Athletes have goals, why not poker players?



My latest anecdotal research around the felt revealed the poker community is mixed when it comes to goal-setting. Some folks don’t want to bother. These folks fall into two categories: “I am here to gamble” or “I am here to have fun.”

Other folks realize that without goals, everything is variance; there’s no method to the madness. I will offer the caveat that regardless of your stance, goal setting is work!

Goal-setting is one of the primary mental skills used by athletes, musicians, dancers and, yes, successful poker players.

You may be asking what’s the big deal? Your goals are clear: You want to make money and enjoy yourself.

What I really want you to consider is setting good goals and developing a program that works for these goals.

My approach to helping with goal-setting is to ask my client to picture, even fantasize, where they see themselves in 10 years in a specific domain of life, and in this case poker. We then work down through long-term, medium-term, intermediate and short-term goals. It’s essential to have a picture of where you want to be in the long-term, so the shorter-term goals make sense.

Short-term goals need to measurable, specific and stated in behavioral terms. Instead of “my goal is to get better,” a more specific goal might be “I want to identify my leaks and fix them.” If that’s your goal, you need to write it down and put a plan in action. How are you going to identify your leaks? Once you identify your leaks, how are you going to fix them? How will you know when they’re fixed?

Now, you can make that goal much more measurable and realistic? For example, I’m going to track how I play certain hands. I’m going to discuss these hands with a coach or a friend. I’m going to change how I play those hands.

Remember the goal has to be measurable, specific, behavioral and challenging. If you set goals that aren’t challenging, you’ll probably lose interest.

I worked with someone who went through all of these steps. He pictured cashing at the final table of a WPT or WSOP event. He went through the intermediate goals and the short-term goals. I asked him what his goals were for the month. He said to play more tournaments. I asked him his six-month goals: to play more tournaments. I challenged him that these goals met most of the requirements but were not very challenging. We worked on that and he’s on his way to his lifetime goal.

Don’t short change yourself by setting goals that are too easy. Remember this is work. Work should equal reward. And as always keep your head in the game.

— Dr. Stephen Bloomfield is a licensed psychologist and avid poker player. Email him at

Ante Up Magazine

Ante Up Magazine