Jared Tendler is poker's most renowned mental game coaches and is the author of two amazing books called The Mental Game of Poker and aptly named The Mental Game of Poker 2. The excerpt below is from the second of Tendler's amazing books and gives tips on how to play longer sessions and play more tables, too.
While there are some poker players who have more natural talent for grinding, with the right approach, anyone can learn to play more hands, longer hours, and across more online tables. One key to increasing your capacity for grinding is to understand that endurance and strength develop in a similar way in the mind as they do in the body. Many players treat the mind differently and don’t think playing that extra hour or adding a couple tables should be an issue. However, their goal can’t just be to play longer or more tables, they also have to maintain a high level of play. You don’t need skill to be able to play long hours or a ton of hands and be a losing player. Sure, some drop-off in the quality of your play is expected as you increase volume, especially at first. However, it’s critical that you minimize that drop-off as much as possible.
Contrary to what some critics might say, highly skilled multi-tablers are not playing a mindless form of poker. Undoubtedly, focusing on only one table allows you to think more deeply about each decision than when you’re playing ten tables. However, skilled multi-tablers have automated a large amount of poker knowledge and an incredibly complex decision-making process. They’re making tons of complex in-game decisions instinctually and with very little conscious thinking. With so much of their knowledge trained to the level of Unconscious Competence, or chunked, they have a lot of space within working memory to think deeply about important decisions. It’s not mindless; it’s instinctual.
This chapter fits perfectly at the end of this book because every chapter up to this point in some way increases your ability to grind. Within each section of this chapter are references to the sections of previous chapters so that you can refer back to them if you need a reminder.
In order to become a successful grinder, a large part of your poker skill must be automated or mastered to the level of Unconscious Competence. Automation is especially important for multi-tabling online because there is a limit to how much a player can think about at any one time. By automating a large amount of their skills, they can 'autopilot' many decisions without wasting valuable mental space or resources. For example, good grinders are able to instantly analyze prior action, bet sizing, hand range, and other details of the hand without thinking. Decisions that require thinking burn a lot more energy than decisions made automatically.
Increasing Mental Endurance
Many players expect it to be easy to increase their mental endurance. They see other players who can play twelve tables for six hours at time without a problem and think they should be able to as well. What they don’t realize is that if they currently can only play six tables for three hours, they’re expecting a 200% increase in their capacity to happen automatically. This is no different than trying to run fifteen miles when they are normally able to run only five. They may be successful in running 200% more on one occasion, but can they do it repeatedly? With each consecutive day, their bodies get a little weaker and without proper rest, the risk of serious injury increases dramatically.
Grinding a lot of poker is similar to running long distances day after day—you need to increase your mental endurance in order to consistently grind that extra distance. Steadily add tables and time while maintaining quality decision making just as you would increase weight and duration while maintaining proper form in a physical workout. Here are a few ideas for how to effectively increase mental endurance:
- Make a realistic assessment. This step is extremely important. Spend some time looking through your poker database or thinking about the amount of volume you’ve put in over the past six to twelve months. Specifically, determine how many tables you play on average and how long you can play that number of tables while maintaining at least your B-game. If you’ve been dealing with tilt or other mental game problems, you must account for them in your calculation. When you increase volume, you’re increasing the frequency of triggers that can induce mental game problems. This makes you susceptible to having these problems accumulate, carry over to future sessions, and become even more problematic. Underestimating the impact of increased mental game triggers is a major reason that players fail to consistently grind more poker.
- Increase steadily. Trying to immediately increase your mental endurance by 100% is clearly a mistake, so what is a percentage that makes sense? It’s hard to say exactly, however, a reasonable percentage increase is much closer to 10% than to 100%. Working from the average number of tables and hours you’re capable of playing, make a plan to gradually increase that number. If you can play four tables, adding a fifth is a 25% increase. That large increase may mean you need to decrease the amount of time that you play, or play lower stakes, until playing the fifth table becomes as comfortable as playing four. Going this slowly may seem ridiculous, but if you push too hard, you can burn out and inevitably slow down or jeopardize the overall process.
- Sample workouts. Create a schedule that plans out your attempt to increase your mental endurance. Here are a couple sample workouts:
(These numbers are based on a player who is currently averaging
two-hour sessions on six tables.)
- Day 1: Increase by 15 minutes
- Day 2: Increase by one table
- Day 3: Increase by 15 minutes
- Day 4: Increase by one table
- Day 5: Increase by 15 minutes and one table
- Day 6: Increase by 30 minutes or two tables
- Day 7: Day off
- Day 1: Increase by 30 minutes
- Day 2: Increase by two tables and decrease by 15 minutes
- Day 3: Increase by 45 minutes or two tables
- Day 4: Day off or a small session that’s 50% less than average
- Day 5: Increase by 15 minutes and one table
- Day 6: Increase by 30 minutes and one table or 15 minutes and two tables
- Day 7: Day off
- Push yourself. The hardest part of increasing the distance of a run is the part beyond what currently feels easy to you. Playing an extra table for a longer period of time puts added strain on your mind. You have to fight for every inch of progress. If you only do what comes easily, you won’t be increasing your endurance. You need to continually push yourself past the point where you are comfortable, and then follow it up with rest so your mind can recover well enough to push again.
- Track your progress. After each session, keep track of how long you played, the intensity of the session overall, and the volume you were able to add while pushing yourself. Note any improvements—was it easier to push longer, did you play better than normal, etc. Also, keep track of any factors that influence the relative difficulty of the session, such as sleep, the severity of good and bad variance, or exercise. That way you can get a more accurate reading of your progress.
Keep your browsers locked to UK & Ireland PokerNews over the next few days as we bring you a second excerpt that focusses on rest & recover and extreme grinding. If you cannot wait until Part 2 is published, head over to Mental Game Fish or purchase The Mental Game of Poker 2!