World Series of Poker Europe

Poker and Sports Psychology Part 4

Poker and Sports Psychology Part 4 0001

Barry Carter has been finding out whether sports psychology expert Jared Tendler can really help his game. If you need to catch up you can read Part One here, Part Two here and Part Three here.

Although I was by no means crushing the games I was in, life was feeling really good under the guidance of mental game coach Jared Tendler. I was making small incremental improvements to my game each and every day and felt like I was working towards something big. My crippling fear of taking risks was completely gone and I was starting to not care when the deck went against me, after I had learnt that I was getting frustrated for no good reason.

So there you have it, in just one month I became the world's greatest poker player and was completely devoid of any emotional leaks in my game, I'm now off on my way to take a wheelbarrow full of cash to the bank.

Or maybe not….

A few weeks on and I had a few consecutive bad sessions in a row where it felt I was running below expectation. Nothing ridiculous by any means, just not being on the right end of a lot of coinflips as well as running big hands into bigger hands. I was taking the coolers with a carefree attitude that would not have been possible a few months back, but they all started to add up.

Then one morning I loaded up a bunch of cash tables and took a really bad beat within minutes of sitting down to play. How did I react? By doing nothing. Gone was reacting to it, gone was uttering a small swear word or tapping the table in frustration. The way I chose to react to this was to feel nothing, to feel empty and numb. Soon after I found myself on the wrong end of another pot and I followed suit by feeling nothing even more (I am aware how silly it sounds to feel 'more nothing' but what I mean is that with each hand that went against me, I became number and number).

About 40 minutes into the session where I couldn't win a hand to save my life, all of a sudden the accumulative effect of all the losing pots was sedating me. I felt spaced out and wasn't thinking clearly, my concentration had gone to tatters and my fingers were reacting without me consciously telling them what buttons to press. It was actually the worst I had played in a very long time, but because I had learnt to not get angry any more, I was reacting in a different, but equally as bad way. I was on insane monkey tilt, or at least doped up monkey tilt. After the session I felt really down about myself for the rest of the day and that all the progress I had made was fake, a lie, a sham.

In our next session, Jared reminded me of what he told me at the start, that Tilt is good because it shows you how far you have come and what you have really learnt. He used the analogy of an Inch Worm to detail how a human progresses through a stage of learning (Check out the video below to see how an inch worm moves). If the front of an inch worm is your 'A' game (You at your best) and the back end is your 'C' game (You at your worst) you can see that in one whole movement, the worm has not completely moved off the spot, rather moved along slightly and still inhabiting some of the old space. You're 'A' game has progressed and rather than eliminating your 'C' game, it has simply moved further towards your 'A' game.

It's a great analogy and really highlights the benefit of small incremental changes to your game rather than trying to reinvent the wheel in one session. Going on tilt like this allowed me to see what I have eliminated from my C game and what still needs to be worked on. Looking back on things now, I can see that even on tilt, I played much better than I would have months ago, I was taking more risks, making thin value bets I wouldn't have previously and for the most part airing to the side of the aggressive rather than the nit. Even though I felt like I had taken a big step back, Jared showed me how I had taken quite a big step forward.

So why all of a sudden did I react to adversity by not reacting at all (rather than throwing my toys out of my pram)? Amazingly it all came back to that hard work ethic that we had discussed at length in our previous sessions. Once again, it was a defence mechanism to avoid hard work and study at the end of my sessions. By numbing my emotions when things go against me, I give myself nothing to study, nothing to work on and thus, have avoided doing all the hard work I need to improve as a player. It's a very scary notion, that my sub conscious is actually working against me to stop me from developing as a player (Which we surmised earlier was born out of a fear of scrutiny from my peers, rather than a hatred of myself) but it's also very liberating to finally be developing the tools to do something about it.

Speaking of which, another real benefit I have noticed from all this is that the skills I am getting from my time with a mental game coach are showing up in other areas of my life. I have applied similar strategy to my time management, money management and my writing work. I guess because Jared himself is not a poker player and what he teaches is universal that I am seeing the benefit in other areas of my life, rather than had this been from a psychology focused poker coach.

And once again I felt great about my poker and genuinely saw what a great experience the monkey tilt was for me. Hopefully next time I will be better prepared for whatever comes my way and that I will see the C game moving even closer to the A game (And the A game moving closer to the H game of Phil Ivey would be nice).

The diary is going to take a back seat for a few weeks, as poker is taking a back seat for a few weeks, but watch this space to see just how far I have developed, or indeed, if I have been banned from my local casino for trying to strangle someone that three outed me on the river.

What do you think?

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