or review the actual hand history. You’ve made a move, lost the hand, and now you question it. You wonder if it was wrong. There are so many times when the decision is close and not knowing if it was right or wrong can be agonizing.

Second-guessing means you have doubts or questions about a decision after you make it. Often, this is fueled by a desire to make sure you don’t lose more or make more mistakes. However, being distracted by previous hands makes both more likely to happen. The best thing to do is to take a quick note and then revisit the hand after you’re done playing.

4. Performance Anxiety

Playing poker is a test to prove what you know. Players with performance anxiety put so much pressure on themselves to make the correct decision that they overthink, don’t trust their gut, and second-guess their decisions. Unfortunately, these actions make them play worse and make it harder for them to access all of their poker knowledge.

Test your game when you play poker instead of overthinking, not trusting your gut, or second-guessing your decisions. Then you can more accurately evaluate the strengths and weaknesses in your game so you know specifically what needs to improve. This way you’re better prepared to take the next test.

5. Negative Future

More fear is created by anticipating the fear you will have about certain things that could happen in the future. This fear of fear causes players to make mistakes, delay starting a session, avoid high-variance plays, and play less poker overall. What creates this additional fear is the belief that what is predicted to happen in the future will happen. They don’t just think they’re going to play badly and lose, they know it.

Poker players make shitty psychics. They can’t predict the future. What they imagine happening in the future is a prediction, not what will actually happen. Believing the prediction will become a reality adds more fear, which prevents a player from thinking clearly. Consequently, losing, making mistakes, and a bad run become more likely—and what was previously feared becomes a reality. Preparation, injecting logic while playing, and the writing exercises described in the next session, all make it less likely that your predicted negative future will become a reality.

The Mental Game of Poker, by Jared Tendler & Barry Carter, is now available at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.