Cast out poker demons in your head

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A psychology colleague of mine, when asked the question, “How are you?” would often answer: “Great, today my defenses woke up before my demons … today.” I always thought that was a profound response.
There are demons in every aspect of our lives, including poker. What are your demons of poker? Ego, pride, hubris, anxiety, stress, tilt, fear, monsters under the bed, distraction, depression, exhaustion? Shall I continue or do you want to list your own?

These demons negatively affect your game. The defenses against these demons safeguard you, your game and your money.

Get a handle on your demons and work on your defenses. To do this requires some self-analysis, correction and application.

Recently, I have been having a bad run of it. I tried to figure out my leaks.

I talked over hands with my poker group; I tried to figure out if I was having a math problem, a read problem, a run of bad luck, “second-best-hand syndrome” or what. None of that seemed to be the case. I couldn’t figure it out.

But, of course, when all else fails, you have to look to yourself. When I did, I finally realized most of the time I was playing right, but there were times where I was getting bored, then distracted, then reckless. Aggressive play wins and reckless play wrecks you. I could attribute it to a bad run, bad luck or variance but I knew I couldn’t control those things, while I could control myself.

Displacing blame won’t help; identifying the problem and finding a solution will.

I was losing my patience and made dreadful mistakes. I was preoccupied by life events and these thoughts would filter into my thought process during games. I typically play somewhat tight, which gives me a lot of time to think and my mind was wandering; I was letting life stressors get into my head.

Some examples of this type of play: falling in love with a big pair; when the board dictates a fold not a raise; bluffing when it is a non-bluffing table (you can only bluff good players who are paying attention); chasing without the correct pot odds; thinking you can will the next card.

The fixes: Spend more time watching hands you’re not in; try to put people on a range of hands; concentrate on the play of others. In other words, I realized you need to be in every hand, whether you’re playing the cards or just gathering information about the table. I also realized if you can’t do that then you should be taking a break.

For me, this is an example of a mental mistake. Mental mistakes, luck, variance and chance are all part of the game. My job is to figure out the mental mistakes part of the game. Tame the demons and keep your head in the game.

FEEDBACK: A reader recently wrote in to comment on a past column so I thought I’d share his letter.

I find your articles about health preparation very useful, especially the one about playing poker for long periods of time and wearing of compression socks; they work! Make sure, though, people have their leg calves measured before purchasing the compression socks in order to get the right size/compression. My local pharmacy did just that. The socks were paid for by my insurance company, once I got the doctor’s permission/request sent over to the pharmacy.
Thanks for the letter and the suggestion.

— 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.