The first time I had ever heard of hypnotism being used in sport was when Steve Collins caused a major upset by dethroning Chris Eubank of his super-middleweight title some ten or so years ago. Chris exclaimed that Steve Collins was cheating by using the well known hypnotist Paul McKenna to help him feel no pain, feel no fear. I think it turned out it was all drivel anyway and Collins just pretended he was in a trance.
Nowadays, hypnotism seems to be everywhere, it is a fundamental part of sports psychology and long gone are accusations it is a form of cheating, as are any images of a Dickensian villain with a swinging pendulum watch, or the Demon Headmaster, for those of us from my generation.
I actually did Psychology at college and I know full well that the unconscious mind is very powerful, especially when influenced by hypnotism, people have had actual physical illnesses treated by hypnotism and many swear by it for symptoms of psychological disorders, like irrational fears or sleep disorders.
So I've been thinking for some time to see if I could use hypnosis to help me as a poker player. At first I thought about using it to help me memorise some of the complex mathematical aspects of poker, then I realised that after having read about 16 poker books with them in the appendix, I kinda knew the maths anyway. A friend suggested I use it to get in a state of mind to make me play any hand convincingly like it was Aces, I liked the idea but worried that my unconscious mind would get confused and call an all in with 10-5 offsuit thinking I had the nuts.
Sports psychologists help athletes to get themselves constantly in 'the zone', we all know what this means but here is a nice description from someone called Murphy (whose quote I have found but have no idea where it came from):
A special place where performance is exceptional and consistent, automatic and flowing. An athlete is able to ignore all the pressures and let his or her body deliver the performance that has been learned so well. Competition is fun and exciting. (Murphy, 1996)
This is what I want to get out of hypnosis, exceptional and consistent performance - form. The zone in poker is sharpness, its observation, it is paying attention to everything that is going on around you and making objective decisions based on that. Fearlessness is very important, making a correct call under the pressure of going bust or reraising a bully with nothing. I am a little concerned that being in 'the zone' will make me overconfident and I bluff off my chips, but I think the zone is situational to the sport it is in, so where caution is necessary the zone will accommodate.
For me, what I really want to get out of this is that extra observant state of mind where I feel I know exactly what my opponents are holding, when I am paying more attention to my opponents hand than my own.
If I could think back to a time when I was in the zone it would possibly be a cash game not so long ago. I was playing against a poor chap who seemed incapable of winning a hand against me, I seemed to know when he was bluffing or slow playing, I could relate his current bet to previous ones he made against me accurately and I just seemed to know how to get him to reraise me when I had a monster. It was a combination of observation, concentration and instinct, without a hint of emotion.
Probably the hardest thing to factor in to this but equally important is the fact that poker is a rare game where you can be in zone, make the correct decisions and still get outdrawn and lose. Last night I think I played very well, but my Aces ran into a set and my nut flush got rivered by a full house, so despite being very pleased with my performance, I ended up down for the session. Being in the zone can't prevent this, (though it might fend off tilt caused by it) but it can prevent the schoolboy errors that cost us tournaments or big pots.
So this week I am off to the hypnotists, come back next week to see what I went through, if it made a difference and if I turn into a chicken every time someone rings a bell.
Ed note: Look into my eyes, look deep into my eyes *snap* and you're under. You will download Titan Poker for $50 totally free