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.

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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.

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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:

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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:

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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.

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Dealing With Tilt as it Happens

Angry-man-001Of course the number one goal is to prevent tilt before it happens, that is not always possible. Sometimes the issue can be so severe (or the circumstances leading up to it) that you cannot avoid going on full blown tilt.

Conventional poker wisdom tells you to quit at this point. Sometimes that is the only good option left, but not always.

First of all, if the games you are playing in are really good, it can be very harmful in the long term to quit them all the time. Some people think they don’t have a tilt problem because they always quit when they start to tilt, but this actually an example of a big tilt problem that is more costly in the long run than powering through it.

Secondly, if you ever want to cure a tilt problem you need to work on correcting it in moment. The more you work on the correction, the better you will be at applying it in the moment. Just like any other skill, you need to practice the solution in order for it to show up when it is needed.

The following is a simple step by step process for dealing with tilt when it happens. It is best to prepare this routine when your are not on tilt away from the tables so that it is easier to apply in the moment:

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The Seven Types of Tilt

2008_wsop_badbeatBy now hopefully your Tilt Profile will have really helped you get some personal insight into your specific tilt issues, now here is a way to develop that further.

From working with hundreds of professional poker players, I have defined seven types of poker tilt. While everyone’s tilt is unique to them, I am yet to find one which does not fall into one or more of these broad categories.

This is just the next stage of understanding your own tilt, I go into much more detail into the symptoms and solutions for each specific type of tilt in The Mental Game of Poker 1 (A chapter for each type in fact). However it is a good next step to understanding your own tilt if you can put it into one or more of the following types:

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What Happens to Your Brain On Tilt?

homer-simpson-brain-mriThe fundamental difference between the common approaches to poker tilt and what I do comes down to how emotion is viewed. When emotion is viewed as the cause of problems at the poker table, it makes perfect sense why conventional wisdom would urge you to become robotic, trick your mind, or become desensitized to emotion.

In essence, traditional tactics are suggesting that anger is inherently bad, so you must get rid of it. Of course your end goal is to get these negative emotions out of your game, but they are the symptom—not the real cause of why you play poorly.

Finding the cause of your emotional problems requires digging a little deeper, and when you do, the role of emotion completely changes. Emotion, once seen as the problem, now serves a valuable purpose—highlighting flaws in how you are mentally approaching the game. In essence, emotion is a messenger telling you exactly what to work on in your mental game.

More on that in a future post, but for now, let’s dig into what exactly happens when you go on tilt. [Read more…]

The Mental Game of Live Poker with Bart Hanson

BartHansonIf there’s one thing I would change about The Mental Game of Poker 1 it would be to include more examples from the world of live poker. I tried to remedy that in The Mental Game of Poker 2, and if you want more proof that the mental game is just as, if not more, relevant to live poker look no further than today’s guest on my podcast.

Bart Hanson is a live cash game player who is best known for his commentary on ‘Live at the Bike,’ as well as having one of the most critically acclaimed strategy podcasts. His site,, is on of the few training sites to concentrate on live play.

Live poker does not get anywhere near enough coverage on training sites, but Bart is almost single handedly redresses that balance and proves that live players think as deeply about the game as their online counterparts.

During our chat we talk about the importance of patience in live poker, some of the biggest errors online players make when the come to brick and mortar card rooms, how to combat distractions, spotting signs of tilt in others, being results-oriented, and much more.

If you’re an online player who assumes they can just crush the live game, think again. If you’re a live player looking to take your game to the next level, Bart is your man. [Read more…]