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.

Reduced Focus

focus-ratingsPlayers are generally more focused when they are playing on their own dime. The pressure they feel to perform because their money is on the line is fuel to focus and perform. The right amount of pressure can actually help them perform at the highest level, aka the zone, more often. I recently explained the importance of pressure to help get you in the zone in an interview with PokerNews.

When you have backers, there’s a tendency for too much pressure to be taken away. You’re not taking the game that seriously and have a more cavalier or overconfident attitude. For some players, with an aversion to risk for example, reduced pressure actually improves their focus. But for others it can be harmful.

Usually, this loss of focus doesn’t mean you act so belligerent that it is obvious to your backers, or even to yourself. You’re still taking the game seriously, just not as much as you need to in order to be consistently playing at your highest level. In a game of fine edges, this loss of focus will show up in the long run.

If your focus is 5% lower because you are only playing for 50% of yourself, that’s a problem.

Less Learning

sleep-learning1Another less obvious way in which staking can impede a player is how they approach learning. Some players are simply less inclined to work hard on their game, away from the tables, when they are being backed to play in bigger games.

A lot of staking sites and backers offer mentoring as a condition of the stake, which potentially solves this issue. But, even those players seem to take the work off the table less seriously. By being staked, they’ve already given up some control of their success and as a result, they also give up some control of their learning.

Staking might have caused a player’s approach to learn to slip, or the player who is less inclined to learn might be more inclined to seek out staking in the first place.

Either way, for some players staking decreases their incentive to learn. The motivation to climb the ranks is not there because you have got there without essentially doing the work to get there, so why would you want to do the work after the fact?

Decreased Motivation


Motivation is a critical element to success at the poker tables because it’s what gets you to the tables to even play.

One of the biggest causes of decreased motivation for players getting backed is being in makeup. Players are often overconfident when starting a stake and don’t think about how they would react to being down a bunch of money. So when it happens they’re unprepared for having to grind, sometimes for months and months, win, and not make any money. That sounds crazy to them, and as result, they lose a lot of motivation to even sit down and play.

On the other hand, it can also cause horses and backers to become reckless with money, and be super motivated to win the money back in games they shouldn’t be playing. They view it like a freeroll or play money, with no consequence to it.

When the money is of no consequence, it is much easier to assume you are just on a downswing and still playing profitably. Both backer and horse can delude themselves into carrying on playing stakes they shouldn’t. You can be grinding at a time when you are not incentivized to stop.

The money keeps coming to you when you would otherwise see it depleted. Why would you stop?

The staking mindset

think!Of course many players do very well from staking and there are a number of good staking sites that manage their horses enough to make sure these problems don’t happen. If that’s not the case for you, here are a couple things to think about when you decide to go into a staking deal:

  • From the beginning, think that you are indebted to the money being given to you. This will add back the pressure you need to increase your focus while playing, the quality of learning, and your overall motivation. All of which help you to play better and treat the game more professionally. Being on a stake is a tremendous opportunity to accelerate your career, but ultimately, you are responsible for your career. Not your backers. So don’t view staking as a freeroll.
  • Continually assess your own game and your edge in the games your playing. A lot of players rely on their backer to confirm they are playing well, but you need to develop an opinion for yourself. Your backer isn’t perfect. You don’t want to end up in a situation where they didn’t properly assess your edge and end up losing money in games you shouldn’t have been playing in. You’re on the hook for those losses. Don’t just focus on the potential for big wins. Also be aware of the downside risk. That’s what good poker players need to do, whether or not they’re staked. A straightforward way to assess your edge, is by completing an A-C game analysis to understand what you’re doing well and what needs work. I’ve created a worksheet to make completing your analysis easier. Download it by clicking here.
  • Always make sure you’re aware and working on the mental game leaks in your game. One of the good things about having a backer is that it can hide mental game leaks. For example, players tilt less when the lose because they aren’t feeling as much financial pressure. But to improve over the long term, and to protect yourself in case your stake ends unexpectedly, you need be correcting the more subtle versions of your tilt.

Being staked does take a lot of mental pressure off, but that potentially comes with an opportunity cost that you don’t learn to manage your own money, and your attitude towards it. The most successful professional players treat their poker like they are running a small business. There is no reason why you can’t do the same even if you are staked.

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