I discuss the poker mindset techniques I use throughout my play sessions to prepare for and stay in a +EV, A-game mindset.
In episode 164, I answered three of your questions about how to add more tables to your online poker sessions, actually doing work off-the-felt and color-coded stats.
P.R.E.P. for Poker Success (2:30)
All this mindset talk is from a working man’s perspective.
My in-game mindset is one that I’ve been working on for a long time. I shoot for A-game mindset every single time.
I want to be honest with you and tell you that it doesn’t work 100% of the time for me. It’s very easy for me to go on tilt and start spewing chips when a bad beat happens or things just don’t go my way. I can sometimes get so angry that without thinking I just close every table I’m on and shutdown the software then and there. Those are the kinds of reactions I’m trying to avoid by working on my mindset with a good warm-up pre-session and by trying to continue this focus in session.
In order to stay focused and play in my A-game state, I have a 4-part mindset goal every time I play. I remember this with a 4-letter word: PREP, as in “prepare”. Each letter stands for a mindset aspect I’m striving for:
- Present in the Situation
- Results Don’t Matter
- EV Mindset
- Patience is Rewarded
Present in the Situation
I always want to be present in the situation and fully engaged in every session I play. I ditch the distractions so I can be fully tuned in to the action so I can make the best plays and take advantage of my opponent’s weaknesses. To do this I need to know my opponents at each table, and also how each individual table is flowing. Loose, tight, aggressive, passive.
Another aspect to being present is to be attuned to my own emotions and how I’m playing. If things are flowing and I’m making great reads and decisions, that’s a money-making opportunity. But, if I’m feeling rushed or aggravated or angry and tilty, I’ll be making bad decisions and losing money. Noticing this C-game level of play is the first step in turning it around or ending the session early so I don’t lose any more.
Results Don’t Matter
This is probably the hardest mindset shift that I have to make every session. I’m a poker player: I want to make money every time I play. But, that’s not going to happen. Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose. I know this intellectually, but I can succumb to anger when I do lose money.
Sometimes my logic statement (discussed in episode 163) is very simple: “Results don’t matter, it’s the long run and making +EV decisions that do matter.” Telling myself this doesn’t always help to keep my mind off of results, but it never hurts.
EV is expected value: it’s the value of your decision in the long run if you can make it over and over again. There’s +EV, or winning plays, neutral EV or break-even plays, and -EV or losing plays.
Having an EV Mindset means you’re doing more than just playing your hand and the board. It means you’re thinking about those plus your opponent, their range, the effective stacks, the player images involved, the exact situation you’re in right now and many other things. When you put all this together, an EV Mindset is striving to make great decisions that take advantage of any opportunities present.
If the situation is perfect for a 3bet bluff with J7s, then I make the bluff. When I believe my opponent will only call a 1/3 pot value bet, then I make it 1/3 pot even though I want to get more out of him. If I do something different due to greed or fear or whatever, then I’m not acting in with an EV mindset.
Recognizing situations and acting on them are 2 different things. A player who is present will spot the situation, and if they’re in a +EV mindset, they’ll act on it.
Patience is Rewarded
How many times have you tried to force the action? For me, thousands of times. For example, I’m dealt A8s, and I flop the nut flush draw. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve decided to get super aggressive and commit my whole stack on the flop in these spots. I just want to win this hand so bad that I’m willing to call way too loosely or bet too aggressively and just commit everything on a draw. When this happens, it’s a clear sign that I’m not being patient.
Playing patiently allows me to spot profitable situations and control myself. I focus on my opponent, their range, the odds of me hitting my hand and the pot odds I’m being offered. When I’m like this, I can make sound, rational decisions. If I’m committing my stack, it’s because I’ve got a superior hand, an incredible draw, or tons of fold equity. If I’m folding, it’s because I’m beat and I can’t get my opponent to fold.
I believe that patience at the table is often rewarded.
I’ve lost far too many tournaments by playing too aggressively. Conversely, there’s been so many times I’ve made the money or the final table due to patience. When I’m patient and my opponents are not, they’re doing my work for me by making mistakes and getting KO’d. I’m being rewarded because I remained calm and collected at important stages of the tournament.
In-session Actions (12:10)
Practice a Strategy
During my warm-up I decide upon some kind of strategy to keep in mind and practice as I play. Here’s a great quote from Jim Kwik that’s a small departure from what we’ve heard a million times. He says, “Practice makes permanent.” I believe this is more true than practice makes perfect. The more you work on a skill, the more it will be ingrained in your skillset. Take whatever skill you’re studying off the felt and find ways to practice it in-session.
Speak Through Your Actions
Some of the best sessions I ever had was when I recorded game tape and spoke through every action I took. The reason is because as I speak through my actions I’m forced to verbalize the logic that I’m using before I click a button. Before I click “Call”, speak through the reason I’m making that decision. Before I click “Raise”, I say why I’m raising, and I do the same before I check or fold. Speaking through my actions is the best way to keep me focused on the task at hand, which is making money through +EV decisions.
This same idea is why many Twitch streamers like Jamie Staples, Bet on Drew and Jason Sommerville are successful. They’re constantly explaining their thought process to the audience. Sure, it’s entertaining for one thing, but on another level the audience is there to learn from them, and they’ve got to give good educational content as well. They’ve got to justify their actions. When you record game tape, pretend there’s an audience hanging on your every word and action.
Another thing I like about game tape is that it can force me to remain calm. You know the old saying, “Never let them see you sweat”? Well, if I pretend I’m playing to an audience, it helps me keep my emotions in check because the last thing I want is for them to see me get angry and lose a buy-in or two because of tilt.
I often throw a smile on my face as I’m playing. Whether I’m on a camera or off-camera, I’m smiling because I know the power of a smile. A smile naturally affects your mindset. It’s very difficult to remain angry or to go on tilt when you’re holding a smile on your face.
Use an “Uncomfortable” Tag in PokerTracker 4
PokerTracker 4 allows you to create any tag you want, so I made one that simply says, “uncomfortable.” As I’m playing, I use this tag every time I find myself in an uncomfortable spot. Maybe it’s playing out of position in a multi-way pot, 3betting from the blinds, facing a cbet, facing a river donk bet, whatever. Tagging these hands allows me to put it out of my mind for the time being and continue to stay focused on the task at hand. Later in my study session, I’ll pull up all the uncomfortable hands I played and review them to figure out why I was uncomfortable.
Music Soothes My Savage Beast
Dennis Rodman once said, “Music soothes my savage beast. I got a beast in me running wild.” I feel the same way sometimes. And that beast’s name: Tilt-monstrosity. Music can help keep my emotions in check, so I’ll listen to Baroch-era classical music or music with a steady beat and no lyrics. I’ll sometimes listen to 80’s synthwave or music composed by Howard Shore or John Williams.
De-select “Show Desktop Items”
One thing I like to do is I hide all the items on my Windows desktop. I right click and de-select “Show Desktop Items” and BAM! more distractions removed.
Paper and Pen are a Must
I always have a paper and a pen in front of me to take notes. Sometimes as I play, something interesting will come to mind and instead of Googling it or opening up Facebook or email or whatever, I’ll make a note to follow-up on it after my session.
Be Ready for Tilty Things to Happen
There are many things that can set me on tilt or distract me at the tables, and I try to have a plan for each to occur because I know it’ll occur eventually. One thing I suffer from is “big hand blindness”. I see a big hand like AA, KK or QQ and instead of seeing my opponent or strategy or the best way to approach the hand, all I’m seeing are $$$. When this happens, I take a deep breath and tell myself, “Play this hand well, make good decisions, and don’t think about winning a massive pot.” Having a plan in place will save you many headaches at the tables.
I talked about this in last episode about warm-ups, but I really like to have a 5-minute question and my Tabata timer on. In the last session I played, my 5-minute question was “Who is my target at the table?” When the timer went off every 5 minutes, I asked and answered it for each of the 4 tables I was playing. This kept me focused on who was at my tables and I believe my play and strategies were better because of this awareness.
Tournament Players: Pay Attention to the Tourney Dynamics
In tournaments, you have a few extra things to worry about:
- Blind/Ante structure
- Shrinking stack sizes (you and your opponents)
- Bubble considerations
- In the money considerations
- Approaching the final table
- Final table play
Getting back to being present in the situation, you’ve got to be aware of these factors. Your opponents will be adjusting their play based on these things, so you have to be ready to respond. There’s also ICM considerations of getting KO’d just before the bubble bursts, or even lasting just a little bit longer to make a pay jump. Stay focused on what’s going on around your tourney table, not just on what your opponents are doing.
Here’s my challenge to you for this episode: Choose 2 or 3 things from the list of actions I take at the tables and practice them for yourself. Remember, “practice makes permanent”, so get to practicing.
Now it’s your turn to take action and do something positive for your poker game.
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