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What’s The Best Attitude?

by Alan Schoonmaker |  Published: Nov 06, '10


“Texann” asked me a question that I’m not sure I understand.

“What is the proper attitude to have when sitting down at the poker table? I have read and heard so much about having a positive attitude — from very formal types of things like the book, The Secret, to friends saying to “think positive”. However, for me, it seems like having a positive attitude winds up having a negative effect on my poker game.

“Before sitting down to play a tournament, I have tried thinking positive and “manifesting” a positive outcome. I have visualized myself doing well. I have concentrated on it. I have believed it. But if I didn’t do well, the disappointment seemed to be great because I had gotten my expectations so high. It didn’t matter if the loss was due to my own mistake or just plain bad luck. I had visualized myself doing very well, so according to the positive attitude way of thinking, I should have. The intensity of the disappointment often led to tilt in subsequent play.

“On the other hand, there have been times when I have not chosen the ‘positive attitude’ route and simply sat down at the table with no expectation whatsoever, good or bad. If I did well, I was happy, but if I didn’t, it didn’t bother me very much because my expectations had not been high in the first place.

“I have also noticed that I have seen a lot of poker players on TV that seemed to have attitudes that fly in the face of the ‘positive thinking’ approach. I’ve seen people who have made it very deep in large tournaments say things like, ‘I never thought I would make it this far. I just can’t believe it. I expected to be out the first day, yet here I am.’ If thoughts truly manifest things, then those people should have actually been out on the first day, but they weren’t.

“So given the above, I think that I probably shouldn’t try to have a positive attitude when I sit down to play a tournament. But then I wonder if that is going to cause me to have a negative self-fulfilling prophecy, i.e. if I don’t think I’m going to win, I won’t.

“So what is the best attitude to have when sitting down at the poker table? I would very much appreciate any advice you can give in this area.”

I think, but am not sure, that Texann has been misled by people who believe that thinking positively will improve your cards. If I have misunderstood her, my position is incorrect for her, but not for anyone who believes that myth. I’d appreciate comments from Texann and anyone else.

I’ll take pieces of material I’ve already published. Because I’m mixing published and new words, I’ll omit quotation marks and references to my own work. My published work had footnotes, but I don’t know how to make footnotes on a blog.

Many people try to “think lucky” to improve their cards. They agree – explicitly or implicitly – with the position Charlie Shoten took in his 5/29/2006 Poker Player column: “Your words are magnets that will draw a winning or losing hand depending on their thought content.” He got that “insight” from a terrible book called The Awesome Science of Luck. But there is no science of luck. Calling it “science” may make Charlie Shoten or some of his readers feel good, but their beliefs are just childish superstitions.

There is even some “research” on luck, and it reinforces silly superstitions. A friend encouraged me to read Dr. Wiseman’s The Luck Factor: Changing Your Luck, Changing Your Life – The Four Essential Principles. My friend loved this book because it supported his own beliefs.

Dr. Wiseman’s “research” was incredibly sloppy. He had no serious controls, nor did he do much statistical analysis. He just asked people, “Are you lucky or unlucky?” Then he uncritically repeated their anecdotes of wonderful or bad things happening as proof of the power of luck. Anecdotal evidence is unacceptable because you can find anecdotes to support almost any belief.

At one critic of this “research” said, “The description of ‘lucky’ specifically talks about winning lotteries. Yet people who classified themselves as ‘lucky’… didn’t do any better at the lottery than those who classified themselves as ‘unlucky’ (though ‘lucky’ people’s expectations of winning were more than twice as high as those of ‘unlucky’ people). This would seem to indicate that the ‘lucky’ people who participated in this experiment were anything but. They may have been more optimistic, unrealistic, or self-deluding, but they weren’t luckier.” This description of so-called “lucky” people as optimistic, unrealistic, and self-deluding fits many poker players.

Dr. Wiseman replied: “When it comes to random events like the lottery, such expectations count for little. Someone with a high expectation of winning will do as well as someone with a low expectation. However, life is not like a lottery. Often our expectations make a difference. They make a difference to whether we try something, how hard we persist in the face of failure, how we interact with others and how others interact with us.”

His reply deals with the positive effects of believing that you’re lucky, a subject I will discuss later. However, his results – and his own words – clearly indicate that this belief has no effect on random events, and the cards in poker are random. Therefore, his research – despite its sloppy procedures – is evidence against the belief that you should “think lucky” to get good cards.

However, believing that you’re lucky can create a positive attitude, and this attitude can provide several benefits to poker players, especially no-limit tournament players:
• You may become more confident and decisive.
• That confidence may make you more alert to opportunities.
• That confidence and decisiveness will help you to exploit those opportunities.
• You may accept responsibility for your results instead of blaming them on bad luck.
• That positive attitude will help you to cope with the inevitable bad beats, losing streaks, and other adversities of poker. Instead of feeling, “I can’t cope,” you will fight back.
• It can also intimidate other players; they may not want to confront a fearless and apparently lucky player. Your bluffs will work more often, and you can make other moves.

There is a thin line between having a positive, confident attitude and being arrogant. It pays to think “I’m lucky,” but don’t ever believe, “I’m so lucky that I can buck the odds.” They keep building billion dollar casinos to exploit that belief. If you make enough negative EV bets, you must lose.

You must also resist the belief that luck will overcome skill. The most important decision in poker is selecting games and situations in which you have an edge. If you let your belief in your own luck make you repeatedly challenge superior players or play bad cards, you will lose.

Strive for the positive benefits of believing “I’m lucky” without denying the reality that cards are random:
• Have confidence in yourself.
• Constantly look for opportunities.
• Exploit these opportunities decisively.
• Keep fighting when things are going badly.
• Keep trying to intimidate the opposition.
• But don’t overdo it. If you believe that your luck will overcome the odds or superior skill, you are doomed, maybe not today, but certainly over the long term.

If you have a question, please add it in any comment section, or e-mail me Before emailing, please check my first blog, “What is poker psychology coaching?”

Any views or opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the ownership or management of


almost 11 years ago

Here's an attitude I like to sit down with. "I came here to kick ass and chew bubble gum, ...and I'm all out of bubble gum". Now that doesn't magically guarantee that the cards are going to go my way, or that the results will be there during a particular session or tournament but it does get me into a fun and confident frame of mind and thats the best you can hope for starting off.


almost 11 years ago

I'm sorry I didn't express my question very well. I was not asking about the correct attitude to improve luck. I completely agree with you and understand that thinking positively will not improve your cards. My question was not about luck. That being said, I’m not really sure how to express my question any clearer. Maybe this will help… Imagine that my question was from a person that runs track, and the person is asking you what attitude he should have before running a race. The rest of my question would still apply. If that person went into a race thinking positive, but despite his best efforts, he still lost, the disappointment would be much greater than if he had gone into the race neither thinking positively nor negatively. In other words, the let down would be much less if he didn’t go into the race thinking he was going to win. But on the other hand, perhaps he won’t win if he doesn’t think he will. So which attitude would be better for him to have – a positive attitude or a neutral attitude?

Does that clear my question up at all?


almost 11 years ago

Poker is a war. Sometimes its a cold war, sometimes it is WW3. You're greatest enemy being yourself usually. If you can't handle rejection and the pain of losing when you should have won then this is the wrong venture to undertake. That being said, my humble opinion is that until you have won for a period of time consistently you should not expect to win, period. You should have the expectation of a student who is paying dues and investing in something that will pay dividends once your time of being a student is past. In the meantime be the best student you can be and just be real about goals, progress, weaknesses etc. To cope with the swings of poker I suggest some type of meditation or framework of thought that allows you to be open minded and think out of the box. Zen, yoga, martial arts, etc....I hope this helps. I know that you weren't directing the question to me but sometimes it helps to have different points of view. Good luck!


almost 11 years ago

""Strive for the positive benefits of believing “I’m lucky” without denying the reality that cards are random:
• Have confidence in yourself.
• Constantly look for opportunities.
• Exploit these opportunities decisively.
• Keep fighting when things are going badly.
• Keep trying to intimidate the opposition.
• But don’t overdo it. If you believe that your luck will overcome the odds or superior skill, you are doomed, maybe not today, but certainly over the long term.""

I really think you nailed the head here Dr.Al

a calm centered confident attitude [theta / alpha brain states or whatever} allows you to be more aware of possibilities and opportunities and more creative on deciding how to best deal with them . there is much hooie surrounding brain states and entrainment and even such far out notions such as " it is the brain wave [theta] where our minds can connect to the Divine and manifest changes in the material world."
but regardless of any new aged thinking theta / alpha is generally associated with a calm state where the brain learns and proforms well and is often equated with being in "the zone"


over 10 years ago

I totally agree with Dr. Schoonmaker when speaking about the positive attitude leading to tilt when you loose. For example, I recently went to play in the PCA Ladies Main Event 2011. I invested $1100 to enter the tournament. The day before, I attended a mindset poker camp where the instructor spoke of the positive attitude you should have before the tournament, and the healthy positive things you should do before the tournament. Things like not drinking to many cocktails and not indulging in too many rich foods. So, with all this sacrifice and pysching myself up, the reality hit me when I looked down at AA early in the tournament. Without going into the strategy of the hand and the way the hand played out, I can tell you I played the hand the correct way. Nothing I could have done would have changed the outcome of that hand. Without further delay, my opponent called my all in bet after my 4 bet with KK. The dreadful K appeared on the river. My stomach went flip. All the preperation could not have changed the outcome. I went on Tilt. For almost the rest of the weekend, I played Craps and Blackjack and lost my entire bankroll. Hands like these do not happen very often, but they do happen. I was not prepared for this to happen to me when I was very far from home, and playing in an important tournament.


over 10 years ago

Um, actually that's not that uncommon. You have to expect that it will happen.

Just think of it as a deposit in the Card Karma bank. Each piece of bad luck is a deposit for a withdrawl of future good luck. So you have banked equity...

Try busting out AA vs. AA, aipf, when someone hits a flush.

Very true we can tilt off WAY more than we lose in the suckout.

Attachment is suffering...

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