How to Develop & Master Your Poker Mindset
June 5, 2015 2 Comments
Developing a solid poker mindset is the single most important factor in determining if you will experience a profit in the long run from playing poker. This disciplined mindset is the direct result of countless hours of focused study and experience at the tables. This poker mindset ultimately requires a long, long amount of time to develop, and an even longer (if not infinite) amount of time to truly master.
Before we explain and discuss the concepts of a solid poker mindset, lets take a look at a video from mindset guru Sam Chauhan. Sam has helped many amateurs and professional players alike develop a strong poker mindset that is required to win.
In the video below, Sam teaches us how to remove limiting beliefs that inevitably will enable us to experience success not only poker, but any endeavor we undertake in life.
“If you want to be OUT STANDING at something, you have to STAND OUT from everyone else.”
The Poker Mindset Basics
At the fundamental level, playing winning poker in the long run requires a few basic personality traits and skills. These traits and skills include, but are certainly not limited to:
If you are not focused while playing poker, you will miss out on key information that your opponents will reveal over the course of the session. You must be intently focused on each and every action of each and every opponent during each and every hand.
When playing live poker, you will only have one table to focus on at a time. When not involved in a hand, our attention needs to be on how our opponents are acting in certain situations. This information will be extremely valuable to us when we become involved in a hand with them at a later time.
We can assume that many of our opponents are also focused on our style of play, especially at higher stakes. In many low stakes games, you will notice many opponents being distracted when not directly involved in a hand. If you can remain more focused than these opponents, you can effectively exploit their weaknesses when the situation is ideal.
Opponents who aren’t focused when in a hand will be at a significant disadvantage when getting involved in a hand with you, due to their sheer lack of information regarding your style of play. Subsequently, we will be at a significant advantage by having information gathered from simply paying attention during every hand.
When playing online, the dynamic can be quite different with the option of playing multiple tables at one time. To counter this disadvantage, many players like to use a HUD (heads-up display) to track each and every action of their opponents across each and every table. This HUD is essential for tracking opponent’s tendencies across many games when we cannot focus on each and every hand at every table.
The software uses the hand history our online poker client downloads onto our computer system, and it neatly displays this information next to each opponent at the table. Some of the most common statistics I like to evaluate when sizing up an opponents are VPIP%/PFR%/3B%/F3bet%/FCBET/AggressionFrequency. (These stats are explained in further detail here)
Essentially, I am concerned about how often each opponent voluntarily puts money in the pot, how many times this voluntary action is a raise instead of a call, how often my opponent will 3-bet an open raise, how often my opponent will fold to a 3-bet after opening the pot, how often my opponent will fold the flop after calling a bet pre-flop, and overall how aggressive the actions are of my opponent on each street of play (passive vs. aggressive/calling frequency vs. raising frequency).
These stats will help me determine what is the most optimal course of action to take against specific opponents in specific situations.
The software I like to use is called PokerTracker, and more information about this software can be found by clicking the banner below:
In my mind, discipline might be the most important trait to have if you want to succeed at poker in the long run. Without proper discipline, you will find yourself making key mistakes that will ultimately affect your bottom line (profit). No other trait can be compensated for quite like discipline. We can be extremely focused on the game, but if we find ourselves lacking discipline, we will ultimately still make incorrect decisions that can be avoided.
There are times during a session where you may find yourself making looser calls than normal, raising when you should be folding, and generally playing suboptimal due to a variety of external/internal factors. Note that any external/internal factors should never sway your level of discipline at any point if you truly want to succeed at this game. If you notice external factors are affecting your game in a negative way, you should consider quitting before you make fatal mistakes that will hurt your bankroll. This phenomenon is known in the poker world as “tilt.”
When we are able to understand the reasons behind why we “tilt”, we can work on developing how to avoid it overall. Everyone is prone to tilt at some point, along with the most successful players in the world. The video below is the best example of the negative effect “tilt” can have on a player. Phil Hellmuth is one of the most successful poker players of all time, but is certainly known more for his epic emotional explosions at the tables:
A majority of the times we are on “tilt”, we fail to recognize that we are on tilt. This is the biggest demon that haunts many players, and ultimately their long-term results. If we can exercise a level of self-awareness and realize when we may be tilting, we can avoid it altogether.
Strong negative emotions outweigh positive emotions tenfold. When we are winning, we are feeling happy and confident. We might be playing well, or we might be getting lucky, but either way we are generally in a good mood when we are winning.
On the contrary, when we are losing, we tend to let our emotions get the best of us. This emotional flaw eventually leads to suboptimal decision-making.
We may be playing our best poker possible, but still getting unlucky and losing as a result. These are times we begin to question ourselves and our playing ability. We might try to adjust our strategy in an attempt to cover our losses, and often times, this can lead us down a spiral of poor decision-making. We want to erase our losses as quickly as possible, and in doing so, we might end up losing more than we already have.
If you find yourself unable to deal with the fact that you can play “perfect” poker and still lose, poker might not be a good game to pursue. The luck element of poker is what makes poker profitable in the long run for the stronger, disciplined, emotionally balanced players.
Solid winning players aren’t results oriented. They are focused on making the most optimal decision regardless of the outcome. They trust that in the long-run, they will come out ahead more often than not.
This long-run has no exact timing preference, as negative variance in poker can occur for long stretches at a time no matter how you play. The only way to counter variance is to put in more volume. The more volume of hands you put in, the quicker the long run results manifest. This is assumed the volume that you put in is done with an optimal strategy in mind.
Intuition is defined as “a natural ability or power that makes it possible to know something without any proof or evidence : a feeling that guides a person to act a certain way without fully understanding why”
Having played millions of hands throughout my poker career, I have gained an intuitive feel for the game that is the direct result of a wealth of experience.
I have seen almost every situation possible at some point. I have been on both ends of every bad beat possible, and these beats/wins no longer sway my emotions throughout a session.
I know that I must stay emotionally balanced throughout the session and let the results take care of themselves. This emotional balance allows my intuition to shine in situations where I must determine the best possible course of action.
Against tougher opponents, I must rely on my intuition to guide me to the optimal decision. I will get a certain “feel” off opponents based on our previous hand history, and how I view their emotional state to currently be.
I pride myself on not giving away any emotional information or “tells” at the table, while subsequently searching for any little bit of information that my opponent may subconsciously reveal to me during a specific hand or session.
In live games, I will always wear headphones to eliminate the desire for anyone to try to communicate with me. I may be playing music, or I may have my volume on mute to pick up what my opponents are discussing without their knowledge of me doing so. A lot of players like to discuss how they played certain hands with their fellow opponents after the hand is over.
These opponents subconsciously give away a lot about how they approach certain situations, and this enables me to determine a breaking point of how far they are willing to go with certain strengths of hands. Having this information, I can effectively bluff my opponents when I know they will fold, and I can place correctly sized precision value bets when I know how much they are most likely willing to call off.
Certain opponents are afraid to lose chips, while others will gladly donate you their entire stack when they have any sort of hand.
My intuition guides me throughout this bet sizing process based on previous information I have gathered from my opponents. I “feel” where an opponent is most likely to be in a specific situation, and I can act accordingly by bluffing when I know I am behind, or value betting when I know I am ahead.
This level of thinking is only developed from experience, and the more experience you have, the easier it is to size up your opponents.
Courage in poker is defined as having the confidence to take the action you have determined to be the most optimal.
We can come to the conclusion in a hand that we are probably ahead, but if we cannot pull the trigger and call the bluff, we will never truly be winners at the game. If we have studied and practiced long enough with ample experience, we generally will have a feeling of where we are in specific hand situations.
It takes courage in these situations to ACT, and trust our intuitive instincts.
We cannot be afraid to lose.
We must have an emotional disdain for money if we want to be long-term winners. We cannot let the value of money affect our decision-making because we are afraid of losing money in the short-term.
In the long-run, if we consistently make +EV decisions, we will experience an overall profit. Our wins will outweigh our unlucky losses, and we can develop our game and ultimately increase our bankrolls.
If we have the opportunity to get our money in as a 60% favorite, we must take this opportunity every time.
If we are practicing proper bankroll management, the times we get unlucky and lose to the 40% hand will not hurt our overall life line. Treat these unlucky losses as a “poker tax.”
This is a tax you must pay at times to continue playing the game. The weaker opponents must win sometimes, otherwise there would be no chance for exploiting them for profit in the long run. These weaker opponents will never want to play if they know they have no chance of winning.
What should be running through your mind during a hand?
Below I have listed a few of the questions that I must ask myself during each hand that I play. Failing to determine the logical answer to any of these questions creates opportunities for sub-optimal decision-making, which can be detrimental to your results in the long run.
Questions you need to ask your self to determine the optimal decision in each specific hand and situation:
-What is my position in this hand? (early/middle/late)
-What is my stack size?
-What are my opponents stack sizes?
-What has happened in the last few hands at this table? See: meta game
-How do my opponents perceive my style of play?
-How do my opponents think I perceive their style of play?
-If playing live, what kind of emotional state do my opponents seem to be in? (tired,upset,focused,etc.)
-If playing online, what kind of timing tells are my opponents giving away, and what do these timing tells ultimately tell me about the strength of their hand?
–What is my current emotional state?
-Is this emotional state in ANY way affecting the way I am playing up to this point?
-Are my opponents aware of this current emotional state? (If you think they are, work on avoiding giving away emotional tells in the future.)
Some additional questions to ponder during your session:
–What time of day is it?
Many opponents that play long sessions into the wee hours of the night chasing losses tend to play more hands, albeit poorly, and are more willing to call when they have any kind of strong hand. These same opponents are not good targets for bluffing.
–How much longer am I willing to play if I notice certain opponents go on tilt?
We must be willing to commit ourselves to continue playing a session when we recognize an opponent who is playing suboptimal and willing to donate us money.
–Do the chips feel like money?
During losing sessions, you may feel an emotional attachment to losing more chips, and this will negatively effect your play during the rest of the session.
If the chips begin to feel like money, it is time to quit. If you want to continue playing, consider playing at a lower stake where you have a higher percentage chance of winning, and will not be risking as much money in the process.
Developing your poker mindset as we discussed earlier is a never-ending process.
How you approach this process is directly up to you, and how you feel. You may choose to not play poker at all, or you may choose to play poker with the intention of improving your game.
If you choose the latter, understand that there will be times during your poker career that you think you know everything, and everything seems to be working for you. Avoid this common trap by always seeking to improve your game, no matter how “good” you perceive yourself to be.
Understand that there is always someone else in this world working harder than you are. With this understanding, remain humble in the fact that you have the opportunity to work harder at any given moment.
Whether it be in poker, or any other life endeavor, there is always room for improvement.
Remaining stagnant in your growth puts you behind the curve of others who are growing each and every day. Make a commitment to growth each and every single day, and in return, you will find yourself manifesting the results you desire to achieve.
Good luck at the tables! 🙂