Proven Strategies for Improving Your Mental Game in Poker
Do you ever wonder why on some days you seem to be able to play the best poker of your life, and why that can shift overnight into playing some of the worst you’ve ever played? It’s amazing to be in the flow of your A-game, noticing every tell, taking the right betting lines, making big laydowns when beaten – yet it’s followed at some point by being totally off with your reads, playing too aggressively or too passively and somehow deteriorating from your A-game into C-game or something even worse.
You might be a very skilled player technically yet a complete mental game fish at the same time. Being able to deal with both upswings and downswings is something that all elite players have in common. There’s no past, no future – just the hand you’re in right now, and making the correct decision in this one is the only thing that matters for now. Playing your best in every situation is what we all strive for, and many poker sites like BeastsOfPoker can teach you how to technically do that. Why do so few players achieve that then?
The answer to this question is so complex you can’t fit it into a single book, let alone an article. How about fitting only the crucial strategies to improve your mental game into an article then? That should be doable, and its’ actually what we’re doing here. In this article we want to give you practical strategies that you can implement to take your mental game of poker to the next level – and win more money as a result!
Injecting logic when you lose a big pot
The first strategy to improve your mental game is straightforward but rather hard to execute at first. With enough repetition it should become your second nature though!
Injecting logic can be used in many situations you face in poker, and the most beneficial situation to do that is when a big pile of chips is drawn away from you. When you lose a big pot, you might respond with anger, apathy or frustration. However, there are other ways to respond too after you learn this strategy. Let’s take a look at how injecting logic works:
You’re in a heads-up pot on the river with a fairly innocuous-looking board of J♠ T♠ 4♣ 8♦ 5♥ holding J♥ T♥ and you get raised after betting out. Losing just a few combinations, you make the call and get bad news after your opponent tables pocket fives for a rivered set. Here’s how the train of thought usually goes for most players:
‘What was this guy thinking about, calling with a pair of fives on the flop? I can’t believe he got so lucky on the river, I should have won that pot!’
When this happens a few times in a row, it’s pretty hard to be playing your A-game anymore. The solution to this problem is injecting logic by changing your inner dialogue into something like this:
‘That’s poker, two-outers will happen at times. Now I know my opponent doesn’t need much of a hand to call on the flop, so I will adjust my play by decreasing my low-equity flop bluffs and increasing my bet sizings when I have a value hand. I can definitely get this guy long-term by continuing to play solid poker.’
See the difference? You’re focusing on how to maximize your future EV based on what you just saw, instead of dwelling in the bad beat. At first you will still experience the same emotions, but it will gradually start to change once you inject logic with the new dialogue inside your head in these situations.
Using a strategic reminder when you fall off your A-game
For experienced players it’s somewhat easy to recognize when they fall off their A-game. Some common routines players use when they notice that include taking a break and doing a few deep breaths, but these routines might not cut alone every time. If you’re very familiar with how your B-game and C-game differ from your A-game, using a strategic reminder in the middle of a session can prove helpful.
How does a player use a strategic reminder in practice? Once the player notices losing a bit of focus, getting slightly distracted or going on autopilot in spots where you could win more EV by taking a different line, they might try reminding themselves of the lost components of their A-game. Using a strategic reminder might look something like this:
‘My A-game is very relaxed and calm. I don’t force any decisions, but let them come to me through the extensive practice I’ve had both on and off the tables. My mind is super sharp, and I notice many tiny bet sizing tells and patterns that reveal the strength of my opponent’s hand. I see the action very clearly and make every decision with a confident state of mind.’
As you can see, using a strategic reminder requires you to have a picture of your A-game so that you can remind yourself what the different elements in your game look and sound like. If falling off your A-game is an issue that occurs often when you play poker, we recommend you to take the following steps:
- Step 1: Make a list of elements that your game consists of when you are playing your best.
- Step 2: Write down a draft for the strategic reminder that describes all these elements. Aim for 4-6 sentences total.
- Step 3: Memorize your strategic reminder.
- Step 4: Next time you play poker, every time a full orbit of playing at the table has passed ask yourself ‘Am I playing my A-game?’
- Step 5: If the answer is no at any point in the session, repeat your strategic reminder in your head. If you don’t know that by heart yet, you can look it up from your smartphone or notepad on your desktop. After reading your strategic reminder, take a deep breath and re-focus on the game you’re playing.
When you repeat steps 4-5 enough times during your sessions, you will start to notice returning back to your A-game goes smoothly. There’s also the extra benefit of being more aware of your state of mind during play, allowing you to keep playing when on your A-game and quitting when you seem to slip to your B-game or C-game continuously (which will save you money since very few players can win playing their C-game). Now you should see why getting a clear idea on how your A-game really looks like and using a strategic reminder during sessions will put you far ahead of your competition in the mental game of poker!
While poker requires tremendous practice in the area of technical skill if you want to succeed, one of the quickest ways to boost your win-rate is working on your mental game. Start with the exercises presented in this article so that you get the ball rolling, and your bankroll will thank you later. If you manage to align working on your mental game into improving your technical skills, that’s even better. We wish you eye-opening moments with working on your mental game and good luck at the tables!