Barry Carter was kind enough to send me over a copy of the book he and Jared Tendler wrote, The Mental Game of Poker. I’m not a huge fan of poker psychology books mostly because their best advice is, “don’t go on tilt.” Geez, thanks. One exception to that general dislike of poker psychology was Tommy Angelo’s Elements of Poker which I thoroughly enjoyed because it took a completely different approach. Tendler and Carter also take a fresh approach and give you actionable things you can do to improve your mental game but also measure your improvement.
The books starts off from the premise that most of us misunderstand tilt and our emotions. If you ask a player why he got so tilted he might rant about how this donkey drew a one-outer on him. But that’s not what caused the tilt and unfortunately this is where other poker psychology books stop. They say, “Hey, just realize that variance exists and block out the frustration.” That’s all fine and dandy but the real reason you go on tilt is because you expect to win against a weaker opponent. If you just push down your frustration without attempting to deal with the underlying cause of the tilt you’ll be able to stay away from tilt when you’re really, really trying hard but as soon as your guard is down it sneaks up on your game and overtakes you. You’re down a buy-in before you even realize that you need to chant happy thoughts.
The Mental Game of Poker (TMGP) basically gives you a roadmap to work on your mental game. They even recommend keeping mental hand histories so you can review your emotional states like you do how you actually played a hand. It’s a more practical and scientific approach than simply trying to deny your emotions. TMGP gives you the tools to understand your tilt rather than simply avoiding it. By understanding why you tilt you can work on the underlying cause rather than treating the symptom.
Getting to the heart of why you go on tilt is probably more important than learning to breath deep and tell yourself some positive affirmations. You might tilt because you feel you’re entitled to win over weaker opponents. Someone else might tilt because they’ve been cold decked for over a month. While the differences might seem subtle the way you address each can be very different because you’re dealing with completely different emotions.
TMGP also deals with issues like Fear and Motivation that are also integral to becoming a successful poker player. If you’re playing scared money or you choke in big pots it’s going to be hard to excel in poker. Likewise if you you can’t work up the motivation to bring yourself to the tables it’s going to be pretty damn hard to make money.
It’s funny because reading through the book I kept finding myself being able to personally connect with what was being described. Not just in the poker world but in other parts of life as well. For instance, the Adult Learning Model (ALM) section was exactly how I progressed in learning about scuba diving. And the biggest compliment I can give it is that not only did I see myself in many of the examples but I learned useful ways of approaching issues on the poker table and off that have made a positive impact on my life.
I’ll give TMGP a big thumbs up. I think it’s one of the few books that breaks new ground in the poker genre.