The Pareto Principle and the Mental Game of Poker

think!I wrote a piece about the Pareto Principle in Poker last year for TitanBet Poker. For those of you that don’t know, it is a popular mathematical theory that 80% of your results come from 20% of your effort. For example 80% of healthcare budgets are used by 20% of the patients. 80% of crimes are caused by 20% of criminals. The exact numbers don’t have to be 80/20, but the point of the principle is to point out areas where you can make disproportionate increases in productivity.

I identified a ton of poker examples too. For example table position. If you look at Hold’em Manager, chances are that around 80% of your winnings are from the hands where you had position. 80% of your winnings probably came from 20% of the (bad) players. Also if you practice good hand selection, 80% of your winnings probably come from the top 20% of your hands.

These are all in the realm of the mathematical, but the same principle can easily be applied to your mental game too. Again, you are not looking for an exact 80/20 split; you are simply looking for areas where there is a big imbalance between effort and reward. [Read more…]

Mental game podcast – Daniel Negreanu

The Mental Game of Poker Podcast is back with a special guest – Daniel Negreanu! He and Jared discuss the merits of positive thinking in poker.

Positive Poker

The Mental Game of Dog Training – guest post by Cian Liddy

One of the really unexpected joys that has come from The Mental Game of Poker has been the ways in which people have used the lessons in other aspects of their life away from the tables. As a dog owner, I was particularly interested to here how Cian Liddy used the teachings of the book to understand his own dog’s behaviour better. I must admit without realising it, I also used the Adut Learning Model as a framework for training my dog. So it’s my pleasure to turn the reigns over to Cian (Who you may know as Sheeprustler in poker circles) and let him explain further

unnamedI have a couple of Border Collies that I regrettably do not give enough time to training. I have taught them the basics: sit, stay, fetch, roll-over and heel; but their potential to learn is under-nourished in my care. However, through basic training and time spent with them I have been struck by how similar training a dog is to learning a new skill or embedding new knowledge. Observing the process of a dog learning a new command is very similar to the human process of learning a new skill or understanding a difficult concept. Understanding where you or your dog are in the learning process is crucial for both of you to develop optimally. The core theory I relate both learning processes to is the Adult Learning Model (ALM) as discussed in Jared and Barry’s “Mental Game of Poker”.

At first glance the comparison of canine learning to the ALM may seem stupid. How can a dog be consciously incompetent or otherwise? It is unaware its own abilities. The truth is we as humans are often unaware of where we are in the learning process even when we are aware of what the ALM is. The ALM defines stages of a mental and physical process through the lens of how we are consciously or unconsciously aware or unaware of that process. The truth is that even if we are unaware of what the process is the same mental and physical learning patterns take place. All of us learned how to drive a car following the ALM model even though most of us were unaware of the process.

Being aware of the learning patterns described by that theory should give us a much better understanding of ourselves and how best to manage each step. It doesn’t always work that way however. Some of us, myself included, can criticise ourselves heavily for not performing a task correctly when what is required is an awareness that we have not yet fully mastered that task; we need to nurture the skill and move it to the next stage of the ALM. Our dogs often bear the brunt of our anger when they don’t do what we want. The truth is we have probably neglected training our dog to perform the task to the canine level of unconscious competence. [Read more…]

The Mental Game of Poker Podcast: WSOP Champion Greg Merson


The Mental Game of Poker Podcast is back, and what a way to return. I interviewed the reigning World Champion Greg Merson ahead of this year’s Main Event final table. Merson is certainly an interesting champion from a poker mindset perspective. Last year was his breakout year where he won arguably the two most prestigious No Limit events of the year – the Main Event and the Six Max Championship. Yet amazingly he started 2012 playing $1/$2.

More significantly Merson has beaten, and continues to beat, drug addiction, and has used his profile as WSOP champion to try and help others do the same.
In this episode we talk about:
  • How he is rededicating himself to playing online again, after getting his ass kicked at the virtual felt
  • The importance of eating right and exercise for his mental game
  • How poker saved his life while he was battling drug addiction, and how he continues to beat it
  • How he prepared for the November Nine by playing 24 hour sessions
  • How he built up from $1/$2 all the way to two WSOP titles last year

Does staking help or harm your mental game?

YWR2x-600x450Does being staked to play poker give you a better or worse mindset than playing on your own dime?

Does having the financial pressure taken off improve your ability to make good decisions, or does it actually harm your game in other ways?

With the World Series behind us, some players are pondering these questions right now. A large percentage of players, maybe even the majority of professional tournament players, have some sort of staking deal or  sell pieces of themselves.

I’ve coached many players on a stake and many more playing with their own money. While both groups of players experience the same mental game issues, there is one distinct difference that causes unexpected problems: Players on a stake feel less pressure.

This is probably obvious, in fact, lowering pressure is often one of the key benefits staking sites use to sell their services. However, many players don’t realize the unintended consequences that lowering pressure can have on their ability to become successful.

Lowering pressure is not always a good thing and the following are three problems that arise as a result.

[Read more…]

Why you should never delete your poker database

10latouche3Have you ever been tempted to delete your Hold’em Manager or PokerTracker database because you didn’t like what you saw?

I have a lot of clients who have a real love/hate relationship with tracking software. They love how it can help them analyze their game, but hate looking at a negative line on their graphs.

When you are on a big losing streak it can be tough to stare at a constant reminder of your losses. I know many players think that deleting their database is the answer, in fact I have even seen this dispensed as advice before from other poker players. The logic here is that by deleting your database you give yourself a ‘fresh start’ to get your mind in check.

But deleting that database is much more likely to harm your game than it could ever do any good.

[Read more…]

Poker Mindset Hacks: The Three-Minute Cool Down

Dogs-Playing-Poker-in-the-Snow--91897Do you use the time immediately after a poker session to your advantage, or do you just stop playing?

Do you have a hard time getting poker out of your mind after you play and resetting your mind so that you can relax?

In my last blog post we discussed a basic three-minute warm up routine you can implement before you start to play poker. Today we do the same for a cool down routine after you have played.

A good cool down will do two things well. First of all it will help you to conceptualize the things you have been learning so that they are more likely to be mastered for the next time you play. Secondly, a good cool down will help you put poker to bed for the day and allow you to relax.

Developing a solid cool down is like a head start on the next session you play,  so don’t let those valuable minutes at the end of a session go to waste.

As with the warm-up, if cooling down is new to you, consider starting with this three-minute version. Then as you get used to doing it more, incorporate additional strategies to make it even more effective:

[Read more…]

Poker Mindset Hacks: The Three-Minute Warm Up

imagesDo you have a routine to prepare yourself mentally to play your best poker, or do you just show up and play?

In every major sport, professionals and serious players have some form of a structured warm-up before they play. This includes things like training drills, team talks, jogging, stretches and going over strategy.

For most poker players, warming up really is just a case of turning the computer on.

In general, poker players aren’t convinced yet of why this is so important to them. This is not entirely their fault, as there never has been much emphasis on warming up in conventional poker literature. People don’t think of poker in these sporting terms, but if you want to get an edge on those lazy players who don’t take their game seriously, a warm up is a good place to start.

Warming up helps you identify what to improve, and helps you keep a close eye on your progress. Warming up what you’re currently in the process of learning makes these skills more likely to show up while you’re playing.

If you are playing long sessions I’d suggest warming up for 10 to 15 minutes, but if the concept of warming up before you play is new, that is not going to be realistic or sustainable. To get you started and to see some immediate benefits, try the following three-minute warm up:

[Read more…]

New Evidence that Multitabling is not Mindless

Elkymultitabling_4By now I would hope that most serious players realise that multitabling is not the mindless form of poker that early detractors of the online game suggested it was.

Rather than following a ‘standard’ ABC cheat sheet formula, successful online grinders have mastered so much poker knowledge to the level of instinct that they are able to call on it instantly without having to think about it.

In fact Jared has been one of the biggest advocates of the complexity of mass poker multitabling, having coached many players to the level of Supernova Elite on PokerStars.

We have already written plenty on the importance of training skills to the level of habit, but this week I discovered some research which gave even more insight into how successful online grinders are able to multitable profitably.

[Read more…]

Preventing Tilt Before it Happens with the Tilt Profile

imagesIn order to deal with tilt you must first understand it. In order to prevent it before it happens, you must be able to spot the early warning signs.

One of the first things I do with my clients is have them fill out what I call a Tilt Profile. This is literally just a document on a notepad or your computer that helps you better define nuances of your own tilt issue.

Despite many commonalities, every player tilts in slightly different ways and for different reasons. The role of the Tilt Profile is to recognize what tilt means for you.

One of the best times to understand your poker tilt better is immediately after a session where you tilted, because it’s so fresh in your mind. Of course, since tilt is so costly, your best bet is to spend time thinking about previous situations where you’ve tilted.

[Read more…]