How The Mental Game of Poker can help you


Before I got into the sports betting world, I lived, breathed and ate poker. For years I both gambled and traded while working in the poker media in Las Vegas. Almost everyone in my life has played poker. I woke up thinking about poker and went to bed thinking about poker.

I often refer to how the game has shaped the way I live my life and how the things I learned in no-limit hold’em flowed into what I do now in sports betting. I never just played; I prepared by reviewing hands with other players, studying with a coach, and reading books that were beneficial on both the math behind the game and the mindset.

Some of these books have stood the test of time, but not all of them focused on poker. Some have been written about sports psychology, others about finance, but all have helped me in my current role as an analyst. It all ties together – golf, finance, sports, commerce, games, etc. – because it’s all about the psychology of the act you’re training for.

I want to share some of these books with you, and perhaps they can be just as useful in your life – by taking the concepts you’ve learned and applying them to real-world situations.

I’ll start with “The Mental Game of Poker” first, Written by Jared Tendler. Tendler is a mental game coach who has worked with PGA and LPGA players, high stakes poker players and other professionals. First of all, the cover alone speaks volumes for how it could be used for other aspects of life, with words like ‘entitlement’, ‘motivation’ and ‘confidence’ placed right there to grab your attention. Here are some concepts that I find useful that have helped with sports betting.

Can certain books help you become a smarter sports bettor? (Fethi Belaid/AFP via Getty Images)

Concept: One by one

There is a sentence in the book where Tendler talks about the adult learning model that is about the learning process. What really caught my attention was, “You can only work on parts of your game at a time.”

He’s so right. If you are either new to sports betting or even a seasoned bettor, you could easily become overwhelmed trying to do it all. Instead, focus on one sport at a time. You see content creators and accounts on Gambling Twitter talking about MLB, NBA, USFL, KBO, horse racing, WTA, PGA, props and whatever other sports are happening that day. You probably won’t win. If you don’t use a model, heck even if you do, it’s just too much information to consume.

When you’re starting out, focus on one sport you absolutely know the most about, the one you can crush in Bartrivia. Then you get really good at analyzing this sport.

Even if you are an experienced bettor, you know which sports and bets you are particularly good at. Limit your focus to fewer than a handful of sports. For me it’s football, ATP tennis and PGA. At least for me, the more I try to add my brain is getting really foggy. As with any skill, you can be good at many things, or you can make an effort at a few and become great.

How I use this concept outside of betting: The same rule applies. Life can be a full sack. People have medical stuff, family stuff, work stuff, and it can all just fill up too quickly. Focus on one thing at a time. Make a list, mark everything individually. It will help spread the load.

Concept: Identify your inclination type

There is a whole chapter on tilt. If you’ve played poker, you know Tilt well. If you’ve ordered takeout, come home to find they gave you regular fries instead of curry fries, then you know Tilt. What helped this chapter was the realization that there are different types of inclination. In fact, Tendler shares seven of them. The one I identify with the most is hate-losing tilt. I’m a competitor at heart, so as Tendler says, even though we know that variance can affect results, we still hate to lose. It’s fine when we lose, but how we deal with the inevitable losses is what matters most.

What this section has helped me to understand, aside from money, why winning is so important to me and how to mentally manage variance. As the saying goes, “Don’t let the variance beat you by forcing you to play badly,” or in this case betting wrong. What I mean by that is forcing an action, doubling down or making a bet after a loss that you wouldn’t otherwise have.

Honestly, there are so many great quotes to use in this section. “If you’ve lost at profitable games, losing is temporary as long as you play well and improve.” The same goes for stocks, golf, anything and everything. If you make the right decisions, the variance will eventually swing back in your favor.

Oh, but you thought tilt was only for losing? Tendler explains that there is also Winner’s Tilt. You have a hot spell, all of a sudden you feel invisible, you get that “I can’t lose” mentality and then you find yourself making mistakes, betting too many games, adding more combinations and increasing your bet size incorrectly. Overconfidence is also a thing and with a boosted ego, mistakes can be made.

Concept: trust

Losses are inevitable. The key is to trust the process (cliche, but true). It’s not just about confidence when betting, it’s also about confidence in everyday situations, whether it’s at the gym, creating content, or playing in your citywide softball league. Trust runs through what we do in our daily lives. For this I turned to the author himself. On that subject, Tendler said, “The bottom line is that it’s far too easy to trust results. Results are strong, confidence is high. Results are bad, confidence is low. This is the most common mistake I see.”

One thing I preach is to keep track of every bet you make. It’s one thing to know your ROI (return on investment), but it’s another to analyze why your wins were wins and why your losses were losses. Tendler explains: “As a sportsbook, the luck factor in the short term means you get a lot of false feedback. Good bets can lose and bad bets can win. The key to breaking this cycle is to clearly understand how you define quality bets and quality decisions. Then base your confidence on your performance, not the results. In general, if you do that, your confidence will never go too high or too low.”

So much for that! It’s about the quality of the action. I’ve been in a slump lately so I asked Tendler how to get my groove back. His response was that it all starts with asking himself, ‘Did you like the bets when you made them? How strong was your mentality back then?”

I know I needed a bet break because at least one of them was a “no,” but if your answer is an “emphatic yes, without a doubt, and a strong mentality for all five, then chalk it up as bad luck,” Tendler said. “Your confidence doesn’t deserve to be hit and you should keep shooting. Streaks like this are part of the game, and you don’t want losses like this to change your decision-making process. They want to chase bad money with good money.”

love that last part. It reminds me of something Tom Dwan once said: “You can’t win if you fold.”

Other concepts in the book that could be directly applied to sports betting: not trusting your gut, guessing after the fact, burnout, the lack of learning, and the illusion of control.

I have read this book several times over the past decade, including recently in the last month, and I will likely read it again in the future. There are concepts we are familiar with, but it helps to be reminded or to expand further for a deeper understanding. If you want to improve your inclination, increase your confidence, increase your motivation and cope with deviations, this is definitely a book I recommend. There’s a reason it’s part of my video background.


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