Thursday, October 9, 2014

Having a Winning Mentality in Poker

I rarely mention the mental side of the game on this blog. I have talked about tilt on a few occasions before. However, the mental side of the game runs a lot deeper than that. One aspect that I want to touch upon today is having a winning mentality.

You may have heard me talk before about knowing that you are the best player at the table any time you sit down to play. Now I don't mean this in a literal sense. As we know, skill can be very difficult to determine in poker because it takes such a huge sample to get long term results on ourselves much less anybody else. Also, you don't actually have to be the best player at the table in order for it to be a profitable spot. You just need some players that are worse than you, preferably far worse.

But what I am really talking about with this statement is a belief (or a deep inner confidence) in your abilities. You should know that a simple belief in your own abilities can take you very far in this game. Often this is the difference between top players where the edges in actual knowledge about the game are very small. This is because having a belief in your own abilities allows you to see the game more clearly and make better decisions. One of the biggest obstacles that downswings present is the complete opposite which is a lack of confidence. This causes people to always fear the worst and think negatively about future results.

When you expect to win instead, then you will see opportunities for success and take them. This might be in the form of pouncing on the chance to take on a fish at a stake which is higher than you would normally play at. It could also simply mean making a bold play against a reg because you feel that he is weak in a certain spot. Having a winning mentality simply allows you to loosen up, think more clearly and be your best self at the tables. So how can we develop this attitude?

It All Starts From Within

I don't mean to get all Dr. Phil here but I think that if you have a solid self image in other aspects of your life then it will spill over into your poker game as well. You should think highly of yourself (although not to the point of narcissism) in everything that you do in life. If you struggle with this then at the very least you should try "faking it until you make it." That first date or that job interview is going to go way better if you aren't full of negative feelings about how you might screw it up. Instead focus your energy on how much you will crush it.

The same goes for poker. Even when mired in a sick downswing it is very possible to still approach the tables each day with a smile on your face and an expectation that today will be different. This is due to a deep inner confidence in your abilities. This can also be the case even if you don't have the past results in poker to back it up. This is because the attitude that you bring to the tables is something that is 100% under your control. And if nothing else, convincing yourself that you are a great player even with no results to back it up is still a far better approach than the hopeless, expecting to lose attitude that most people will bring to the tables in a situation like this.

Preparation Breeds Confidence

One of the best ways to instill this winning mentality in yourself even if you do not have a history of success in poker is through your preparation. Many MMA fighters will tell you that their training is way harder than the actual fight itself. This allows them to feel more relaxed going into a fight and focus purely on the mental side of the sport.

Winning Mentality in Poker
It is the same in poker. If you are well prepared in studying all aspects of the game from your own database to books, training videos etc. then playing the game will be the easy part. This doesn't mean that you should spend hours upon hours every single day studying the game. I mean if you have the time for this, then great but most people don't.

However, in the time that you do have, you should use it effectively. So this means that if you are reviewing your own database or sessions that you are using the right metrics and looking at the right information. If you are watching training videos make sure that you are taking notes and asking the coach follow up questions on the forums or in private afterwards.

In short, do the work that is necessary to prepare yourself for success in today's games and you will already have a big leg up on your competition once you sit down at the tables.

Develop a Winning Poker Culture

Lastly (and you may have heard me mention this one before as well), is to develop what I call a "winning culture." What this means is having a history of success in the game. There is nothing that is going to instill more confidence in your abilities than to be able to look at a graph with a big sample size where you absolutely crushed it. You just can't beat cold hard facts.

So this starts off by playing in games that you can beat. If you aren't beating your current limit and you have been playing there for a considerable period of time (several weeks or more) then maybe it is time to consider stepping down. One of the biggest components of success in poker is the ability to tame your own ego. There is always somebody out there who you can beat and there is always somebody out there who can beat you. Find the ones that you can beat and play with them on a consistent basis. If this means that you need to play for pennies right now then so be it.

And of course finally, track your progress! If you still aren't using a poker tracking program and are serious about online poker at all, what are you thinking? One of the main uses of these programs (above and beyond all of the highly useful data) is the ability to track your own results. "I think I am about breakeven" is not a good enough answer anymore. Get a poker tracking program and let it properly take note of your results for you. Therefore, if things aren't going well you can finally stop deluding yourself into thinking that there isn't a problem. The numbers don't lie.

I hope this article was helpful for some of you. It might seem like a small thing but I can tell you from experience that when I am on my "A-game" with my attitude at the tables I always play my best. Our attitude is absolutely something that we control when we sit down to play and it can have a huge impact on our decision making and emotional control as well. You owe it to yourself to give yourself the best shot to win. Next time you play start working on developing your winning mentality!

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  1. Another great post! Thanks!! You instill confidence!!

  2. Can't agree more; your article reminded me a little bit about a section of The Mental Game of Poker, if you don't have the right mindset you won't be able to play you A-Game consistently. Great post Nathan! Keep up the good work!

    1. I have been meaning to read that book for so long. I had no idea!