Changes to your comfort zone are vital for poker success

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When should you challenge your comfort zone? After all, it’s where you feel comfortable. A better question is: Why?
The simplest answer is because poker is about change, and even if you don’t change, the game changes around you.

Confucius once said, “A scholar who loves comfort is not fit to be called a scholar.”Similarly, a poker player who loves comfort is not fit to be called a poker player.

Sometimes you play in your comfort zone and feel it’s time to move up. You’re doing well at a stake level and want to move up or you’re playing cash well and want to play tournaments; change is knocking at your comfort zone.

Sometimes you play in your comfort zone and you start playing on autopilot, which can lead to burnout. (I wrote a column on burnout a few months ago; check the archives on anteupmagazine.com). There are times, though, you play in your comfort zone and want more of a challenge.

First, make a realistic appraisal of your level of play and your readiness. More challenge and competition are strong motivators; be prepared for initial setbacks; if they don’t come, so much the better.
When playing in your comfort zone and your game has gone to pieces, it may be time to challenge your assumptions. You may not be keeping up with the game, the rapid changes and the different styles of play. You decide you’re going to change your style. Be careful. Change, but with caution.

A regular tournament player I was consulting with told me he was tired of playing tight-aggressive poker. He’d wind up short-stacked at the final table or cashing at low levels. We talked this through and he complained most about aggressive players who seem to hit more often than he does. We talked about a variety of things he could change.

I suggested he experiment with a variety of changes not in his range and repertoire. For example, he played some short-stack tournaments with fast structures and played differently. He raised on a much wider range of hands; in fact he decided to play position and bet-sizing instead of waiting for quality hands.

So if he were first into a pot he’d raise to see what happened. If he got called he would C-bet on the flop. He folded to a big raise on the flop but reraised a smaller bet. He tried to control the pot with a wider range of hands. He expanded his range and aggression. He felt better; he was playing more hands, catching more flops and turns, chipping up earlier and even when he busted out earlier he didn’t feel like he had wasted 6-8 hours only to have to push with an M of 6.

This was all the change he needed. He refined his play, never lost his great reading ability or his knowledge of the game and he was once again playing winning poker. He took control of areas he could control. He didn’t follow a contrived and detailed plan; instead, he went through a painful, but honest self-appraisal; he thought through his game and watched successful players. He did some more reading and developed a strategy. My job was to help develop a change strategy. His job was to take responsibility and not minimize, deny or blame. This is the process of change. It is not easy, after all, a comfort zone is comfortable.

Before you change make sure you’re financially and mentally prepared for the move. Remember moving up or over changes the nature of the play; it’s not always better play, but different play. You need the skills, the mental set and the money.

Keeping up with the changes in poker is a constant challenge. Your awareness of change will allow you to keep your head in the game.

— Dr. Stephen Bloomfield is a licensed psychologist and avid poker player. His column will give insight on how to achieve peak performance using poker psychology. Email questions for him at editor@anteupmagazine.com.