Are mental game mistakes costing you money?
In this article I’m going to discuss the most common poker mindset mistakes I see being made by online and live poker players.
Whether you’re a high stakes, mid stakes, or low stakes player, you will surely recognize some of these mistakes.
1. Neglecting Your Game When Running Bad (Or Good)
Running bad or running good often has an effect on your performance. You play a session, get a lot of bad beats and poor run-outs, then close the sessions and go distract yourself for a while. It was a bad run, so what else can you do right? Unfortunately, you can’t really do anything about variance.
The same goes for running good. You ran good, won all the money, and now you go party. What is there to learn from running red hot?
Some people are less likely to study when winning, others when losing. This is a mistake.
You should treat studying as a habit, a part of your routine. Not something that is done excessively when losing and is neglected when winning, or vice versa.
Remember, there are always lessons to learn and leaving those lessons on the felt is the exact same thing as leaving your chips on the felt.
2. Don’t Be A Lone Wolf
No matter how social the game of poker is, most poker players can’t help to feel lonely on their journey.
Their friends and family don’t understand their career.
They don’t have anyone to discuss their challenges with.
They don’t want to share their strategy with their competitors.
Just like in business and sports, poker players also benefit from working in a team. This is not only to share poker strategy and bad beat stories.
- They can hold you accountable.
- Your team can motivate you to become better.
- They can help you feel understood and supported.
Don’t be a lone wolf. Find your pack.
Note: Want to join a poker community of your own? Join the Upswing Lab and get in the members-only discussion group. The group has over 4,000 poker players with skill levels ranging from total beginner to advanced professional. There are dozens of daily conversations, which include world-class coaches giving their advice. Learn more now!
Related article: 10 Must-See Discussions from the Upswing Engage Community.
3. Playing While Tired
This is a tricky mistake to recognize for a lot of poker players, especially because:
- Sometimes the game is just too good to leave and you end up playing ungodly long hours.
- It’s not always clear when you’re ‘tired’ because of the stress (cortisol and adrenaline) that playing poker gives you.
There are many reasons why playing while tired can be bad for your performance. One of the more underrated reasons is how you won’t be able to reflect on your decisions you made while you were tired.
Being tired makes it harder for your brain to store and recall long and short term memories¹. You may not even be able to remember all the mistakes or great plays you made during that specific session.
4. Bankroll Management
When I reach ‘X amount’ of money I will start to manage my bankroll properly.
We all have heard this one before, either from our friends or from ourselves.
The problem with this approach becomes clear with one simple follow up question:
Why do you think you can manage your bankroll at mid stakes if you can’t manage your bankroll at small stakes? Your bankroll might be bigger but your mindset is still the same.
Managing your bankroll is one of the fundamental skills that separates a common gambler from a professional poker player. It is not only essential to becoming successful long term, but it also teaches you discipline, self-control and raises your awareness.
Related article: Bankroll Management Tools & Techniques That Work.
5. Overthinking In-Game
You knew the right play. But all of a sudden, your mind takes over. You start to manufacture several arguments why deviating from the “standard” decision might be right in this specific situation. You make the call and you lose. You’re upset. Why did you overthink this simple decision?
Overthinking has more to do with your state of mind and less with your poker skills. It often comes from fear. Learn to trust yourself and don’t be afraid to make mistakes — you can always iron those out of your game with post-session hand analysis.
Related article: How to Analyze Your Poker Hands Effectively in 5 Minutes.
6. Fighting Tilt
What kind of tilt do you have?
Angry tilt. Do you hit/throw things or shout curse words to express your discomfort?
Silent tilt. You lose track of time and reality. All of a sudden you become quiet. Almost like depersonalization.
Sad tilt. ‘Why do I always get the ace on the flop when I have KK?’ They’re out to get you, you’re doomed. You feel like you’re never going to win. You feel sad.
As a community we have demonized tilt. We have made being emotional a weakness, a leak. Emotions have no place on the poker table.
While I agree emotions should not sabotage your poker results, you should not fight your emotions.
They are a completely healthy and normal reaction of the body under those extreme circumstances.
Emotions are there to guide you, not hold you back.
So next time when you feel angry or sad, consider that it may be your body demanding you to take a break and give it the attention it requires. Where is it coming from? Why do you feel angry? Where do you exactly feel it? Don’t fight it, let it be. See what it’s trying to tell you.
If you don’t listen to your body when it whispers, it may eventually start to scream.
Related article: My Tried-and-True Method for Conquering Tilt.
7. Different Stakes, Same Mistakes
‘Move up to where they respect your raises’ is a classic poker joke. But since some players do say it in earnest, we should cover why this is not a good mindset.
Not only players are tougher at higher stakes, but your mistakes become more visible because you haven’t reached that level of knowledge and mindset yet.
The decision to move up in stakes should not only be attached to your bankroll or level of comfort. Your skill level should play a huge role in the decision as well.
Study the players at those stakes and try to analyze their level of thinking. Leave your ego out of it and figure out if you’re ready to take them on. Be ruthlessly honest with yourself.
You will know when you are ready, young Padawan.
8. Playing Super Long Sessions
I personally know how hard it can be to end your session. You feel fine and you’re absolutely certain you don’t need a break, so why quit?
One of the most common mistakes that beginning (and sometimes even experienced) players make is playing too long. You should always aim to play your A-game, but most players end the session too late and discover they haven’t been playing their A-game during the later part of their session. This is a leak that can be plugged fairly easy by playing shorter sessions.
Start by playing 2 hour sessions and take 30 mins break in between. Get off your chair, step away from the screen. Take a quick walk, exercise or yoga to stretch your body and get the blood flowing. This will help you relieve stress, prevent soreness in the muscles and regain focus to perform on the felt.
What about tournament players?
Live and online tournaments usually have breaks; use them. Don’t sit behind your computer and watch the timer reach zero. Don’t get on your phone and don’t open some tabs to scroll social media. Step away from the chair and stretch. Make your breaks count!
Related article: The Smart Approach to Losing Poker Sessions.
9. Not Taking The Proper Time To Start Up
I remember the good old days. I used to get off from work, I would throw my coat on my bed, kick my shoes to the wall and start up the laptop — not taking a minute to unwind from my work day.
Before I know it, I’m already involved in some big pots and gambling it up.
This is a recipe for bad results.
Every sport, whether it’s chess or soccer, needs a warm-up. In poker this would mean a mental warm-up.
We’ve all experienced taking personal experiences onto the poker felt or letting a big downswing affect our relationships with our friends or family.
Mental warm-up would help you disconnect from whatever bothered you at work so you can focus at the task at hand. Examples of this could be guided meditation, breathing exercises, building a healthy structure before you start a session. It is the same for ending the session, don’t quit the session and jump right into a job interview or a discussion with your angry girlfriend.
Take 30 minutes to get warm-up and 30 minutes to cool down.
Treat it as a sport.
Related article: Improve Your Results with this 3-Step Poker Warm Up Routine.
10. Caring Too Much About What Other People Think
As a poker player you will deal with a lot of judgement. You may have heard versions of one or all of these in response to your poker hobby/job:
- ‘So you’re a gambler?’
- ‘You really lost $800,- in a day?’
- ‘Are you as good as Phil Hellmuth? I like that guy!’
- ‘So how long are you going to do this? When is it time for a regular job’
Unpopular opinion: it’s completely fine to care about what other people think…
…but it’s a big mistake to let that greatly affect your decisions and happiness.
Your family, friends, partner, co-workers, these people mean a lot to you and it’s important for everyone to get recognition and respected for what they are good at.
Poker players will have to accept that, outside of the poker community, that recognition might never come. This is not a game you play for the glory, you play this game for yourself.
That’s it for today.
Remember, poker is a long journey and everyone makes mistakes along the way.
What often separates the best from the average is their ability to identify and overcome these mental leaks, just like they would if they were working on a technical aspect of their game.
Quick offer before I go: During these crazy times, I am offering free mindset coaching sessions to poker players. You can sign up for a 30 minute evaluation of your current structure and we will work on a roadmap towards a happier, healthier and more productive lifestyle. You can sign up at www.coachbahman.com or send me a message on Twitter (@coachbahman).
Want to read up on live poker strategy next? Read How to Adjust Your Strategy in Super Splashy Live Games.