Want to be the best poker player you can be? Get to work!

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The more I talk to poker players the more I realize we’re a microcosmic of the universe. Many of us want a quick fix; we don’t want to work at it; we believe in magic and even when we know what’s best, we don’t adhere to the regimen. If we follow this path, however, we’ll never achieve peak performance. So, if peak performance is your goal, you’re going to have to get to work.

Using sports psychology techniques to achieve peak performance in poker is not like taking a pill; it’s incorporating proven methods into your training.

The effects of utilizing these techniques don’t transform you into an elite player who will win every session or every tournament. These techniques increase your skill level and allow you to perform at your peak.

These techniques give the serious player an edge.

Just as learning the math doesn’t mean you’ll win every hand, applying sports psychology also doesn’t mean you will win every hand. Over time, if you use the math and the psychology, you should win.
You can’t, however, discount the math and psychology by blowing it off on a hunch or being distracted. You must maintain focus if you’re interested in peak performance.

About 20 years ago, I was working with a golfer. He took lessons, practiced on the ranges and bought state-of-the-art equipment. He said he wanted to get better, so we started on a regimen of sports psychology; setting goals, activated relaxation, imagery and visualization. After a couple of months, his game wasn’t improving. I realized we had to go back to Step 1, which is defining who you are. It turned out he enjoyed golf, the camaraderie, the single-serving friends at new courses, a way to structure his vacations and to have fun.

He enjoyed smoking a cigar, drinking a few beers, winning or losing $5-$10 a hole. He didn’t have the time or inclination to put in the work of sport psychology. We changed our discussion to help him define his goals and what he needed to do to meet them. I developed a modified set of mental activities.

Deep breathing before he hit his drive, as he got anxious driving because everyone was watching. This is all he wanted. He found out who he was and enjoyed his game.

You can apply the same principles to poker. You have to know yourself. But before we begin anything fancy or complicated, go back to basics. Step 1: Define who you are in relation to poker and where you fit on the continuum. And be sure 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.