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The Mind of a Good Gambler - Part II

by Roy Brindley |  Published: Feb 18, 2015


Playing poker well isn’t just about knowing the correct strategies; you also need to have the correct mindset. And the correct poker mindset isn’t the one you’re naturally hardwired for or you’ve been trained for. Confidence, focus, tilt awareness, and other psychological attributes need to be developed to play poker well. And perhaps of even greater importance, to play poker happily.

In poker, small things can make big differences in edge when added up over time. Doing some rough justice, a 2% differential in blended edge over a year to a full time $20-$40 limit hold’em player is $40,000/yr. Such a thin difference in edge-making that much difference in expectation exemplifies the importance of consistency. If you sat these players next to each other, it would be hard to tell the difference. And it’s really easy to get sloppy at the table, justify an error or two here and there, play unfocused, or mentally affected, and not realize the dramatic effect it’s having on your game.

That being the case, you need to retrain your mind to adapt it to poker. Make sure you are attending to the game’s needs, picking up tells, thinking about opponents’ thought processes, and staying patient and emotionally stable. Mental challenges such as “fight or flight” responses, commonly known as “tilt,” need to be contained to a level that allows logical thinking. You need to recognize when you’re slipping emotionally and become more rational. Concentration needs to be intensely developed. Keeping your mind on the game adds significant value. It’s doable, but not easy to change your emotional and mental state.

I accomplished the required mental changes mostly through affirmations. In short, I talk to myself, sometimes a lot. It may look a little strange, but it’s effective. For example; when I’m feeling emotional, I might close my eyes, take a deep breath, tell myself “relax,” or, “Just keep playing well,” or, “It will all come out right in the end.” If I’ve made a bad play, I’ll tell myself to put it behind me, rather than dwelling on it. And I’ll keep talking to myself until I’ve gotten my mind right. Over time, my overall mindset changes, and I’m less prone to triggers.

And while that works for me, I understand that “tilt” is a chemical reaction within your body and self-talk may not work for all. If you’re unable to maintain emotional control at the table, you shouldn’t play poker for meaningful money. Recognize your weaknesses, know when they are unchangeable, and adapt your life so that you play within your limitations.

Mental concentration is a poker fundamental that must be mastered if you want to develop an A-game. Myopic focus, the ability to adjust your mind to singularly focus on a single issue, adds significant clarity and depth to your decision making. When you think more clearly and deeply, you’re just going to make better decisions, adding to your edge. I constantly see many very knowledgeable players playing on their phones, watching football games, trying to pick-up the cocktail waitress, etc. Then, a circumstance occurs where they should have a good read on the situation due to a previous event, and they can’t make the association because they weren’t paying attention and didn’t even notice the previous event. How much extra edge would you possess if you dramatically increased your focus while playing?

Concentration can be enhanced and improved. A higher level of oxygen in the brain improves concentration. This can be accomplished with exercise. Good sleep habits are also key; if you’re tired or worn down, you can’t focus. The most effective method of concentration development is just practicing it. Focus on the game, but make it a relaxed focus. Don’t let your mind wander. When it does, bring yourself back. 0nce again, over time, you’ll develop increased concentration.

That said, it’s also important to take time out and relax your focus. Take mental breaks, get away from the table, take walks, and come back when you’re mentally reset. Meditation can be an effective tool in concentration development. I find that when I drifting mentally or emotionally, just taking a deep breath and a 30 second mental hiatus, telling myself to relax or focusing on something highly relaxing brings me back to a state of mind where I can refocus. These things may or may not work for you, but do work on increasing your concentration. It’ll help your game a lot.

Most of what I’ve stated in the last two columns is fundamental. They’re mostly small things that can make big differences that people intuitively know they should do. But doing them is what makes a difference. Discipline and train your mind for poker excellence. Most people can’t actualize the right mindset. If you can do it, your edge and profits will dramatically increase. ♠

Roy Cooke played poker professionally for 16 years prior to becoming a successful Las Vegas Real Estate Broker/Salesman. Should you wish any information about Real Estate matters-including purchase, sale or mortgage his office number is 702-376-1515 or Roy’s e-mail is His website is You can also find him on Facebook or Twitter @RealRoyCooke