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Fixing the Broken Poker Mind

by Roy Cooke |  Published: Oct 30, 2013


Roy CookePoker, it’s the nuts when you’re running well. You appear and feel as though you’re a magnet for money. Great karma envelops you! You visualize new dreams, and even consummate some. Your confidence is elevated, enhancing your performance in all areas of life. Friends accumulate; potential dates have a newfound interest in you. Life is magnificent!

But there’s an inverse aspect. Sometimes the cards don’t seem to run like they used to, showing zero mercy. Maybe it’s you, and you’re not playing as well as you once did. Maybe your opponents have refined their strategies, learned your techniques and are playing you better, but you’re unaware of the changes. Maybe the game has passed you by. It could be any number of things; you’re confused and lost.

The world appears a much darker place. You’d think that losing was contagious. People don’t talk to you as much. All those “friends,” many of whom now owe you money, are hard to find. Your confidence is shattered; you can’t seem to do much right. Life has changed, and not for the better. You need to make the necessary adjustments to get your life back on track, but you’re not quite sure what they are.

Many players attribute these swings solely to luck. And while it’s often a significant factor, most likely you have been affected too, and the mental and emotional stress is causing you not to play your best. It can turn into a never-ending downward spiral: you suffer defeat, confidence erodes, and “tilt” bares its ugly head. You start to play poorly. You continue to get beat up, your confidence erodes further, increasing your level of stress and tilt. Your game continues to deteriorate. It’s a mental and emotional problem you must solve to pull out of your downhill dive.

The mental and emotional issues exhibit themselves in different ways. Often, they appear as rage, player/dealer abuse, and even more detrimental to your game, emotionally reactive playing.

Some players, their confidence shattered, shrink into a shell, and get so defensive that they become afraid to play. Closely related, some mentally give up and lose their will to fight. Play in any of these mental states, and you’ll be taking the worst of it. Stay in that state and you’re going broke.

So how do you make the changes to get out of this rut you’re in and reinstate the sound, logical thought processes you possessed when you were winning? Having the capabilities to actualize that change is an essential skill to survive poker’s “test of time,” a test I guarantee the “poker gods” will force you to take.

First off, you have to recognize that you are not on your game and effectively analyze why. Abandon the justifications and keep the “bad beat” stories to yourself. Take control of yourself, and be determined to fix your ailments. Sports psychologists advocate taking the positive belief that you want to supersede the negative thoughts and repeatedly inject the positive notion every time you have a negative brainwave.

“Crazy” Mike Caro does this with his “a powerful winning force surrounds me” statement every time he plays (though the right statement is a matter of personal preference). This technique gives Mike the confidence he needs and eliminates any pessimistic thinking detrimental to his game.

This “mental programming” works with many mental issues. By practicing this formula when you want to modify inappropriate thoughts that are affecting your game, over time you will replace the negative thoughts with the better appropriate thoughts. For example, when you take a bad beat, tell yourself “it’s just variance,” and, as the late Barry Tanenbaum used to say, “variance is my friend, because I can handle it better than anyone else.” Telling yourself, “I’m mentally strong enough to handle any swing,” is another good thought to instill. The exact statement is one you need to design yourself so that it fits your own weaknesses. In short, analyze your weakness, think how you can change those negative thoughts into a strength, and instill the new thought into your mind.

Additionally, getting the physical stress out of your body will help put you into the right frame of mind, allowing for clearer cognitive reasoning. Getting up and stretching, rotating your neck to loosen your neck and shoulder muscles or taking a walk when you’re stressed or in the wrong frame of mind can set you back on the right track. Training yourself in meditation techniques is another method of getting off “tilt” by relaxing your anger issues and putting yourself back into the right poker mindset.

Much in life is mental, especially poker. And I’m not just speaking about having intelligence or knowledge. A huge part of poker is keeping yourself mentally ready and emotionally stable from the first hand to the last. Many great players, with Stu Ungar as a notable example, had the intelligence and knowledge to play outstandingly, but lacked the mental and emotional strengths to be consistent and flunked the “test of time,” in his case ending up dead long before his time. They have outstanding “A” games, but also have an “F” mode.

Think about this in personal terms. How much better would your poker and your life be if you never went on “tilt,” and/or never even got into a negative mindset? How much additional money would you have? How would this mental enhancement compound into other areas of your life, your relationships, your confidence, and your self-image? It’s a no-brainer to correct, assuming you possess the strength and discipline to do so!
It’s your choice, which person do you want to be? ♠

Roy Cooke played poker professionally for 16 years prior to becoming a successful Las Vegas Real Estate Broker/Salesman in 1989. Should you wish to any information about Real Estate matters-including purchase, sale or mortgage his office number is 702-396-6575 or Roy’s e-mail is His website is You can also find him on Facebook or Twitter @RealRoyCooke