I play poker and trade options, seeking edges from study, reflection and analytics.

Poker Players' Resilience

Poker Players' Resilience

It requires a special kind of resilience to make it in poker; there are plenty of sharp, intelligent people who’ve gotten into the game that didn’t stick, because for a lot of time they just cracked because there’s too much pressure. And, most of those people crack as a result of the fact that they were not mentally prepared to take something like this on.
— Daniel Negreanu

This post, to be read with Poker Players' Lament, is for players seeking improvement beyond "betting strategy."

The latest episode of Daniel Negreanu's Full Contact Poker Podcast (Episode 14, The Mental Game, April 25th, 2017) is a treasure trove of mental game gems. More than anything, Daniel's conversation with four prominent coaches helped me validate introspection, contextualize personal challenges and understand poker players' mental obstacles and exercises.

The lead quote about "a special kind of resilience" is a big takeaway. My resume and intellectual markings smack of talent, and I'm clearly a winning player, but the slow progress indicates missing pieces. Not included is "smartness," and I'm not alone in that. That simple point of reference builds resilience.

Daniel: “Guys, if you’re not doing some sort of mental preparation training, you’re likely doomed. Talent aside. You’re doomed to get out of this. Doomed to be unhappy. Doomed to be frustrated. Doomed to not deal with a lot of things that could be inhibiting your success.”

I would extend "mental prep" to addressing things in your life that weaken your resolve, drain your mental resources or threaten your emotional stability. The grind is hard even when we can access all our mental, emotional and physical resources.

Jared Tendler: “Make sure you understand variance at a deep level. There is something very unique about poker, at least the high concentration of variance that exists. There’s luck everywhere in life, but to go through the ups and downs that exists in poker is almost like experiencing a lifetime in a month (if you’re playing online). So it’s all very condensed. So to be able to tolerate that does force you to understand that element at a very deep level - just understanding that is not going to solve all the psychological nuances that exist in people…”

High concentration of variance = there's a lot of luck in poker. Imagine a pie chart of profit determinants in the intermediate term. Luck might be the biggest slice. Others include capital, resilience (i.e. the mental game), approach (i.e. game mix, selection and location) and volume (i.e. game count and hours played). Skill is in there too -- the fact that it can be a sliver is a frustrating, disappointing but freeing realization.

Jared implies that our psychological nuances can be pacified by sorting out those determinants in one's mind. I agree. However, bringing a high EQ to the table should be our goal, and that can be a much longer process.

Jared Tendler on preventing A+ level focus at the table: “1) Look at the ways in which you might be bleeding energy outside the tables. 2) Do a little bit of writing, reduces bloated brain (reduces accumulation of data or emotion or frustration), free up mental space, allow yourself to relax more.”

I've been talking about the benefit of reducing [mental] cycles for a long time. Jared calls it "bloated brain." The experience of building this website and blogging my thoughts and experiences (and trades) has accelerated my learning, added accountability to my decisions and freed up mental space. So, absolutely, "do a little bit of writing." Making other life changes to reduce energy bleed may be tougher.

Tommy Angelo: “Painless poker is attainable, but not sustainable. Painless poker: no matter what happens you have no resistance to it (including patience and boredom).”

Tommy talks a lot about meditation. This quote, related to that practice, will mean different things to different people.

Elliot Roe: “I’m a strong believer that individuals actually bring their problems to the poker table, and then the poker table amplifies the issues that are already there.”

Unresolved family issues? An underachiever? Life in a holding pattern? Generally frustrated? Poker and its relationship to capital amplifies everything that challenges us. Do you come to the table from a position of want? I keep wondering: what if I had a bankroll, were moving toward life contentment, were closer to realizing my potential?

Elliot Roe: “Everyone comes to the table with their own concoction, all of their personal history, all of their particular trigger points; something at the poker table creates their version of tilt. Tilt: playing a hand with an emotional setting rather than playing a hand through a logical setting.”

For a logical, analytical person, the concoction of variance and emotion is challenging. Iterating emotional improvement is a much different process than working toward strategic proficiency.

Robyn Williams: “How are you being when you’re sitting at a poker table, when you’re making your choices? What are you focused on? How are you being about it? Who are you being sitting at the poker table? Are you focused? Are you clear in your intentions about what the purpose is in any given moment?  It’s really important to be present.”

This is something that I think about, specifically who I am being sitting at the poker table. I want to be level, professional, pleasant and present. I don't always succeed. But, executing with purpose, in the moment is imperative if one is playing poker to earn money.

Robyn Williams: “Extraordinary people give themselves the authority to create the extraordinary result. When I make a declaration, I’m being clear, I’m being focused, I’m being relentless.”
Daniel: “Their ability to see past what affects them personally doesn’t exist. If you can shift that into a more positive mindset, you’re focusing less on the negative things that are happening to you and focusing more on enjoying the experience and being present to it.”

Are there certain cardrooms that bring out your best, while others seem to foster negative energy?

Robyn Williams: “When you’re following a PSP (personal strategic plan), you’re celebrating the small wins every single day. It’s very easy to get caught up in what’s not working. It’s really teaching people how to lay out an incremental plan to a goal. [mentions accountability layer of a coach].”
Robyn Williams:“You have to have a vision, and it has to be in play on a daily basis.”

Poker is about resilience and momentum. Achieving resilience is a deeply personal exercise and should be part of your daily plan. A strong foundation will help protect the ever elusive momentum, if you're one of the lucky ones to find it.

Lead image source: Google Search. Assuming Creative Commons license until I learn otherwise. Modified.
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Poker Players' Lament

Poker Players' Lament