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Jared Tendler Discusses The Mental Aspect Of Poker

Tendler Addresses Tilt and Confidence Issues


Jared TendlerAs poker strategy evolved over the past several years, poker players began to try and improve more than just their game. They tried to improve their mental game in order to reduce tilt and play at their optimum level over a longer period of time.

Jared Tendler has moved to the forefront of the industry as one of poker’s top mental game coaches. He has written two books, The Mental Game of Poker and The Mental Game of Poker 2, as well as becoming a mental game coach at, an online training site that has since merged with CardRunners. Tendler made videos for the site regarding different aspects of mental game training for members. He also has plenty of clients who come to him for one-on-one help with their games.

Tendler received his master’s degree in counseling psychology from Northeastern University in Boston and moved to Arizona to be a sports psychologist and work with golfers. After meeting Dusty “Leatherass” Schmidt on the golf course, Tendler made his transition to poker and currently does most of his work with poker players. He sat down with Card Player to discuss the mental game and how players can improve it.

Steve Schult: Most players probably come to you trying to fix their tilt issues. In your books, you talk about different types of tilt. Can you talk about why people tilt and elaborate on the different kinds of tilting.

Jared Tendler: The first thing we got to do is kind of clear up the definition of tilt. When I came into poker six or seven years ago, most people described tilt as “anything less than playing their best.” They could be drunk, bored, they could be exhausted and burned out, they could be pissed off, they could be overconfident and be “winner’s tilting.” There are all of these different reasons why you could be playing badly. What I had found after working with these players and studying the way that people were talking about tilt. By and large, when people were talking about tilt, they were talking about anger being the cause of why they were playing badly.

So the reason that it is important to distinguish that definition of what is causing that bad play is because you have a different strategy to fight the tilt based on what the actual problem is. If you are drunk, you are going to have a different strategy than if you are pissed off. That is an extreme example, but if you are unmotivated, lazy, bored, or feeling a lot of pressure, all of those scenarios will have a different strategy to correct the problem, than if you are actually angry.

Just looking at anger itself, there are a lot of reasons people get angry in poker. What I found in labeling these seven different types of tilt, there are a lot of commonalities that we can find. A lot of it has to do with feelings of injustice, unfairness, entitlement, superiority, revenge, running bad, and mistakes. In general, players have multiple different reasons they tilt or why they get angry.

SS: Sometimes when you are listening to poker players talk, they talk about how they were tilting at the table. If these players know they are tilting, how do you get them to fix these issues?

JT: The first part is the recognition. The problem is that most players don’t recognize they are tilting until they have really lost control. The hardest time to regain control is after you lost it. It’s much easier to prevent it from happening, but it takes some work to do that. All of my clients fill out a pretty detailed questionnaire that begins both their process and my process of the understanding of the specifics of their tilt.

What happens when they tilt? What are their thoughts? What are the changes in how they play? The sensation in their bodies. Some people have their hands clenched, their breath gets shorter, they get hot in their head. There are all these ways that you can sense that your anger is rising and you have to be able to recognize the signs of tilt before it becomes uncontrollable. Otherwise, regaining control is going to require extraordinary measures. You really kind of have to study your game and then you can begin to break down the cause of that tilt and to develop a strategy of how to control it in the moment and solve it in the long term.

SS: Outside of these anger issues, what are some other mental game issues that players have?

JT: The biggest one that kind of emerges after you deal with anger is anxiety or fear and because anxiety and fear have been overshadowed by tilt, players are really bad at recognizing when it is happening. A really good example is when you are in a really big hand and your mind just goes blank and you can not think. It doesn’t matter how much time you have, you just aren’t going to be able to think of anything except doing something automatic. That is a clear example of pressure, anxiety, or fear overwhelming your ability to think.

Anger has the ability to do that as well, but there are times when players lose the ability to think and they are feeling much more pressure associated with that. That pressure can be fears of failing, fears of looking stupid, or fears of making a mistake. There are a whole host of issues that can be associated with fear.

Motivational issues come up a lot. Not surprisingly because tons of poker players are lazy. They are lazy with their game and they are lazy with their mental game. Focus issues are big, especially now that social media and cell phones have given us access to extraordinary amounts of information. So whether you are playing live or online, you have a constant source of distracting information from the internet.

Confidence issues are also up there, although they are somewhat less known. Overconfidence is a big problem and is a problem that players struggle with it and don’t even realize it because they are told that confidence is something that they need to have and if you need to have confidence, then what is the problem with having more of it? The only problem is that having too much confidence can lead to poor game selection decisions and can even make some bad decisions in-game like loosening up too much especially when you are winning or on an upswing.

SS: Can you explain what “The Zone” is and how mental game preparation can help you stay there longer?

JT: The zone is basically peak mental functioning. It’s often called the state of flow, but basically when you are in the zone, you have the ability to make high level decisions very easily, nothing frustrates you, your sense of time gets altered. Sometimes it slows down, sometimes it speeds up depending on the person. There is this sense that you just sort of know what’s right and every decision you make is right. It doesn’t mean you win every hand. It just sort of means that you are in total command of your game and the situation. There is nothing that is really too overwhelming.

Getting there more consistently requires a lot of preparation because you are aiming at your peak. When you start a session, you aren’t automatically there. I would suggest that you have a routine that reinforces your goals for the session and your goals long-term. So you can see how this session is important in the long term of where you are looking to head.

I would spend some time reviewing mistakes or areas of your game that you know fairly well. Not new stuff. Do not focus on new things or certainly not knew things that you barely understand. The reason is because when you are in the zone, you are going to automatically be able to consider those things, but if you are thinking about them, you aren’t going to be able to think about them well enough because you don’t understand them well enough. So you want to have those decisions happen more automatically and somewhat unconsciously. The last thing is to just take some deep breaths and narrow your focus down so you are removing distractions like your personal life or your phone or other things you think are going to be distracting. You can’t be in the zone if you are distracted.

SS: What do you have players do in between sessions with you? Do you give out homework or anything to have players focus on when they aren’t directly discussing issues with you?

JT: The things that I have players do are all related to what we are working on. A lot of improvements that players make happen in between our sessions. You can think about the process of improving mentally just like the way you would think about improving tactically. You got to study. You got to put in the time and effort and the work.

In the mental game, it includes going through what I call a mental hand history, which is something I think helps break down mental game issues. They are taking notes on any additional details they recognize. They take some time after their sessions to kind of vent about their frustrations so they are not allowing accumulation of anger or other mental game issues to kind of gather and carry over from day to day.

There is a technique I call “injecting logic.” So they use that technique when they are playing or in other situations where negative emotion is a problem. They’re trying to use that to reduce their emotion and regain control. They also track their progress and note what they did and what worked and what didn’t work. There are a lot of things that players are doing.

SS: What are some signals that your mental game is suffering? What should be some things players look for to know that they need to improve their mental game?

JT: Very simple. Every single tactical mistake that you make that you realize is pretty obvious, and not just like some small marginal spot, but a big mistake. Every big mistake you make has some mental connection to it because it wouldn’t happen otherwise. So if you are pretty good at understanding your game and you understand when your game is off by a good margin, then you need to start to look at the mental side of why those mistakes are happening and why you are playing at that level, because it’s there.