Don’t stop yourself from winning

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Don’t stop yourself from winning

Hey. My name is Alex. I'm also knows as "Sattva" on various poker forums. I’ve been playing poker for about 5 years. My main game is NL Hold'em 6max with BSS technology. In that time I’ve managed to go from poker freerolls and attempts to gain a foothold in nl200 (with an "adequate" attitude toward BR-management) and gently slide into the nl10 that I play now. Probably because eventually I felt more inclined to spend money then to play. Of course, all this is not important, I'm here on an iPad and you, as readers are here to assess what is interesting and useful and what is not. Generally I have not blogged and shared my thoughts with the masses. But if I am tired of playing, and I can get something for activities that are not against my principles/beliefs , then why not? (Though I play nl10, do not be too quick to judge me, please read on).


Gently and peacefully move on from the introduction to the main topic of this post. I am generally happy when I see that topics on psychology are gathering relatively few views and comments. This means that they are not interesting to people and that it will therefore be some time before the mass of players get an edge over regulars who do understand it.  Don’t rush away, I'm not going to talk about taking deep breaths to get rid of tilt. But, nevertheless , to understand how to work on the psychological aspects of his game, you need to better understand what it is.


Actually, I'm relatively new to this aspect of the game myself. It happened after reading Jared Tendler "The mental game of poker". Yet, for the most part, this post is not a paraphrase.  It is a few of my ideas and thoughts that have arisen in the course of thinking about this book and maybe you will be interested.  It is not necessary to read the book before reading this article, but in general, I recommend it to those who are interested in this topic.

There are two components, on which we have to work to be a winning player. There is a strategic component and a psychological one. Some treat BR management as a separate component, but , in my opinion, it is combined into these two aspects, if they were all in order, then BR management would also automatically be all right.


So, for the strategic component – this means looking at histories, analysing hands, reading books, articles, etc. Everyone knows it and appreciates it.

The psychological component is the one few people appreciate. Because although people understand the idea of working with their emotions, beliefs and moods, many simply do not know exactly how and what to do.


To begin with, let us understand why the psychological component is so important.  It is because it "restricts" strategy. We can represent these components in the form of a histogram. The values refer to the quality of the game. The maximum is A, B is worse, and C is the worst.  Let us keep matters simple. If both of these components reach the top score on the 1st chart, you will play your A-game.  If your strategy is on line "A", but psychology is somewhere below it, as on the 2nd chart, then you simply will not be able to fully express the strategic component.



I should add that the psychological aspect is "activated" only during the game and this concept is explained next. Everyone is familiar with the situation, when we can adequately analyse everything which is going on during a hand, we know why it was necessary to make specific plays, but we either switch off our brain completely, or alternatively, we fall into a stupor because of an overabundance of unnecessary thoughts. This is exactly the "restriction” which causes us to lose the ability to apply our knowledge during the game. So for some people , at some point, viewing histories and hand analysis etc. becomes less effective than working on the psychological component.


I think I can better convey this idea with the following example. Imagine the situation. There is a fish and the Hero. The fish is a 20/40 player and today life is good. It’s a good day in all respects. Besides, today he still has not moved. Yes he did just sit down to play. He is fresh and full of energy. And he is quite comfortable with the thought of parting with a certain amount of money , which he has set aside to relax and have fun playing poker. That’s his frame of mind. In other words, the psychological component of his game does not limit the strategic one. It is far superior to it. This is partly because he does not know much in terms of strategy, except that limping and calling with a gutshot is bad. Now let’s talk about the Hero. The Hero is an embittered 18/15 reg, who is on the third day in a row of a downswing, his cat was hit by a car, his pet dog just died, his parrot is swearing, it's pouring with rain - it's just not his day. His psychological component is nil and this means he is playing something he defines as C-game. Speaking of this classification. What is meant by A, B and C game is a personal matter , i.e. A is the best poker game, you can play at the moment.  It is not the poker game, which you will be able to play in the future or the game Phil Galfond can play. This last is meaningless for us and has no practical value. Suppose our Hero defines his C-game as a weakness for gutshots. Well, he can not fold these hands , when he is in a bad mood, though he realizes that and plays them passively, obviously, the low- class i.e. C game for our hero is a strong attraction to gutshots and the upshot of this is all negative. We return to the fish. This man, by virtue of the fact that he is a fish, loves to draw to gutshots more than the Hero, but he also knows that playing them passively is a bad idea. If nevertheless he still regularly plays them passively, it is not because a psychological component is restricting the scanty knowledge he possesses and at this point in time, the hero, due to his state of mind, will actually play worse than the out-and-out fish.


So, why do we need psychology, how do we understand how to use it for leverage? There are 4 areas on which to work: fear, anger, confidence and motivation. Tandler calls these emotions, here I slightly disagree with him. I think the only emotions in this group are fear and anger, but this is a matter of opinion. Here are a few key points regarding them. The first three have a negative effect only during the game while motivation, or rather its absence, has an effect even out of the game. Because if there is no motivation, then we do not play, at a time when we could play and earn money. Motivation is achieved by proper goal setting. Much has already been written on this theme and I am more interested in the other 3 issues.  That is to say fear (aka uncertainty, worry, anxiety), anger (frustration, anger, tilt) and overconfidence. Generally, when people talk about the psychological problems  as applied to poker, they often mean tilt, although tilt is, in fact, only 1 out of 4 areas of work.



According to my observations, fear is the first problem. Fear is born out of questions to which there are no clear (that is to say specific) answers. I think many would agree that fear of the unknown is generally quite a strong fear. So, unanswered questions generate uncertainty. Uncertainty creates anxiety and stress. All this translates into fear. In the game it is manifested in the tendency to fold and in general tightness too. This does not mean that all who play like nits preflop are afraid. If the person is normal and does not show discomfort, then it is okay. A sense of fear is necessarily accompanied by discomfort and this discomfort leads to anger. Therefore tilt (irritation, anger) immediately follows the fear. Maybe this is not always the case, but lately when I feel anger, I then ask myself what I'm really afraid of? Here are a few examples. We are angry at the Fish, who won a pile of chips off us a few minutes ago (we played well, but he just got lucky), because we are afraid that he will continue to suck out. Or we get angry at ourselves because we lost a couple of pots to fish by playing badly and are afraid that we can not continue to play without mistakes. Or we get angry at the guy with a VPIP of under 70 who won a few pots from us and we are afraid that we will not have time to redress this before others beat us too it, because he's now going into every pot.


Picture the scene. You are afraid of something or someone. If you start to get angry at someone or something, even though it will not lead to any positive outcome, it will, at least dull the discomfort of fear and you begin to feel a bit better already. It seems to me that getting angry in response to fear - it is a kind of protective automatic reaction, and we often do not even realize it. Tilt, unlike fear, manifests itself in an excessively loose game with lots of betting and raising. Obviously, that anger does not return a player's ability to think clear and pure thoughts.


But let's say we have coped with fear and anger. Next comes the over-confidence. This usually occurs after things have been going well for a while, after a run of winning sessions, in the wake on an upswing etc. We are all individuals and everyong needs their own definite dose of success to trigger cockiness. Note also that these cycles can last indefinitely. And if a person paid a little attention to their feelings, it would be easy to discern when they feel fear or when they are irritated.  Perhaps it is a little harder to notice overconfidence. Probably because cockiness generally feels nice and easy until you start to realize that there are too many endorphins being released at once.


The basis of all psychological problems are certain beliefs. I would say, wrong and harmful beliefs, because they actually allow you to "have" fear, go on tilt and be overconfident. For example, if the fish wins several stacks in a row from us thanks to variation, then whether we feel fear or anger depends on which of these forces is stronger. Our awareness of the fact that we have no control over the variation or the damaging belief that we can not lose one hand to a weaker opponent, could both be affected as a result of just thinking about how bad things went the last couple of days.
It all comes down to:


  1. Clearly identify the problem, ie what is the unanswered question and what is the basis of the belief?
  2. Explain to myself why it was wrong and come up with the right answer. It could be anything, the main thing is that it works for you
  3. Be aware of the correct belief. It won't work just by itself. This does not mean repeating it like a mantra. I just write it and occasionally re-read it, this helps me


Try to record their interesting ideas that  come to you in a time of reflection. I can tell you from experience that they are forgotten very easily and something unpleasant is left over. Recording these thoughts has a few significant advantages. Firstly, as I said, it allows you to instantly capture those "useful" beliefs, which come on their own. Secondly, it stops you from forgetting them in the future. I sometime re-read some of the "working logic chains" several times, without wasting time and effort in coming up with them again and again. It helps you to quickly get the best mental attitude. This does not mean that I do it before each session, rather only when I feel that things are very bad. Thirdly, when we write, I think we really understand things better. To make it clearer, here is a small snippet. I actually have no desire to make public my personal scribbling, but I feel that if I really want to make clear what I am trying to convey, it is absolutely necessary.


Once I got into Grindcore's videos. You may have heard about him or seen his videos. This guy wrote two series of videos for Deuces Cracked. He played super loose preflop in these videos. I have nothing against his game. His style and way of thinking, which he demonstrates in his videos now attract me . But his passion for videos and his style led to the formation of wrong beliefs, which consists in the fact that the winning players, with more loose preflop statistics than me are certainly better than me. By the way, now I'm playing something like 20/18, but then I played with a VPIP under 25, honestly, I do not remember exactly. Looser, well, that does not work. At the same time I was playing nl50. If you try to expand the influence of the wrong beliefs into the 4 areas above, psychological problems manifest themselves and so we get into the following situation. As a result of downswing, we constantly have to contend with the fear that we will finish the regular session in the negative. At this moment there are 2 issues.


Firstly, we have a goal to play looser because we think it is right (not everybody plays like Grindcore!). Secondly, a looser game is more variable game in which we can lose much more. It's also a less pleasant place to be. Because we're scared to lose a lot, especially when on a downswing. It's easier to postpone the session. But what about motivation, goals, etc.? And how about the objectives? The goal is to play as loosely as possible with a maximum win rate. Adjournment of the session for later does not contradict this purpose. The result of there being too few hands per month (means that there are problems in the area of motivation, even though it seems that they are not), and there is a clear sense that there is a problem to be solved. Next there is an excerpt:


We need to remember that guys of the 29/24 type are not better than us. In fact, they are not better, because at the micros it is profitable to play tightly. In order to play loose and well, we will have to play fewer tables. One of the main goals in poker is to make money, that is $/hour, it follows that playing tightly, but playing more tables is profitable. Another possible goal is to open your poker potential to the maximum. But this does not mean that we should try to beat the micros with a maximum win rate. We need to try to go through the micros as quickly as possible to go as high as possible. A goal of achieving the maximum win rate will not increase our skill for the higher limits and it is crucial to aim as high as possible, especially if the goal is to maximize our potential in poker.


There is nothing new or unusual in this passage, as you can see. Rather, everything is clear and simple. But that does not mean you can switch your mind off, rather that you can train it to work the right way. You just need to come to the correct, useful and clear logical chain, which is easy to trace in this passage. As a result of this awareness, I stopped making loose calls and it no longer has a negative effect on my game. This is just one of various examples of "harmful" beliefs and their "outcomes."


Suppose it does not seem difficult to you. It will be difficult, but only if you make it so. You do not necessarily need to allocate a special time for these reflections. Try to take your mind onto these thoughts, when you have nothing to do, and you can not spend time on anything else. For example, when traveling in a bus or sitting relaxing.


I hope I was able to offer some clarification on the process of working on the psychological component in my understanding and why it can be profitable. I would like to finish this post here. If you have questions, please write them in the comments, as well as your thoughts and comments.