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Poker News | PokerWorks Op-Ed

Poker Plus - Mind Games

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Playing poker is not only a game played with cards on the green felt, it is also a game played with thoughts bouncing around in your head. Most poker players will tell you their mental state has a lot to do with how well, or how bad, they do while playing poker.

If you pay attention to your wins and losses, and when they occur, you too may notice a mental block has seriously affected your game. For me, if I play when I am not feeling well, angry or upset, it is devastating to my bankroll. But can poker cause a mental poker block? Or a bad attitude towards playing?

Sure it can, and often it falls into the ‘going on tilt’ category.

The great game of poker is very complex. Winning doesn’t just depend on the cards you are dealt and how you play them, but also depends on your overall attitude towards the game. Outside factors can play a huge part in your success or failure to book a winning session. Some of these things that can be detrimental to your normal winning style are mentioned above, but not all of them can fit into the “mental block” category.

If you find yourself playing a few hands while waiting for company to show up for dinner, it can throw your game off. You may play hands you shouldn’t play, trying to book a fast win. Poker, played properly, takes time, and if you don’t have the time to invest, maybe you should forgo the game and wait until you have the free time to play, with no restrictions. If you played and lost, after the company leaves, you might jump back in a game to get even, although you may not be at your sharpest mentally.

This is when the mind games can start playing in your head. You convince yourself you need to get even, you are not too tired, nor did you have too much wine with dinner. When you get a few good hands cracked, this can cause Mr. Tilt to emerge and you start pushing your bad luck with bad plays and bad cards, losing even more.

For most of us who play online, daily distractions are normal, especially if you have children. Kids don’t get it when we are sitting at the computer for five hours playing in a tournament. They also have the uncanny ability to pop into your office, on a quest for an answer to the burning question “where do babies come from?” just at the moment you go all-in with your pocket Kings.

Lose this hand, and your mind may tell you it is all Junior’s fault, because he broke your concentration. But, Junior is not the only distraction your game may have to overcome; a poker player’s world is full of them. From ringing phones and family obligations to the neighbors popping in…they are all there just waiting to interrupt your game, at the worst possible time. Expecting these unwelcomed interruptions and how to handle them is something your mind has to learn, so it doesn’t affect your game and your bankroll.

The worst thing a player can do is approach a game with a negative losing attitude. Any Pro will tell you, when facing a big game, whether a tournament or cash game, they get geared up for it. This entails not only physical conditioning, but mental as well. Eating the right foods won’t make you a winning player if your head is all messed up and you have a negative attitude.

Consistent winners KNOW they are going to win and approach the game with a winning attitude. They appraise their opponents, convinced they will beat them all, because their skills are equal or better than anyone at the table. If they get some hands cracked, they sail past them to the next hand, not letting a beat get them out of gear. Because they have their minds under control, they will likely have a winning session to show for it.

Most of us average players, however, have yet to master our own minds, having complete control over our thoughts. We suffer through having hands beat that should have won and the dark cloud begins to form over our heads. Eventually, if we keep playing, the cloud starts penetrating our brains, bringing with it the negative thoughts, and we know, no matter what, we just can’t win a hand.

This is when a bell should go off in our head telling us to quit and save our stack for another, hopefully better day. But does it? No, not usually. What often happens is we again convince ourselves that our luck will change, if we just weather the storm for awhile longer, the donks can’t keep sucking out on us. The fact is, when things are going wrong they tend to stay wrong, and an unlucky run seldom makes an about face and turns into a rush. The lucky donk at the table may lose his horseshoe and start losing, but it most likely won’t be to you, because your luck is worse than his.

This I must admit is my downfall, my mind convinces me to keep playing, even though I can’t make a hand stand up. This is especially true if it is an action game, with loose players throwing their chips away. My mind tells me it is a game I should be able to win in, and it is too good to leave, even though I know I should get out.

Even after all my years of playing, I still struggle to emerge victorious over my own mind. When I am in the mood to play, I play, which is not always my best move. I know I can’t play when I am stressed out, mad or sick, but from time to time, I continue to do it anyway. Maybe it is hard for us old dogs to learn new tricks, but that doesn’t mean we should quit trying.

Currently I find myself in the wrong mindset to play, after having a few bad sessions where it didn’t matter that I started with the best time after time, the miracle river beat me. Now, my most formidable opponent is the negative thoughts in my own mind, causing a mental poker block to winning.

This is the time to take a break from it all, to get my mind in the right place, get back my winning attitude and hopefully find one of those horseshoes everyone at the table, except me, seems to possess.

Grab a Chair…see you there!

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