Friday, July 1, 2016


The Mental Game of Poker
Jared Tendler

Read this book this week. It has some strong echos with my reading on cognitive therapy but applied to sports psychology. Should be noted that I've never played poker and just pulled what I thought was useful and interesting to think about. Highly recommend for reading and thinking over the implications.

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raw notes:


Inchworm Model:
SF ruler analogy, moving a bell-curve range that represents your gameplay
Your decision making, good or bad, in game or mental, is all a related network. You improve the whole thing by improving any part.
“When players constantly learn new things while avoiding, ignoring, blocking out, or protecting weaknesses, their bell curve gets flatter and flatter. Weaknesses haven’t improved, so the back end doesn’t move." Moving the bottom up is a high priority.

The Adult Learning Model = 4 stages of competence
When tied to tilting, performance, and the inchworm model this has bigger repercussions than are at first apparent.
Flaws or bad habits are ingrained skills that you no longer want to have ingrained.
“Not Trusting Your Gut
You know the right play, but go against it. Why? It’s because you don’t trust the answer your gut spits out. This leads us to ask, 'What the hell is the gut?' If you don’t know what the gut is, it makes sense why you wouldn’t trust it. Essentially, the gut is skills at the level of Unconscious Competence reacting to the situation with an answer. It’s the mental version of an athletic reaction in sports.”

The Process Model, 6 Distinct Phases (4 when cleaned up).
CUT OUT ALL CROSSOVER. Any time or attention spent focussing on one process while in another dilutes from the mental task at hand. Humans can’t multitask well. Your objective is to complete these tasks well, so you have to design your process to remove multitasking and allow for sole focus on executing the task at hand well. Quality and depth.
Fleshed this out in Improved Drastic Improvement.

1. Preparation
Thoroughly and pragmatically working on the inchworm as informed by previous analysis.
When solving problems, make a list
order and fix by
* small to large
* most costly
* most often
* cause emotional turmoil
one at a time.
Raising the floor.

2. Warmup/Performance
Executing the tournament itself.
Warmup is: being ready to play full and well from GO!
Performance is: Playing each tournament set well.

3. Results (the measure of success)/Evaluation
(note, including this as a step in the greater process orientation allows you the best of both so you don’t get lost in self-pity or dodge coming to terms with results)
How did you do? How did you play on a scale from 1-10? How did was your mentality on a scale of 1-10? What did you execute especially well/badly? What was your enjoyment on a scale of 1-10?

4. Analysis
What were the problems? What are the solutions? What more is there going on here that you didn’t know or didn’t know how to solve? Take a magnifying glass to your game, both on the screen and in your brain.
Raising the ceiling.

melee is complicated enough that in the moment some things are effectively random (later, when reviewing and learning they aren’t, but in playing they are sufficiently). This is nice because I realize that I have an implicit expectation that everything can be anticipated because everything is a decision. While this is strictly true it is not sufficiently true. When performing, a fighting game has variance to account for in your mental and technical game.

a scrub will
  • abandon a winning strategy.
  • try to win every hand.
  • believe they can own another’s soul.
  • play more or less hands when up or down rather than play to the gamestate.
  • play badly/negligently when stakes are small.
  • believe that emotions are problems.
  • believe changing habits is as simple as “don’t do it.”
  • believe you should avoid situations that make you tilt.
  • believe visualizing winning is the key to winning.
  • believe that playing their A game is chance.
  • believe the mental game is esoteric and complex.
  • believe that solved problems are no longer problems. Mastery is a moving target and the world moves in circles.
a scrub is just someone with false beliefs/misunderstandings informing their actions. These false beliefs can and will come out if we don't correct them thoroughly all the way to unconscious competence in the 4 stages.

by hating mistakes you hate improving.

Playing perfect or even playing well are moving targets. As you improve, your old A game becomes your B game. It’s unrealistic to expect yourself to play at the top of your game constantly or even more often than not. That goes against the concept of a range. You will play well and you will play badly and that’s expected.
Remember, you’re mostly not a juggler but an orchestrator of ability and habit (via unconscious competence). Your mind will play things out according to your design. There’s no use in getting upset when you can’t micromanage every little thing in the middle of the tournament set because that’s a ridiculous expectation and contrary to how performance works.

"The greatest predictor of long-term success is learning and improving every day."
Learning must correspond with the four stages of competence or it is imaginary.


Realistic planning makes plans a reality.
When you have a flawed understanding of the learning process, it means you also have a flawed understanding of how to achieve goals.

1st sentence: “Chances are you’ve come to this chapter looking for a way not to be lazy.” lmaooooooo
“Motivation is the emotion or energy behind achieving your goals. It’s the fuel used to accomplish them. If you’re lacking motivation, you either have problems with your goals or the energy you need to achieve them. Here are a few examples of goal problems:
  • You’re only after results, and have no process-oriented goals.
  • You have high expectations.
  • You have no short-term goals, only far-off ones.
  • You reach your goals and fail to set new ones.
  • You have too many goals.
  • You have many interests and can’t choose what you want.
  • You have underlying goals such as looking good, avoiding mistakes, or keeping up your win rate.
Motivation is a marathon, inspiration is a sprint
they can both be positive but you can’t rely on constant feed of inspiration to do your long-term work for you or the work doesn’t get done.

Laziness is a learned skill, it takes work to replace it with something. Write down your excuses for hanging back and reply with a rational retort.
"If you want to stop procrastinating, you first must eliminate the belief, 'there’s always tomorrow.' Today is when improvement happens, not just in your game but also in reducing procrastination. Today is your only opportunity to improve. Tomorrow is a fantasy."

“Now it feels good to see progress because I know I’m working hard for it. My goals now are much more about improving on a daily or weekly basis—realistic stepping stones. Before, when I started cash games I would say to myself, ‘I want to be playing $10/$20 in a year,’ but I wouldn’t have a process to get there. Now, I am on a path where I can take little steps to be better every day. “

results orientation doesn’t get at the meat of improvement and is confusing. Just trying to win friendlies or even trying to win by a bigger margin is the equivalent of just wanting to try hard. If you don’t know what it is you’re trying then that’s not improvement, that’s just throwing intensity at an undefined problem like the farmer that thinks that farming out his field is just as viable as researching crop rotation. Working harder without smarter (defined goals and method) is stupid.

High expectations or goals that are too far off both defeat the purpose of a goal: a challenge that regulates immediate change in your behavior to enable improvement.
Indecision/Too many goals. Undefined goals can’t be achieved. Multitasking is just as bad as not defining your goals because it diverts your attentiveness.
Goals that can’t be measured can’t be achieved.


Emotions are not a problem. Playing emotionless is not just overly difficult but definitely suboptimal. Emotions are your warning signs, canaries in the coal mine, letting you know what's up as it comes up. They're fantastic opportunities if you learn to use them instead of get overwhelmed by them.

Brain is in a hierarchy of functions
1 automatic functions (heart rate etc)
2 unconscious, learned habits
3 emotional response
4 conscious response
when one layer is overwhelmed it shuts down anything below

meaning that if you go on tilt your brain shuts down your capacity to think clearly, leaving you to act out any unconscious behavior (both competent and not)
this is why looking at videos of you on tilt is so valuable. It’s pure you.

emotional response appears to accumulate translating to a lower threshold for same emotional response if not addressed.

frustration to anger
doubt to fear
confidence to big head or laziness

Injecting Logic:
 reclaiming rationality. This is a temporary fix that deals with the issue at hand and the symptomatic emotional response. This is ineffective in the moment if you are too emotional to think (does not apply to writing because writing externalizes it to some degree, but obv cannot write during tournament).
1. recognition, responses are patterns and can be recognized earlier with awareness. To practice, set an alarm or time-measurement (maybe, when a song changes). At this point, check for your emotional state
2. return to breath, mediates the brain (in game equivalent = “what is the gamestate?”)
3. think of the rational retort.
4. if a repeating issue, in game solution is probably also repeating and you can just remind yourself of what that solution is

If out of game I prefer the cognitive therapy 3 column method
1. Write down unmediated thoughts and feelings regarding the emotion
2. What distortions are present
3. Rational retort. What is the actual issue that prompts your response and how do we address it pragmatically?

anger = conflict = disagreement. What are you disagreeing with and what is the in-game solution?
“I would get frustrated when players 3-bet me in position with hands they should not be playing. I would overplay my hands, and get really tilted at how they were playing. It was my weakest area, and I knew I wasn’t playing well, but couldn’t wrap my head around it. Jared laughed and asked, ‘So your opponents are not allowed to play in a way that puts you at your weakest?’ Seeing it in that context made me realize instantly that my emotional reaction was trying to protect my greatest weakness.”

Defending yourself with moralist claims is nothing more than trying to hide your mental and technical weaknesses from exposure.
but when recognized they are great opportunities to correct weaknesses that could have otherwise gone unnoticed.

Entitlement tilt, when you believe that you deserve something regardless of the gamestate. Believing that the better player, the harder worker, the smarter read, the veteran, or whatever else you think that you are deserves to win is a) silly and b) entitlement. There’s some amount of variance, you can always fall back on your low range with negligence, and you probably aren’t what you think you are in a heated moment.
overconfidence (like all tilt) means that you believe something about yourself or the game that is false.

Revenge tilt, particularly when percieving a lack of respect.
They’re just smashers. They’re doing what they know to do. You can’t control their behavior, just your reactions. Use that as an opportunity to buckle down and conquer their strategy completely.

Desperation tilt, the urge to do whatever it takes to win immediately except for play smart and patient. You don’t want to play, you want to win and win now. Hbox is the clutchest player because he’s so good about using this as a reminder to stay sharp rather than allowing it to cloud his mind.

Certainty is the antidote to anxiety/fear. What /do/ you know?
“Players with high expectations fear failure because they haven’t learned how to use failure to help them succeed.”

Boredom is a cue that you should pick something to work on, even if it’s something small (spacing a particular move, followup out of crouch, etc). It will be helpful to have a list for this occasion. Replace situations that are boring. Play with a player that is better than you or that you can brainstorm etc with together. Why waste your time being miserable/unengaged if you can get more benefit by making a change?

hold yourself accountable.
before you sit down, have a goal.
after you get up, review your progress and your discipline.
rate yourself 1-10 on gameplay and mindset.
This is easy, not hard, and makes a huge difference in the quality of the time spent.

Confidence is an unreliable measure of skill for two reasons:
Underlying flaws in your mental game create inaccurate feelings about the quality of your game.
Players cherry-pick results to form the foundation of their confidence.
you can win and play badly. you can lose and play well.
This applies to over and under confidence.
Overconfidence breeds lazy play and too-high-risk play. Underconfidence breeds lethargy and lack of engagement.

Your potential is what you believe you’re capable of achieving. Your actual skill or results is what you have already achieved.

Stable Confidence is an appropriate energy level and trust in your own capacity that does not swing with variance. It enables us to perform at a high level. It is best achieved with practiced focus and accurate understanding of our gameplay as a process. We know what we can do because we have worked on it all specifically and with a fuller engagement. We don’t know the results, we don’t know the other player’s skill, nor do we need to. We know what we can do and we’ve practiced doing it.

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