Jared Tendler Session Three – The Slot Machine

“So what is your take on progress from the week before?” Jared Tendler asked me right at the start of the session.

In between session one and session two I won more money that I had in previous weeks. As usual I got carried away and thought that Jared had cured all of my tilt diseases in one session. In between session two and three I couldn’t win a poker hand against my Grandmother and she has never played the game. Although I knew deep down in the recess of my mind that I was improving, my results were not showing it. I was also receiving feedback from my friends who play poker regularly with me. This feedback was positive – they were telling me that they had noticed distinctively different behaviours for the betterment of my game. This feeling that I was improving did not pay the bills – money did – and this was weighing heavily on my mind as we started the session.

I had been keeping a log of all the times that I had felt myself losing control and veering away from my A-game – my tilt log. I went through a hand that I had lost the previous night in the pub because it was fresh in my mind.

The game was 5 card Irish. If you are unfamiliar with this form of poker let me briefly explain the rules. You are dealt five cards in the hole and there is a round of betting. You then have a flop and another round of betting. Then each player discards three of their hole cards and only keeps two of them. Then you see and bet a turn and a river. The flop was 9h5h3c and I kept the nine and the five for top two pair. I also had a three in my hand so I had blockers for all three set combinations. There was a flush draw on the flop and this is what I expected my sole opponent to keep given the cards that I had in my hand. To cut right to the chase my opponent had position on me and I knew he was going to bet hard on the turn and river irrespective of him hitting his flush or not. The flush did not hit and I called two pot-sized bets on the turn and the river. He did have the flush draw as I had anticipated but hit a backdoor straight to win the pot. The reason this put me on tilt so much was because it was the biggest pot of the night and I had lost it despite winning most of the earlier pots. This was becoming a habit in my mind.

Jared did what Jared does best by digging and digging until he got to the root of the problem. His techniques are very similar to the techniques used by Toyota in their application of lean principles – in particular the use of the five why line of questioning.

In my mind, learning and results comes hand in hand. If I were spending as much time playing darts as I was playing poker then I would expect my scoring to increase and my accuracy to get better and I would win more matches. I am not seeing the direct correlation in poker. Not only is Jared Tendler helping my game but I also pay my own personal poker coach $125 per hour. During a recent live game a friend of mine had this conversation with me.

Friend – You have a poker coach?

Me – Yes

Friend – How much does it cost?

Me – It costs $125 per hour.

Friend – You pay $125 per hour for a poker coach – I assume you are winning? How much are you winning?

Me – I am not winning.

Friend – Then what are you paying him for then?

This encapsulates my thinking in a nutshell. Jared asked me what my reply was to the final question. I told him that it was a difficult one because I found it difficult trying to explain the concept to someone who didn’t understand poker. He then asked me to explain the answer to him and I couldn’t. We had found another problem. A problem found through asking the right questions. Jared quoted Albert Einstein.

You don’t really know something until you can explain it to your Grandmother

I could not explain the realities of poker to someone because it was not showing up strongly enough on my radar. If it were I would have answered the question immediately and confidently. Poker is not like any other competitive activity. You are not an athlete or a footballer. You are a slot machine and just like a slot machine you are going to win by making small amounts of money over time and paying out a lot of money in small chunks. I needed to place more reference on this understanding.

We talked about the fact that poker is a closed system. There are no miracle cards or poker gods – just a finite number of possibilities that could happen during each hand. As discussed before, knowing this stuff just doesn’t cut the mustard. It’s like comparing taking a woman out on a first date and then being married to the Dragon after twenty years. Your relationship with this information has not yet grown to the extent where you can even recite it to a stranger in a pub. That will take time and when you are searching for instant gratification and results – like I am – this presents a problem with the learning process I am trying to apply.

Jared explains that you need to prepare yourself for every eventual outcome at the poker table. Even prepare yourself for making mistakes. This preparation will lead to a greater understanding and this greater understanding will help you through the tough periods in the game. If you don’t know how to do this then spend some time giving it some serious thought.

“If you were able to take all of what your poker coach and I have taught you and tomorrow you could master it, what would happen then?” Asked Jared.

Good bloody question because when you think hard about it not much would change in the short term if anything at all. You would still get your money in on the turn as an 82% favourite and you will still be unable to stop that river card breaking your heart. Poker coaches do not give you Gandalf like powers of wizardry. Jared’s point was the learning process takes time and he helped me understand this.

I am placing far too much emphasis on the here and now. I have given up my nine to five managerial position and a steady pay cheque to pursue a career as a writer and poker player. Each and every time I play a hand at the moment I feel like my whole life is on the line. Jared Tendler has managed to drag this knowledge to the forefront of my mind and is helping me to understand it and learn from it.

Preparing yourself for the reality of poker includes realising that the results of hands of poker in the short term are unreliable measures as your abilities as a poker player. Take the hand of Irish as an example. I lost the hand so you could say the experience was negative and that is exactly how I have been thinking. But the line of thought I went through before making my final decision on the river would not have been possible if I had not had a poker coach in the first place. The hand represents a step forward in my quest to become a winning poker player. It has nothing but positive connotations to it but without the help of Jared to see that it would have gone unnoticed.

It is like a balancing scale. Right now the external loss outweighs – in relative value – the internal recognition of that decision making process. That hand in particular was a boost; it says I know that I am on the right track. Let me keep on doing what I am doing, let me enhance what I am doing and then let me take less energy out of the external result in the short term to determine the quality of that internal decision.

Session one was about understanding that I have an underlying flaw in my learning style. Sessions two and three were understanding a little bit more about what makes Lee Davy tick, what goes through his mind when making decisions and what makes him tilt. Session four will be about putting a tangible plan together to prepare for life at the tables without Jared.

In the meantime I am just going to try to concentrate on the fact that I will make mistakes and all of this business takes time to learn. Don’t wallow in my own self-pity and recognise the important milestones and take pride from them instead of beating myself up.

This article first appeared in BLUFF Europe magazine.

Jared Tendler is the mental game coach for over 160 poker players from 21 countries.  To find out more about him or his upcoming book visit www.jaredtendlerpoker.com.