This article will cover many different aspects of the poker mindset, but I’ll begin with the following. Sometimes people ask my opinion on the #1 factor for winning in poker. I will usually reply with, “Patience, No Ego, No Greed.”
However, now that I think about it, literally as I’m typing this, you can’t get to Patience, No Ego, No Greed without the right mindset. Therefore, you can make a strong argument that poker mindset is the #1 factor for winning.
I would like to tell you a story. It’s not a specific story of a certain event. It’s more like me paraphrasing a time in my poker career. It feels like yesterday, but it definitely wasn’t yesterday. Following this story, I will cover four poker mindset questions that have been asked.
A Kind-Of Poker Story
Some of you already know that I was told that I couldn’t beat the rake in a 3/6 FL game. So, I set out to play 12 sessions in 3/6 FL and won every time. If I’m not mistaken, I later played 13 sessions and won every time. I lost a few sessions after those two winning streaks.
That was simply due to Ego, which in this case led to uber-aggression. I became incredibly aggressive because I felt I was invincible. This DOES NOT fall into a poker rules for winning.
Whether you want to admit it or not, in poker games and poker tournaments, when you’re winning, you’re reacting to situations and patterns as best you can. When you’re losing in poker games and poker tournaments, it’s because you’re forcing those situations, which also means there is no time to evaluate the patterns of your opponents.
This all relates to poker mindset. I’ll tell you why. For nearly a decade, I have had a similar tradition on my way to Harrah’s Cherokee. After getting off I-40 and merging onto the Great Smoky Mountain Expressway, I have about 15 minutes to the rest area.
I don’t always stop at the rest area, I just know that from that point on, I have approximately 30 minutes until I reach Harrah’s Cherokee. I remove the Petey’s Bing (healthy energy drink) from my middle console (keeps it cool even without ice), pop it open, and play music at a higher-than-usual decibel.
Poker Mindset: Good Vibes
Currently, that music is high-energy music with a good vibe. When I was being incredibly aggressive, I would blast Rob Zombie from the rest area to Harrah’s Cherokee. I wanted to get into an evil poker mindset, where I would crush everyone in my way. Here’s what happened.
I would get away with that in the 3/6 FL game because the people playing in that game were playing with scared money. Once I picked up on that, my poker strategy became simple, which was to raise pre-flop with a marginal hand or better in an attempt to isolate and continue to apply pressure until resistance. If I had a hand, I would stick with it even if there was resistance.
Since I had taken a long time to prove I could beat the rake in 3/6 FL, I hadn’t played much No Limit for a while. This was a long time ago, in 2013, which was the year before I wrote my first book. It’s difficult for me to even remember a time when I didn’t have any poker books out there.
Anyway, when I attempted this approach in Super 1/2 NL (max buy-in of $500) or 2/5 NL, I would get crushed. It was like being slapped upside the head by Aunt Jemimia.
That would really hurt because Aunt Jemima has been five different people in real life: Nancy Green, Anna Robinson, Edith Wilson, Rosie Lee Moore Hall, and Aylene Lewis, but when you lose in poker games and/or poker tournaments, you’re essentially being smacked upside the head by five people. It’s usually not just one person who takes chips from you.
Poker Mindset: Angry Mode
Basically, in 2013, I was approaching Harrah’s Cherokee in angry mode. That poker mindset led to a lot of aggression. When you’re too aggressive, you’re predictable, you’re not going to have any respect from your opponents on bluffs, and you’re allowing your opponents to set traps. Unless you’re at a very passive table, it doesn’t work.
Now when I drive on the Great Smoky Mountain Expressway and pop open a Petey’s Bing while passing the rest area, I make it a party. Whatever music I’m playing is going to be high energy. That’s a much better poker mindset to have when you approach a poker room, whether that’s for cash games or Texas Hold’em poker tournaments.
It sounds simple, but you’re setting a good mood, which means you will enter the poker room in a good mood. When you’re in a good mood, you’re much more likely to make good decisions.
Now let’s get to those four questions related to poker mindset. Pay attention to these answers because those answers fit into our poker rules for winning.
Question #1: How Do You Improve Your Poker Mindset?
It’s a matter of the virtuous cycle vs. the vicious cycle. You want to put yourself on the former path.
The virtuous cycle refers to a positive chain of events that reinforces itself. When something good happens, it’s likely to lead to another positive result. It’s like smiling. When you’re in a group and you smile, it’s more likely that someone else will smile. On the negative side, if you yawn in a group, it’s more likely that someone else will yawn.
From August of last year to March of this year, I had 15 final tables. I felt unstoppable. This stretch included two final tables in one day on the WSOP Circuit, cashing in four of six WSOP ring events, winning three tournaments in one week in Florida, and final tabling two tournaments out of two attempts in Pearl River for a Gulf Coast Poker series.
From March through this August, I had two final tables out of dozens and dozens of attempts. I have since gotten back on track, but I don’t want to discuss that yet. It’s too early for confirmation.
Do you think it’s an accident that I won that much during the first stretch and lost that much during the second stretch? No Chance!
When you win, you expect to win the next time you play. Once again, when something good happens, it’s likely to lead to another positive result. There was something in my personal life that played a major role in my change of fortune at the poker table in March.
That might have recently been sorted out, which is why I’m back on track, but once I started losing, I began making poor decisions. It even got to a point where I expected to lose. Looking back on it, I was putting myself in high variance situations, which is the complete opposite of my style. I wasn’t being me.
What I’m trying to tell you is that you need to have your home life straight in order to have the right poker mindset going into poker games or Texas Hold’em poker tournaments. This is a very important off-the-felt poker tip. If you don’t have a clear mind, you’re going to play cloudy.
Question #2: How Do I Maintain Emotional Control In Poker?
When I see someone get emotional at the poker table, I know they’re either weak or much weaker than they appear to be. The former relates to any poker player. The latter relates to professional poker players.
I’m not going to reveal any names, but I have seen dozens of professional poker players get emotional at the poker table, which leads to me removing the word ‘professional’ from their name in my mind. A professional poker player doesn’t go on poker tilt.
I know what you’re going to say: Everyone goes on poker tilt. This is true to a certain extent, but the degrees of poker tilt vary greatly. For instance, when I went on poker tilt years ago, I would be raising and calling with reckless abandon.
Today when I go on poker tilt, you will never see it on my face or through my body language (as far as I know), and it will usually consist of playing one hand that didn’t deserve to be played. By playing that hand, I’m recognizing that I’m approaching tilt and tell myself to stop.
That said, it’s rare that I go on tilt. After something bad happens, I will usually fold the next hand, as well as many poker hands after that. This allows me to settle down and maintain emotional control, and it lets the players at the table know that it’s going to take a lot to shake me.
If you want respect at the table, play fewer poker hands when emotion begins to play a role. Very few poker players can do this, but if you’re one of them, people will pick up on it, and they might even peg you as a professional when they see it.
Question #3: What Can I Do To Develop Self-Discipline In Poker?
I have written about this in the Poker Q&A articles, but you might not have read those. I even wrote an entire book about this. It’s called The Perfect Range. It’s available in three formats: digital, paperback, audio. I consistently receive Thank You notes from readers because it changed their poker games.
On the surface, it’s about only playing certain poker hands and sticking to a specific range. That is the poker strategy, which is called SPATS, but the underlying goal is to prevent poker players from going on tilt. If you can only play certain poker hands, then emotion is removed from the equation and you’re forced to remain disciplined. This plays an enormous role in success/failure.
Most readers who apply SPATS think they’re winning due to a combination of patience and unpredictability. This is true, but they might not realize the incredible amount of losses they’re preventing. Saving all those chips is what allows them to win a lot (more ammunition).
If that doesn’t sound like it will work for you, try Poker Golf. I haven’t written a book about this concept yet, but I might in the future. It’s something I came up with a few years ago after playing poorly.
The premise is that every time you make an error, you add a stroke to your session. The ultimate goal is to finish the session at par, but that’s incredibly difficult. You definitely want to be +1, +2, or +3. Once you hit +4, it’s almost guaranteed to be a losing session. For Texas Hold’em poker tournaments, you want to set your goal to +2 at the highest.
One amazing thing about Poker Golf is that it proves poker is a skill game. Whenever I apply Poker Golf, I realize that I almost always win when I finish at E, +1, or +2; I sometimes win/sometimes lose when at +3; and I almost always lose when I’m at +4 or higher. Tells you something, doesn’t it?
Poker Golf is an out-of-the-box poker tip that can help you a great deal. It’s going to extremely effective!
Question #4: How Do I Get Into A Positive Mindset After A Downswing?
You have two options in this situation. One, play down. This means you should play in less competitive poker games so you can regain your confidence and rebuild your bankroll. Two, go on poker hiatus. This is never fun, but it always works because you’re resetting your mind without even realizing it. That reset will lead to simplicity when you return, and simplicity is bliss.
Now you know everything you need to know about poker mindset. Read, study, apply. If you’re ever in a bind, I highly recommend reading The Perfect Range or applying Poker Golf to your next few sessions. Let me know how it works out.
♠ pokerjournal.org / Tyler Nals
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