There is a real chicken-and-the-egg feel to poker: which comes first in the armoury of a big tournament winner? Is it luck (i.e. getting a series of good hands) or the skill to make the absolute most of your good fortune?
Most in the game would agree that you can be the luckiest player in the world, but without the competence and nuance to really make the most of your pocket aces, you will, in time, regress to your mean as an average poker player.
The ‘skill’ that we speak of is a combination of knowing exactly what to do in any given situation at the table, but also having the right mindset to remain calm, focused and disciplined at all times – even after suffering the almightiest of bad beats.
That term – ‘mindset’ – is absolutely paramount. To give you a flavour of why, Fedor Holz (career earnings $32m, World Series of Poker bracelet winner) and Matt Berkey (career earnings $4m, two-time World Series of Poker third-place finisher) both employ the services of a ‘mindset coach’ in Elliot Roe.
“Everyone who plays poker wants to be successful, but it’s only those who take on the identity of success, and then act upon that identity, who are able to achieve consistent results at the highest level,” are just some of his words of wisdom on the topic.
What is mindset?
The Cambridge Dictionary very simply defines mindset as “a person’s way of thinking and their opinions”.
There are a couple of interesting takeaway points from that. The first is that there is an insinuation that we all have a different way of thinking, and this is certainly true in poker: hence why some of us are risk-averse, conservative, and tend to play in low buy-in games, whereas others are brash, aggressive, take risks, and aren’t afraid to throw down their bankroll on a high-limit poker game.
The second key point is that opinions can differ in poker as they can on any other topic. We accept that there is a right way and a wrong way to play certain hands, but it’s the grey area that exists between right and wrong with certain combinations of cards that can help to define success.
Our poker mindset is simply the way that we think about the game, and our opinions on how certain situations on the felt should be managed.
Can we improve our mindset, or is it ingrained in us?
Why do some players continuously play their best under the heaviest of pressure, while others wilt under the spotlight at the first available opportunity?
That is all down to each individual’s psychological approach, and the evidence suggests that exceptional poker players aren’t born – they are made.
That’s because they have worked on their mindset to the point where they can handle any situation that the game throws at them.
Let’s take a look at some common themes that the average poker player faces:
· Performance anxiety
· Self-sabotage (the ‘fear of success’)
· Imposter syndrome
· Mental exertion
· Emotional swings
· Peaks and troughs of confidence
When you look at it like that, why do any of us put ourselves through it?!
Of course, the rewards for playing well and cashing your chips is what drives on poker players, and any of those bullet points listed above can be counteracted with the correct mindset.
Just like you can improve your understanding of when to fold, call and raise based on hand percentages, you can also enhance your ‘brain game’ to ensure that you enter into each session full of confidence and able to perform to the best of your abilities.
Below, we have offered up four tips to help improve your mindset. These are universal, and applicable to 99% of poker players on the planet.
Four tips to improve your poker mindset
Whether you plan on being the next Phil Ivey or are simply happy taking your friends to the cleaners in your cash games, your poker mindset will be key to your success.
We go to the gym to train our bodies, and you can apply the same discipline for improving your mind.
Here are four things to consider about your poker mindset.
1. Adopt a professional mindset
Even if your ambitions in poker are low-key and humble, by adopting the mindset of a poker pro, your game will improve exponentially.
It’s not just thinking like a champion – it’s all of the physical aspects that go into it as well.
In the old days, the pros would be smoking and drinking at the felt, and many would be in poor shape, unfit and overweight, and perhaps not looking after themselves as they should be.
With the huge sums of money available in poker these days, it’s no surprise that there has been an upturn in professionalism, both in mind and body.
If you play in tournaments and have designs on reaching the final table, you will need to be able to concentrate and focus for hours on end.
If you are professional in your approach to that, then you will undoubtedly have the edge on your peers.
2. Stay in the moment
It’s a bit of a cash cow, this phrase, but there is more to ‘staying in the moment’ than just pseudo-hippy lip service.
Do you know why the best poker players are able to play consistently well, week after week? It’s because they are able to compartmentalise their lives – poker and everything else.
When you enter a poker game, this should be your sole focus. We all have stuff going on in our lives that, occasionally, makes it difficult to concentrate, but if your attention wavers, you will struggle to play consistently good poker.
Staying ‘in the now’ is easier said than done, but it will benefit you immensely if you can learn to utilise a ‘tunnel vision’ approach.
3. Study hard
It doesn’t matter how good you are – you can always get better.
The philosophy of continual learning is well-established in many fields, and the same is true of poker.
The game has changed over the past decade – the advancement of online poker has seen to that, and the type of person that now plays the game is a lot different, as is how they go about their business.
Be studious – study the game, and try to learn how the pros adapt to certain situations on the felt. Learn new strategies, read blogs, listen to podcasts, watch live streams of big-time poker online.
The day you stop learning is the day you stop improving.
4. Hakuna matata
Yes, it’s a phrase in Swahili most commonly attributed to a kids’ movie from the 1990s.
However, ‘hakuna matata’ is also a useful thought process to have in mind when taking to the poker table.
There will be good times and bad times – we know that – and it’s how you respond to bad beats and missed opportunities that will ultimately define you as a poker player.
This is an emotion-led game, and there will be times when you get things wrong and also when you have to calm down after a big winning hand.
Nobody is saying that you should be singing hits from The Lion King at the table, but emotions lead to bad decisions – and bad decisions lead to early exits from tournaments.
There you have it: we’ve learned how important your mindset is in poker, and also techniques to ensure that you remain in a good mindset throughout your games.
If you want to put your new-found knowledge to the test, you can try your hand at a variety of poker games right here at Bitcasino. Register today, grab your welcome bonus, and see if your mindset can lead to some nice profit.
Words: Josh Dixon