Whether you think poker is a sport or not, there is little doubt that now and then poker players enjoy the sporting concept of playing 'in the zone' – that feeling of playing ones very best. Likewise, as much as the skill and the luck elements of the game impact our results, as does the emotional aspect, and often some of the best players go broke when they cannot control their emotions at the table. Sports psychology expert Jared Tendler learnt his trade on the golf course, but is fast becoming the most widely recognised mental game coaches in poker with several video series on Stoxpoker and a huge list of high profile students.
Pokenews: So how did a golf psychology expert find their way into poker?
Jared Tendler:I was a competitive golfer in college and played well in division three events, but when it came to playing in big events like qualifying for the US Open I would play very well, only to miss some key short putts when I was under pressure, which cost me the tournaments. I found my game really deteriorated when I was under pressure, I realised the importance of the mental game and saw an opportunity in sports psychology. I got a masters degree in counselling psychology and also cured myself of my issues on the golf course, so much so I went pro as a golfer. It was on the golf course I met Dusty 'Leatherass' Schmidt and he wanted to use my services to help his poker game. With my help he was able to double his hourly rate and saved himself a fortune in tilt induced broken PC equipment. From there I saw an opportunity in poker, Dusty invited me to become an instructor at StoxPoker and now most of my students are poker players.
PN: Are the issues faced by poker players and golfers similar?
Jared Tendler: Golfers really underestimate the amount of variance there is in the game, just like in poker. You are a slave to the elements but there is a lot of standard error in golf, much more than most players realise, the average players' standard error might be as much as 30% and a pros could be 5%. Golfers and poker players don't always truly understand their own skill set when they react to variance. They are often overly critical of themselves during times of negative variance or have excessive doubts or frustration, in golf or poker, and then perform even worse. Like golfers, Poker players also look at how well they play when the variance is with them and compare it to how they play when they are running really badly, but that's like comparing apples with oranges, it's not a fair comparison. If you can have 80% of the things you do well show up when things are going against you, that's a good thing, and the goal is obviously to have 100% show up. The most satisfying results are with students where that's happened or damn near close to it.
PN: So you teach players how to get in 'the zone'?
Jared Tendler: I teach players learn the skills of mastery, I help them learn how to develop their own skill and maximise their own ability. Some people think that 'A' game is random, but if you work at it and prepare accordingly you can make it happen all the time. I help my students with things like discipline, goal setting, focus and concentration. I teach my clients how to make small incremental gains every day.
PN: Other than not playing their 'A' game, what are some of the common issues poker players have?
Jared Tendler: A lot of them have issues with motivation and procrastination, particularly the online players. Tilt is perhaps the most common issue, with the many reasons for players to Tilt, from running bad to getting stacked by a fish. The poker/life balance is another big issue. Some players have a hard time putting it down, I recommend everyone has time away; it helps their development of skill since he brain grows like muscles, adapting to the demands placed on it during rest, not activity. Other common issues are with lack of focus, being too results oriented, and bankroll management (the psychology of it at least).
PN: You have had a lot of high profile players singing your praises; can you put a figure on how much you can help a players game? Have you ever thought about trying to negotiate a percentage of profits deal with any of them?
Jared Tendler: The range that student's estimate their ROI from my coaching is between 5 and 250x their investment, obviously depends a lot on the stakes they play. I know there are many people who won't believe me, but I honestly never thought about doing a percentage deal with students. I made the decision when I was working with some professional golfers that my equity was in my skill as a coach and not in my students' game. Money is important, but it isn't more important than doing quality work. My dad taught me long ago that if you provide great service and value, the money will always be there, because there will always be people who want what you have. That's my focus and it's why I approach every session, just like I suggest my students do, as an opportunity to improve. I review my work and am continually refining my techniques. So my theory is that my student's improvement is theirs, just as my improvement is mine. Plus if I was taking a percentage of their winnings, during our sessions I'd have the money in the back of my mind, when my focus needs to just on what will help them improve. Call me crazy, I guess I'm a purist.