Sign Up For Card Player's Newsletter And Free Bi-Monthly Online Magazine


Poker Training

Newsletter and Magazine

Sign Up

Find Your Local

Card Room


Goals Part 4: Improving Personal Psychological Skills at Poker

by Steve Zolotow |  Published: Apr 10, 2019


This series of columns began with setting goals for the New Year. By the time you read this, one quarter of the year will be gone. Did you set up goals for 2019? If not, try to set some goals for the second quarter. If so, take time to review them and note your progress or lack thereof.

Celebrate your accomplishments. Any forward movement is better than none. Also revise plans for second quarter so you can achieve more of what you want. Break down your objectives into monthly chunks. The monthly chunks can be further divided into smaller bites for each week or even each day.

In the previous column I recommended the use of SMART goals. This acronym states that your goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time sensitive. These columns focus on your poker goals.

In this column, we will look at poker psychology and discuss some possible goals that are appropriate. Before I get to that, I’d like to recommend a few more good sources for technical learning to those mentioned previously. Make sure to check out Alex Fitzgerald, Phil Galfond, and Bart Hanson, whom all have websites and videos available on YouTube.

We can break poker psychology into two big areas. Your own personal psychology, which includes such crucial topics as avoiding tilt, maintaining focus, and integrating poker play and study into your life. And your opponent’s psychology, which divides into reading your opponents and manipulating them. Reading them on a macro level breaks down into figuring out if they are weak or strong. Manipulation focuses on getting them to do what you want.

Personal Psychology

I want to mention two sources of information that I have found very useful. They are Elliot Roe and Jared Tendler. Elliot Roe aims to improve not only your poker, but your life. He has worked with some of the best players in the world and will help you integrate poker psychology (avoiding tilt or eliminating distractions) with techniques that will help in your daily life. These include diet, exercise, meditation, and sleeping habits. His website,, includes a variety of samples and free products.

There are also some hypnotherapy products created for poker players. Jared Tendler has written The Mental Game of Poker. It is a very good source of information for overcoming tilt. He devotes a lot of thought to the causes and varieties of tilt, especially forms of tilt that are caused by anger.

Both Roe and Tendler will help you spend more time playing your A-Game. They both recommend a procedure that starts with some sort of pre-game routine, before your playing session, and a post-game routine that follows each session. If you have a problem with tilt, they both recommend keeping some kind of detailed record or log of what causes you to tilt. Recognition of what causes you personally to become unhinged is a great first step toward curing tilt. Both of them apply the old self-help remedy that you shouldn’t stress over things you can’t control, but instead focus on controlling your reaction to them. The classic poker example is that you can’t control your opponent drawing out on the river. You can control your reaction to it. Neither of them pretends to be a high-level poker player so don’t expect any useful technical advice.

The other aspect of poker psychology relates to your opponents. Before discussing authorities in this area, I should also mention Alan Schoonmaker. His book, The Psychology of Poker, discusses both what is needed to be a good player and what is the best way to understand your opponents. He is also one of the few poker writers who realizes that players have a variety of motivations for playing. They do not always focus on profit maximization. In this, he reminds me of the behavioral economists who revolutionized modern economics by recognizing that real people are not always the rational decision makers that economic theory had supposed them to be.

In the next column, I will discuss resources for reading your opponents. I want to reinforce the importance of setting goals for your life and for your poker. By now you should have created SMART goals for learning from some of the technical and psychological sources I have mentioned. If you haven’t set up goals, do so. If you don’t have pre-game and post-game routines, make setting them up one of your top priorities. ♠

Steve ZolotowSteve ‘Zee’ Zolotow, aka The Bald Eagle, is a successful gamesplayer. He has been a full-time gambler for over 35 years. With two WSOP bracelets and few million in tournament cashes, he is easing into retirement. He currently devotes most of his time to poker. He can be found at some major tournaments and playing in cash games in Vegas. When escaping from poker, he hangs out in his bars on Avenue A in New York City -The Library near Houston and Doc Holliday’s on 9th St. are his favorites.