Jul
29
2008

Poker with Confidence

I thought it would be good to write a little piece on a concept in poker that is rarely touched upon, but I feel is very important. I’d like to talk a little about confidence levels, the psychological kind, not the mathematical kind. Whether you are new to poker or an experienced grinder, your self-confidence can have a dramatic impact upon the way you play and approach each poker session. Your bankroll is going to go through the natural cycles of variance, but over time the quality of your play will also cycle. Generally the time you are most susceptible to losing faith in your game is when you hit a downswing, but it can happen at other stages like moving up in limits, changing games or moving sites.

You aren’t going to always be playing your A game, it might be fatigue, intoxication, tilt or something else. I feel like having confidence when you are playing poker is just as important a psychological factor as the aforementioned circumstances. Without self-belief you can end up playing timid, being indecisive, more prone to tilt & frustration and let negative thoughts get in the way of the logical thought process needed to play a hand correctly.

Maintaining Perspective during Downswings
Most people can play good poker when they are running well, but often times the difference between a good win rate and a decent one is how well you play when things aren’t going your way. Having faith in your ability can really keep your head straight during the tough times and stop you from derailing yourself. My first tip when it comes to maintaining a level head about yourself at these stages is to take heart in your past results.

Here, I’m assuming you have been a proven winning player over a decent sample and that this downswing, while significant in the short term, is probably just a momentary glitch in your poker life. Even experienced players can have thoughts creep in like ‘the games have changed’, ‘there are less fish’ and ‘maybe my style doesn’t work anymore; but in reality this probably just isn’t the case. While it is important to make changes and adjust your game to a changing environment, it is highly unlikely for that much to change in such a short period of time for you not to be a winning player. And in my opinion when you are battling a self-confidence war, it is about the worst time to make large scale changes to your poker game. Just go back and look at the success you have had in the past, and don’t lose sight of the game plan and decision making processes that got you there.

Your Convictions & Your Bankroll
I want to talk a bit about you and your bankroll. If it doesn’t take much for you to lack self assurance then maybe it is worth thinking about being a little more conservative with your bankroll requirements. When moving up it might be an idea to slowly mix in tables until you feel completely comfortable with what you are doing. It might mean you are an ultra-bankroll nit, but don’t worry about what other people say or what some arbitrary bankroll calculation tells you to do, do what is right for you and your game. Having said all that, don’t let yourself be intimidated by moving up or the players that play above you. It is still a game poker, your opponents will still make mistakes and in reality you are probably putting higher limits games and the players on a pedestal that doesn’t accurately reflect the difference in skill level.

Don’t Let Doubt Retard Your Game; Continue To Take Risks
Confidence issues often manifest themselves into playing a little scared, not taking enough risks and being afraid to make mistakes. Obviously, the goal of poker is to make less mistakes than our opponents, but often times when you get yourself in a mindset of trying to lose big pots, you are actually making the biggest mistake of all. What I am trying to say is that it can often be better to make aggressive mistakes than conservative ones. Never let yourself be afraid at the poker table, try and build your mental strength up to a point where you maintain your smart aggression through thick and thin times. Most importantly, don’t beat yourself up over your errors, everybody makes them and you are only human. Misplayed hands are an opportunity; there is always something to be learned from them.

Study Hard
Part of growing belief in you at the poker table is the work and study you do away from it. The more time you spend educating yourself, analysing old hands, other people’s hands, videos, forums and anything else you can get your hands on the better. With knowledge, less leaks and a greater understanding of your short-comings comes a greater backbone when you are playing. You are far less apt to be sidetracked when the keys to playing winning poker become so far engrained in your brain.

You Know More Than You Think
Ever have ‘one of those sessions’ and come away feeling like you know absolutely nothing about poker? Well maybe something you could do is prove to yourself how much you do actually know. Write an essay, make a strategy post, read a few pages from the first poker book you ever read and realise how far you have come.

Another great thing you can do is coach/mentor a lower stakes player, or maybe someone who has never even played before. You will be amazed at the knowledge that will spew out to them every time they ask you a question. Coaching can also be beneficial as a kind of revision and exploration of ideas for your own game.

Build Trust With Yourself
Certainty in your game comes with a build up of trust with yourself and your own actions. You are never going to play with full self-belief if you constantly let yourself down with poor play, tilt, bad bankroll management, getting drunk and all the other actions that can ruin your poker game. Try and get on top of these problems so that they don’t hold you back from being a confident player.

Confidence, Your Ego, Arrogance & What Other People Think
It’s critical to separate a healthy sense of self-belief from that of over-confidence and letting your ego get in the way. Feelings of knowledge and trust in your skill level need to be separated from those of feeling superior or that you are better than you are actually are. One of the most important factors in believing in yourself is actually knowing your limitations, realising that you are only human, that there are players who have an edge on you and accepting it. Those driven by ego at the poker table believe that they are better than they actually are and subsequently make sub-optimal decisions based upon the false pretence that they have an edge in a spot which they don’t.

Don’t take what other people think of you to heart. I mean it is important to know how other players view your play, a concept of your own image is critical to winning. What I mean is, don’t live and die by the approval of others in the poker community. What should matter to you is whether or not you think/know you are a good winning player, not what other people perceive. Trying to impress other people is a good sign of you letting ego into your game and can often lead to fancy play syndrome and bad game selection.

If All Else Fails, Step Away From the Vehicle
Burnout is a win rate killer. Learn to recognise the signs when the drain of every day poker is getting to you and take steps to remove yourself immediately. When confidence hits an all time low it is time to take a holiday. It is amazing what even just a day or two away from the game can do for your mental health. You come back feeling refreshed and with a new perspective. The time off will give you an opportunity to reflect on the errors you are making and to assess whether or not your game is headed in the right direction. Don’t ever feel like you ‘have to play a session’, play because you want to and are in the right mood to do so. If playing poker has become a chore to you then I would suggest you need to change things up for a while and re-discover your love for it.

Don’t Be Afraid To Take A Step Back To Take Big Step Forward
Remove your ego from the situation and honestly assess whether or not a drop in stakes could actually be the best thing for you. Softer competition and less emotion surrounding the money involved surely can’t be a bad thing for re-generating faith in your abilities. It can also be a time to add new moves to your arsenal, work on leaks and further boost your credentials with yourself. If you don’t want to drop down stakes, maybe dropping tables for a while could help to. Having more time to put into your decisions means less mistakes and more self assurance that what you are doing is correct.

There Is More to Life than Poker
This might be shocking to some of you, but there is a whole society outside of poker! Grinding all day long can massively skew your perspective. You can have a bad session and it can seem like the end of the world. No matter how bad a situation there is certainly someone worse off than you somewhere and never forget that. If a poker downswing is the most of your worries, then I would say you are living a pretty damn good life.

A healthy poker mind is one that has a bunch of other interests and passions outside of playing cards. I am also a believer that eating right and exercising are critically important to a winning poker lifestyle.

About the Author: Andrew Ferguson

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  • Nice post

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