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Old 12-28-2010, 12:04 PM   #1
crashwhips
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500th post: Mental Game/Poker Mindset Manifesto (way, way, way tl;dr)

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Introduction/Background

“Now the only thing a gambler needs, is a suitcase and trunk, and the only time he’s satisfied, is when he’s on a drunk”The House of the Rising Sun

Poker is fun for everyone” –Prahlad Friedman

I’ve been playing poker for 6 years, 3 of them professionally. I started out playing NL hold em in $10 and $20 buy-in dorm room games, then discovered online poker a half a year later. I started playing Pot-Limit Omaha a few years ago, and now that’s pretty much all I play.

When I first started, I was about as bad of a player as possible (I had never watched poker on TV or anything and literally thought low-medium suited connectors like 4-5 suited were better hands than AA or AKo, would never fold a flush of any rank on a four flush board, and would slowplay and trap every time I had a huge hand) and was a big loser against bad players. A few months into my poker career, I read Phil Hellmuth’s Play Poker Like the Pros (lol) and The Tao of Poker by Larry Phillips, and that gave me enough of a foundation that I was able to start beating my dorm game and win when I started playing online in the super soft party games.

I did alright in the next couple of years, definitely up money overall, but I busted my roll a few times. Then I discovered training sites and was able to significantly improve my game, to the point where I was consistently crushing micro and low stakes except for the times I was tilting. When I graduated from college with an accounting degree in December 2007, I had a 25k bankroll and decided to give playing pro a shot before I took some more classes and prepared to take the CPA exam. I won 50k in the first 3 months of the year (most of it at head-up 1-2nl) and decided I never wanted to go to school again or work a 9-5. I ended up winning over 100k that year at the poker tables including rakeback (though I lost 5 figures at blackjack and sportsbetting so my gambling income for the year was closer to 80k) Since then, I’ve been moderately successful, and have been able to support myself and live comfortably with my net-worth never dipping below 20k, but it’s been a struggle at times, has taken a real toll emotionally, and I’ve had many periods where I’ve played like absolute garbage and went on huge downswings.

Throughout my poker career, I’ve had severe tilt/gambling addiction problems, as well as some issues with alcohol/substance abuse. Because I’ve struggled so much with the mental parts of poker, I’ve consulted tons of material on the subject and have also done coaching sessions with Jared Tendler. I recommend everyone watch Tommy Angelo’s Eightfold Path series on Deuces Cracked, read his book The Elements of Poker, and read The Poker Mindset by Matthew Hilger as those are what I’ve found most helpful.

If you can afford it, I would also highly recommend you try out a session with Jared Tendler, he is a trained psychologist whose initial specialty was sports that got turned onto poker mindset coaching by working with Leatherass. He has numerous positive references, and from my experience he is great for talking through your mindset shortcomings with and then identifying the underlying issues causing them. You can then develop strategies together to fix them and play your best more frequently. Judging from all the brilliant material he has made available on the subject, I imagine going through Tommy Angelo’s seminar would be very beneficial as well, though I haven’t gone through it myself.

Since I feel I know a lot about what constitutes a good poker mindset and strategies to use to play better more often, I decided to use my 500th post to give back to 2p2 and write about what I believe are the most important things I've learned about the intangibles of poker. I intended it be a relatively short post touching on a few of the most important factors, but I found I couldn’t stop writing, and it’s turned into a way tl;dr 9,800 word manifesto.

If you take the time to wade through it though, I think you’ll discover some jewels. Hopefully I’ll be able to help a few people out with this work, but if not I think just the act of articulating my thoughts on these subjects will help out my mindset and poker game in general. I'm more than willing to field some questions if you're curious about anything.

Awareness

"The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly." –Pema Chodron

Awareness is absolutely critical in poker and life, in particular self awareness. You should pay attention to how the other players at the table are playing, taking note of their tendencies and looking at relevant stats, stack sizes, and players left to act before making plays. You should think of all the hands your opponent can have, which ones he is most likely to have, and the best way to play against each of them.

You should always be thinking of how your range and your opponent’s range interacts with the board texture as the hand unfolds. You should be cognizant of all the history and dynamics that are in place and of how other players at the table view you. Every play you make should be thought through fully and made with a specific purpose.

You should be able to honestly assess your ability and be able to evaluate if you have an edge in the games you are sitting in, and whether you would have a bigger edge and expected hourly earn in a different game available to you. If you are roughly as good as the average player you play against, you will be a big loser due to the rake, especially at smaller stakes, and if you are playing someone who you think you might be slightly better than heads-up, you’re probably better off finding a better game unless you are challenging yourself to improve your game or have a lot of trouble getting action. Also know that someone that you are slightly better than under normal circumstances probably has a huge edge on you when they are playing their A-game and you are tilting.

You should be able to gauge how your game tends to be affected when you are winning , stuck, tired, hungry, hung-over, upset about something in real life, watching something on tv or talking on messenger during your session, or after you’ve had a few drinks, smoked some pot, or taken any other drug. And if you do play significantly worse in any of the preceding states, you need to either not sit down to play, or if you choose to play, proceed with extra caution and mindfulness.

You should be able to identify your triggers for tilting. Some common ones: losing big, thinking you’re playing badly, thinking you’re being outplayed or run over, a long run where you don’t make many hands and/or not getting action on them when you do, taking a string of bad beats or coolers in rapid succession, being down more than certain amount, or being up big and losing a large chunk back.

You should be able to recognize your tilt warning signs. Some common outward ones are slouching in your chair, sighing, rolling your eyes, shaking your head, muttering or yelling profanities, or slamming your keyboard/mouse/desk or throwing things. You might also feel foggy mentally or get a headache.

Some common warning signs in your play is if you are making brazen plays you wouldn’t normally make or always taking the aggressive or non-folding option in marginal spots because you either want to build big pots that you have a chance to win even if you might be getting the worst of it, or because “I can’t win back money on this hand if I fold.” For instance you might 3bet or 4bet a hand you wouldn’t normally or call in a spot where you’re not getting the proper odds. Another one is acting very quickly when it’s your turn to act, just making standard plays, and giving very little thought to decisions. After you’ve realized your triggers and warning signs, you can take preventative measures, which I will get into in the next section.

Preventing and Managing Tilt

"The number one rule of tilt is, if you're on tilt, stop playing" -Poker Mindset

"The best way to lop off C-game is to trim the end of bad sessions" -Tommy Angelo

One of the best suggestions I can give is, if you spot a lot of your tilt triggers or feel yourself playing poorly, stop playing. You don't have to stop playing for long, it could be as short as a two or three minute break if you are in good games and don't want to lose your seat. Just the act of removing yourself from the game, if only briefly, can work to rejuvenate you and get you refocused and back to playing well. While a short break is better than nothing, I recommend you take at least a half an hour break if things are going badly at the tables, and if you've been spewing hardcore and are in a bad mind state, you should probably quit for the day, maybe going so far as to get a 12 hour self-exclusion on the sites you play at to ensure you don't go back on and tilt off more.

Good things to do on breaks are to go outside and get some fresh air for at least a minute or two. You might want to take a walk while listening to your iPod, ideally focusing on your breathing while you do so. You could also do pushups, sit-ups, or any other act of physical exertion. Mindful breathing or meditation is fantastic if you can get yourself to do it. Drinking some water and eating some healthy snacks like fruits and vegetables is a good idea too. Watching a favorite TV show (preferably a comedy) or playing the PS3 or Xbox can be a good thing too. One thing I would not recommend doing during breaks is going on 2p2 or talking on instant messenger bemoaning your bad luck to your poker friends and showing them hands where you took awful beats as it's just going to make you keep thinking about poker and dwell on how much you've lost.

I highly recommend a daily stop loss as well, which I would either set as the lower of “How much can I lose today and not feel too terrible about?” and “How much can I lose today without there being a very high probability of performing well below my best?” A stop loss is no good if you don’t stick to it, so as soon as you hit it, exit all tables and stop, and again I advise taking a 12 hour exclusion if you have any doubts about your abilities to stay off the poker sites for the rest of the day.

If you can't or don't want to quit or take a break sometime when you find yourself tilting or on the verge of tilting, there are some things you can do without removing yourself from the game to keep from tilting or get yourself back to playing well. For one, you can sit up straight in your chair with good posture and focus on your breathing. I'll get into this more later, but mindful breathing is something that Jared Tendler and Tommy Angelo are both strong, strong advocates of, and seeing as how they are the two most respected mindset coaches, I think that says a lot about its effectiveness. I was skeptical of this at first too, and in fact I ignored this advice for the most part for 2+ years, but trust me, if you are able to consistently focus on breathing mindfully, your tilt control, poker results, and ability to handle stress in life will improve dramatically.

Another thing you can do when you find yourself either on tilt or on the verge of tilt is tighten your game way up, and tend to take the conservative option whenever you have a marginal situation, particularly out of position early in the hand. Note that this doesn’t mean you should pass up on spots that are high variance but clearly +EV, and it doesn’t mean that you should autopilot and lose focus and give up on all the smaller pots and just always make the standard play, just that when you are in a situation where you believe the difference between raising, calling, or folding is close, you call instead of raising or fold instead of calling. This is especially true if you are prone to meltdown or demolition tilt where once you get way down you start essentially giving money away, as you want to avoid crossing your threshold of pain lest you start spewing all over the table.

You can also try observing your thoughts and emotions and using self-talk. For instance, when you're upset about losing a big pot, say to yourself "I recognize that I am frustrated/angry right now because I just lost a big hand." The simple act of doing this should defuse the emotion at least somewhat. You could also do what Jared Tendler calls "injecting logic" when you find yourself getting upset at the poker table. So for instance when a bad player sucks out on you in a huge pot on a 4 outer, you can say to yourself "I recognize that I'm upset that I just took a horrible beat and lost a bunch of money, but poker is a game governed in large part by random chance, and getting my money in good in situations like that is how I make my money. If the bad players didn't suck out sometimes they would stop playing the game, so it is silly for me to be angry about this, and even sillier for me to start playing worse because of it."

You can also try using self-talk to recite mantras to yourself over and over. A good one is No Matter What as in “No matter what, I’m going to give it my best at all times,” or “No matter what, I’m going to [insert whatever thing you want to make sure you do].” Your mind can latch on to the no matter what because its phrasing doesn’t leave the option of disobedience. Other mantras I’ve found useful are “I’m never going to make things worse” and “I’m going to break the pattern of chasing losses” (or break the pattern of whatever other destructive behavior you want to quash).

If you find yourself taking hands too far when you’re stuck because you want to win pots at all costs, you could say to yourself: “While I can’t win any money on this hand if I fold, I also can’t lose any more if I do.” If you find yourself loosening up your starting hand requirements, you could use the old Tommy Angelo standby: “It’s never that wrong not to play”

Playing Your Best/Avoiding Results Orientedness

“There’s no excuse for not playing your best. If you’re not playing your best then something is seriously wrong” –The Ashman

“I like to think of every decision point in every hand as the chance to make the perfect play” -Phil Galfond

“You should eliminate hoping from your game. You shouldn’t hope your opponent doesn’t bet, doesn’t raise, etc. Whatever happens, it’s just another chance to make a correct decision.” -Phil Galfond

“Doing your best is all you can do. If you’ve done your best, there’s nothing to get upset about or regret, no matter the outcome” -Tommy Angelo

“One thing I like to ask myself is, if my life depended on winning money on poker, what decision would I make here?” -Tommy Angelo

“Poker is a bit like a beautiful woman who will only come home with you once you show you are truly indifferent to her” -Larry Phillips

The goal of poker is to make a series of correct decisions, not to win money. So, in an ideal world, whether you are winning or losing should be irrelevant, and all that matters is that you are making the best decisions you can. In practice, this is very difficult as we are governed by our emotions, and the loss of something we value causes our minds to stir up.

In addition there is a human tendency to try to avoid losses at all costs, which leads to the phenomenon of chasing losses--either moving up stakes or playing recklessly in the hopes of getting back to even. Caring about short term results too much can also lead to what Tommy Angelo calls “Eat Like a Bird, **** Like an Elephant” syndrome, where a player will usually book a win after getting up a modest amount, but will play long sessions and play poorly when stuck and often end up dropping huge amounts of money.

As every mindset book emphasizes, you need to play for the long term, so the results of any hand, session, or week should not affect you. All that matters is you play as well as you can and that you have a big enough edge over your average opponent to beat the rake. The more indifference you can muster over the loss of a big hand, or a big losing session, or a string of losing sessions, the better off you will be.

If you are playing poker professionally, your sole aim when you are playing should be to try to make the decisions that will give you the best chance of making the most money in the long run. If you are playing foremost for either fun, for the excitement and thrill of the action, to win money in the short run, to achieve the thrill of victory that you might get off owning someone with a hero call or huge ballsy bluff, and/or for the challenge then you are doing it wrong and could be in for a world of hurt. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t enjoy these parts of poker, but rather they should be positive side effects of playing to make the most +EV decisions you can, and not motives in your decision making.

Another trap of results-oriented thinking is that it can lead to overconfidence and crises of confidence. If you put too much stock in short term results, you will tend to get overconfident after a good session. Then, if things don’t go your way during your next session, the loss will contradict the image you have built up of yourself and the positive expectations you had going into the session, and you might get very upset and try to force things. This is why big losses often follow a big win. Similarly, you might begin to doubt your ability after a big loss or a string of losses, and doubts like this when you’re playing can lead to flighty, impulsive decision making or an inability to pull the trigger.

Results-orientedness can cause you to mistakenly think –EV decisions are +EV or +EV decisions are –EV. You need to make sure you are judging the value of its play on its merits, and not on how it turned out in one or two hands. For instance, you could easily run into the top of someone’s weak range or the bottom of someone’s strong range when you’re bluffing.
One thing I would advise to eliminate results-orientedness is to NEVER check your cashier balance while in the middle of the session. As someone who used to compulsively check his cashier every couple of minutes I know it will be very difficult at first, but I don’t think there’s any good that can come from checking your cashier while playing. If you are down, you’re likely to dwell on how much you are down and might try desperately to get back from even. If you are up, and then start losing, then you more likely to experience a negative emotion that will cloud your judgment over how much you have slipped from your peak.

Ideally, you could go a week or longer without checking your account balance, but that’s rather unrealistic, so I think a good target is to just try to never do it while you are playing, which will be difficult enough (but if you are able to do it, I would almost guarantee you will play better). The only exception to not checking the cashier is if you have a stop loss or are planning on moving down limits if your balance dips below a certain account and you think you are near that threshold.

You should also try to refrain from experiencing excessive emotions while you play as much as possible, since if you are experiencing a strong emotion, it shuts down the logical portion of your brain to an extent, and it will cloud your judgment. This means you shouldn’t take things personally at the tables, and certainly shouldn’t form any vendettas or have any players that you are “out to get” or take particular pleasure in busting. A good way to look at it is that other players at the table are not your enemies, but rather as Tommy Angelo likes to say, “They are just obstacles, like the trees on a golf course.”

Distractions while playing

Building on playing your best, if you are distracted by anything while you’re playing, you probably will not be giving it your best since your focus will not be fully on the tables you are playing. The human brain has a lot of difficulty performing two or more activities simultaneously.

I think listening to music is fine (I would recommend it, actually), but I would advise against watching television, going on messenger, talking on the phone, or browsing the web if you have more than a couple tables going. If you are doing these things, it’s nearly impossible to pick up the subtle intricacies of the game dynamics and the entirety of what is transpiring, and you’ll probably miss a ton of spots where you can pick up smallish pots or make unorthodox plays that could turn out to be hugely +EV. The only possible exception to this is if you absolutely can’t stand to grind or tend to tilt when you don’t have these distractions and you are proficient enough at multitasking that your play doesn’t suffer much.

Playing too many tables is another form of distraction, since if you have too much action going on at once it’s impossible to give a lot of focus to any individual table or decision. In general, I think a good rule of thumb is that you should find out how many tables you can comfortably handle (which I would say is the point where you very rarely feel overwhelmed or time out), and play 2-4 tables less than that amount.

Another possible distraction is typing in the chat box, so I would advise against doing much chatting. Strictly from a focus/potential misclick or timeout perspective, chatting has to be more –EV than not chatting. The best uses of the chat box are to exchange pleasantries with players if they say something friendly to you, say “ty” when someone says “nh,” and to chat it up with the very weak, recreational players so they will be more likely to stick around in the event they double up. A bad use of the chat box include telling someone what you had in a hand or any talk of strategy (unless maybe it is done deliberately to get someone to play a certain way against you later), lest you give something away about how you play or think about the game.

Another poor use of the chat box is bemoaning your bad luck by saying stuff like “of course” “fml” “lol mbn” when you lose a pot. Worse still is lashing out at and berating other players, as in addition to being rude, the act of typing it will tend to stir up emotions. These things could also signal to other players who otherwise might not be paying attention that you might be on tilt, and if you are tilting, then this is disastrous. (As a related side-note, typing a random string of letters like “ajhkdjhkfslj” after taking a bad beat could be a good idea if you are actually mentally unaffected by the loss, and want to do a pump fake of sorts and give a false tilting tell). “Never complain, never explain” is a good motto when it comes to talking at the tables.
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Old 12-28-2010, 12:04 PM   #2
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Re: 500th post: Mental Game/Poker Mindset Manifesto (way, way, way tl;dr)

(Part 2)

Combating Poker Losses Affecting the Rest of Your Life Adversely

“Remember there’s a whole other world out there beyond the felt.” –Larry Phillips

This is one area where I have made dramatic improvements in the last few years. A few years ago, poker governed my moods to such an extent that my family and close friends could almost always tell if I was on a winning streak or losing streak just by my demeanor. Now, even though I still have my problems with tilt, my suffering from poker ends almost as soon as I quit my session.

The best way I have found to combat a bad mood brought on by a big loss is to get some type of exercise. A close second is to spend time with people you enjoy the company of. Going out to dinner or something along those lines with your girlfriend, significant other, or a bunch of friends or family is ideal. Don’t mention poker at all, and if someone asks you how you’ve been doing, laugh and say something like “Today wasn’t so great, but you gotta take the ups with the downs.” Even if you have to force it, make sure to act as jovial and upbeat as you can. I think that after only a short while you’ll find you won’t have to fake it anymore and you’ll be having a good time and back in a good mood even if you started out feeling rotten.

If spending time with other people or exercise isn’t an option, find another distraction, the best ones being sleep, watching a movie, or playing video games. One distraction that can work in the short term but which I wouldn’t recommend is going degen by either doing drugs or alcohol by yourself or ordering an escort (hookers and blow ftl, imo). This will tend to put you in a less focused and more depressed mind state when you get back to the tables, might cause you to get more depressed and dwell on the loss (in the case of drinking by yourself at least), or might cause you to gamble while impaired. In addition, if you consistently do these things, your mind’s reward pathway system will tend to associate losing at poker with pleasurable, addictive activities afterwards, and you could potentially get hooked on the drama of losing big and then playing recklessly or for high stakes or doing a bunch of flips and either getting back to even and feeling great or losing huge and then drinking/smoking/snorting/screwing your melancholy away.

A couple other things that might give you relief from poker loss induced suffering is cashing out some of the money you have online or going on a shopping spree and buying some things that you’ve had your eye on for a while. Just make sure you leave enough money online to grind with and don’t buy stuff that you can’t afford.

You could also go out and perform a random act of kindness. Though there are definitely better and more rewarding ways, the easiest way I’ve found to do this is to give away money. Give a waitress or a food delivery guy an extravagant tip. If 100 bucks isn’t a big deal to you, go out and give a hundred dollar bill to a friendly supermarket teller (or someone else in a menial minimum wage job) when buying your 1 dollar bottle of water and tell her to keep the change. For someone who lives paycheck to paycheck and grinds out 40 hours week to make only a couple hundred bucks take home that’s a big deal, and to know you singlehandedly significantly improved their week might make you feel good (I know the few times I’ve done this it has, and I find it’s more rewarding than giving to a homeless person who though he may be in greater need is probably just going to booze away or put in his arm whatever you give him.)

You could also go to Charity Navigator, find a worthy charity and ship some loot and see if that makes you feel fulfilled. You could also use that as incentive to stop when you’re tilting, by saying to yourself, if I keep playing now, I stand to lose money because I am in a poor mind state, so I will stop and donate some of the money I didn’t lose today to a good cause.

If you’re on a really bad losing streak, a prolonged break could be a good idea, both for your mood and your finances. Consider leaving your computer behind and taking a vacation somewhere you’ve been itching to go. This will serve to get you away from the vicious loss cycle, and when you come back you’ll be refreshed and ready to crush.

One thing I’ve found that helps when you are feeling down after a loss or losing streak is to put things in perspective and remind yourself how fortunate you are. There are people in the world starving to death and without clean water, people with horrible health ailments, people working in sweat shops and sex slavery, and you’re in good health and living a comfortable existence supporting yourself by playing a game you enjoy. Furthermore, think of how lucky you are to exist, to be alive. You out-swam millions of sperm, and had any one thing happened slightly differently to your parents up to the moment of your conception, then you never happened. Life is precious and fleeting, and you’re spending some of the time you have here distressed because a number in your still healthy bank account or poker site cashier balance is smaller than what it was? Be grateful for what you have rather than worrying about what you lack.

Working on your game away from the tables

“Dedicate yourself to a continuous cycle of analysis and improvement. If you’re not constantly getting better, you’re getting worse.” –The Poker Mindset

Learn from me on this issue, specifically use me an example of what not to do: 3 years ago I was grinding 1-2 as my main game. After my initial binge on training site material, I sought out almost no coaching, didn’t make any poker friends that played the same games I did that I talked strategy with over messenger, very rarely reviewed hands in PT or HEM, very rarely posted or looked at strategy posts on 2p2, and only watched the occasional training site video. Now, 3 years later, I’m grinding .5/1 as my main game.
The more work you put into your game away from the tables, the more successful you will be, period. This means you should review all your big hands in HEM after every session, and be very vigilant about trying to spot leaks in your game. Make tons of poker friends that play the same games as you and review hands and talk strategy with them all the time. Post strategy hands and reply to strategy hands on 2p2 as this will get you thinking about lots of interesting spots and identifying flaws in your thinking. There's a reason the poker players on here that formed tight bonds 4-5 years ago are many of the best players in the world right now.

You should also subscribe to most of the big training sites and watch training videos. If you are at small stakes, you should be able to learn a lot from the best videos (ie Galfond's), and if you are at high stakes, you can probably pick up a few tidbits from the videos, but more importantly you can watch videos of some of the people who you regularly play against and get an idea of their thought processes. Paying for a coach to sweat you can also be a wise investment, but make sure you do your research before you hire anybody.

Taking Your Game to the Next Level/General Strategy Advice

In my opinion, once you have mastered the fundamentals, the four ways to take your game to the next level are fearlessness, anticipation, unpredictability, and creativity.
If you are able to play without fear and back up your reads with your whole stack at any time if need be, your profitability will soar. Take for example a hand in PLO where you have no showdown value and your opponent bets 70bb into an 80bb pot on the river, leaving himself 35bb behind. Let’s say his range is very polarized—he pretty much either has the nuts or a hand without much showdown value. From the way the hand played out and your opponent’s timing, bet-sizing, and past tendencies, you think he’s bluffing with a high frequency, maybe somewhere around 2/3 of his range consists of bluffs in this particular spot you estimate.

Many people will just sigh in this spot, think to themselves “I’ll play it safe” and fold, either because they don't trust their instincts, they’re afraid of looking or feeling foolish, or they want to at all costs avoid that sinking feeling of getting snap-called by the nuts and having lost more than a buy-in more than they needed to on the hand. However, if your estimate that he is bluffing around 2/3 of the time is close to accurate, you are missing out on a hugely profitable bluffing opportunity, and you’re leaving tons of money on the table.
A couple similar examples is where you have a hand on the river with showdown value that would be marginal to call a bet with, but would be very +EV to turn into a bluff, or where you're facing an all-in on the river with a hand that is a pure bluff catcher, maybe one that’s not even strong enough to beat a number of hands your opponent could possibly be bluffing with, but maybe you think your instincts are telling you he is bluffing with a very high frequency. Make no mistake, having the testicular fortitude to go with your gut and ship your stack in spots like these is, if your instincts are good, what will skyrocket your win rate. Along with tilt control, game selection, and work ethic, it’s what separates the rakeback pros and marginal winners from the absolute beasts.

Anticipation is critical to your win-rate as well. You should always have a general plan for the hand, and be thinking of all the various ways the hand could play out on the early streets. You should rarely be taken by surprise by something your opponent does. If you bet, you should always have a plan of what to do if raised. To quote Tommy Angelo in Elements of Poker:

Quote:
“In a headsup pot, when you bet or raise, your opponent can only fold, call, or raise. If he folds, your next betting decision is not until the next hand. If he calls, your next betting decision is not until the next street. If he raises – and only if he raises – you must act now. That is why, when you bet or raise, there is strategically nothing to anticipate except a raise, and therefore, if you have not anticipated a raise, you not only made a mistake, you made the only mistake possible.”
Creativity is another thing that separates rakeback pros from winners. You should consider every option available to you before making a play. For instance why bet pot on a bluff if 2/5 pot will get the job done just as well? Or why bet 2/3 pot on a bluff if a full pot sized bet has a much higher probability of working? Or if you have a hand that you’re 95% sure is best against a bluffy opponent, but if you get action on a big bet you will probably be beat, consider betting a size that you think could induce a bluff. Think of bet sizes and lines that will cause players to spaz out against you (and trust me, if you don’t know ways to make weak players spaz, and if you don’t make unorthodox plays specifically designed to get them to do so, you are missing out on a lot of money).

Closely connected to creativity is unpredictability. This means you should continually be mixing up your lines, bet sizes, timing, ranges, and frequencies so good, observant opponents can’t get a read on you and lesser players are completely baffled and frustrated by you. Don’t be afraid to make a play that would be awful in a vacuum, but which you believe has a high likelihood of working because of some specific dynamic. You can use exploitable, transparent lines against fish because they will still find that you are mixing up your play with different hands unpredictable, and even though you might be taking exploitable lines against them, they’re not good enough to recognize that and exploit you. Against good players, you should tend to keep your ranges balanced and your bet sizes and timing relatively consistent, which also promotes unpredictability.

Bankroll Management and Game Selection

There’s a reason many successful players say that game selection and bankroll management is a big determinant of how much success a play will achieve. It’s because it’s absolutely true.
If you are playing big bet poker professionally at .5/1 or higher and generally play 8 or more tables simultaneously, I recommend you have at least 100 buy-ins for your main game and preferably over 200. I’m not sure about the requirements for limit games or tourneys but I would similarly recommend an excessive number of buy-ins at these games too. If you are over-rolled, you will be less stressed and have less emotional fluctuations, and this lack of pressure should translate into improved performance. In addition, if you have 150+ buy-ins, it is nearly impossible to go broke due to bad luck alone.

I do recommend you periodically take 5-to-10 buy-in shots at higher limits when you’re in a good mind-state and games are really good. Again, learn what not to do from me on this issue: the only times I played bigger games was when I was chasing losses, which led to missing out on a ton of hugely +EV situations and putting myself in a lot of vastly unprofitable situations.

For game selection, you should make sure you are sitting in good games, and if a table turns bad, quit it. Periodically check the lobbies of your poker clients to make sure you are sitting at the most profitable tables available to you. You should have money on a bunch of sites to give yourself a lot of options for good games, especially if you play primarily HU. If you live in the US, there is no reason not to have money on not only Stars and FTP, but also Cake, Merge, and Cereus (though I understand if you don’t want to play on Cereus due to the shadiness). Some of the softest games on the net run on the smaller site: I routinely see full-stacked players playing 70%+ vpip at mid-stakes 6max PLO on the latter three sites when games run.
An exception to the importance of game-selection is if you are mass-tabling mid-stakes to get SNE on Stars to virtually guarantee yourself a 6-figure income on the year if you are able to make it. In this case you stand to make most of your money on bonuses, so game selection isn’t as important. However, you need to ask yourself if going for SNE is worth it, or if you could stand to make as much or more money by playing less often on less tables at higher stakes spread over multiple sites.

Preparing to play/When to Play

It is a good idea to have a pre-session warm-up routine before you play. Good things to do before you play are exert your physically (for instance doing some pushups), sitting up straight breathing mindfully for 10 or more exhales, and eating a light healthy snack. It is also smart to write down 5 or 6 of the most important things you want to make sure you remember while you play, and to look over them before every session. You might also want to read some forum strategy post or watch 10-30 minutes of a training video to get yourself in the right frame of mind.

As to when to play, the best time is when you are feeling sharp and are well-rested, have recently gotten exercise, and are not upset or concerned about other things in your life. I also strongly advise you to play more and play longer sessions when you are winning and play less and play shorter sessions when you are losing.

While it’s true that every hand is independent, it is false that most players play as well whether they are on a winning streak or losing streak. So, I recommend a very low and strict stop losses if you are coming off a big loss or are on a losing streak. And if you are on a winning streak, it is a good idea to play as much as possible until things start to turn bad. It is unfortunate that many players tend to do the exact opposite of this, myself included.

Living a healthy life to play better

Put simply, the better you take of yourself, the better you will play at poker. This is indisputable and every single mindset/performance coach will tell you so. That means the healthier you eat, the more you exercise, and the more you are able to stay well-rested and stick to a regular sleeping routine, the sharper your mind will be and the better you will perform at the tables. In general, the less drugs and alcohol you use, the better off you will be too.
For diet, I recommend you eat several smallish meals per day, consisting mainly of chicken, turkey, fish, vegetables, nuts, and fruits. Fast food, processed foods, wheat, milk, refined sugar, and anything with preservatives or artificial things in it are things you should try to minimize your intake of if you can, as humans have only recently started eating these products and so our bodies are not really evolved to handle them, which is the reason why so many people are allergic to wheat and dairy and why if you binge out at a fast food joint you feel like garbage afterwards. I know for myself I am sharper when I stay away from those foods, as delicious as they are.

For exercise, I recommend getting at least 30 minutes per day at least five days per week. Either cardio or weightlifting work well. A mix of both would probably be ideal. If you are very lazy, and the prospect of exercise is too daunting, basketball, similar active sports, and walking are good options as they don’t feel like hard work to do.

In general, I don’t think alcohol and drugs will have a beneficial impact on your game. The only possible exceptions are weed, adderall, and caffeine which some people say improves their games. However, I wouldn’t advise taking adderall as I don’t think you should mess around with meth in any form and the times I’ve taken it I’ve felt extremely tweaked out. Some people say they can play fine on weed or that it actually improves their games (I haven’t found this to be the case, for the most part) and if that is the case for you then I guess it’s fine, as long as you are honestly assessing its effect on your game. Caffeine is whatever, but it is addictive and can have some negative side effects, and just know if you consistently play while under the influence of any of these three substances, you can become dependent on them to focus at the tables.

As for smoking herb or going out and drinking at night after you are done playing, you can probably get away with that as long as you aren’t getting blackout drunk all the time or playing with nasty hangovers, but I think overall it will probably impede your judgment at the table at least to some extent even if you never play while under the influence, especially if you’re partying a lot. I’ve found that the periods where I have my meltdowns tend to be those when I’ve been doing a lot of drinking and smoking, even if I’m sober when I’m at the computer playing. But hey, it can be tons of fun to get messed up on these substances, so really you got to do a cost-benefit analysis when deciding how much you want to live it up vs. how much you want to perform at your peak. Moderation is key.

It should go without saying, but never play drunk, unless you are just messing around at stakes you don’t care about (I’ve probably lost over 6 figs lifetime playing while s-faced). And if you are going out drinking (or are cracking open a 12 pack to drink while you watch a sporting event on TV at home), it could be a good idea to get a 12 hour self exclusion at the sites you play at.
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Old 12-28-2010, 12:05 PM   #3
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Re: 500th post: Mental Game/Poker Mindset Manifesto (way, way, way tl;dr)

(Part 3)

External Controls

Nowadays, doctors give chronic alcoholics and opiate addicts medication where alcohol makes you seriously physically ill if you drink it, and opiates don’t get you high if you take a painkiller or shoot up. If you have bad tilt problems, you should take some similar measures. Obviously, the end goal is developing enough self-control and discipline to avoid making ill-advised decisions that could lead to you dusting off your bankroll, but until then you should put things in place that you can’t possibly circumvent to protect your bankroll if you have a meltdown (the latter is what Tommy Angelo calls a “band-aid” where the former is a “cure”).

One thing you can do is if you are going to the casino, only take as much money with you as you are prepared to lose, maybe even going so far as to leave your ATM and credit card at home (or bringing enough so what you have in your pocket plus your ATM withdrawal limit and credit card cash advance limit is the absolute maximum that you are willing to lose).
Online, I would advise only keeping a small portion of your net worth online, especially if you have severe tilt issues. I know that my sweet spot is keeping 25-30 buy-ins at my normal stakes online. That’s enough to where I’m not in imminent danger of not being able to top off or reload full at tables while 12-tabling, but also serves as a built-in stop loss to avoid the absolute bloodbaths.

Also, if you play on Pokerstars or any other site that allows you to restrict which stakes you can play, I recommend you use the table and tournament stakes features to restrict yourself from playing any stake where you don't normally play. So for instance, if you're a 1-2 regular who sometimes takes shots at 2/4 and maybe enters the Sunday million now and then, set your table stakes limits to 2/4 and your tourney/sng buy-in limits to $215, there's really no reason for you to not have them in place or have them higher. If you are on bad tilt or hit your stop loss and are quitting for the day (or really any time you've decided you don't want to play for a specific period of time), you should strongly consider self-excluding yourself until the earliest time you want to return to the tables.

If you play on a site that offers blackjack or other casino games in addition to poker such as UB or Party, you should email them and tell them to block you from playing those games.

Gambling Addiction/Balancing Gambling with the Rest of Your Life

“The surest way to end a gambling career is to gamble.” –Tommy Angelo

Scientists performed a study on mice, where if a mouse pushed a button, it received either a food pellet or a shock. If a mouse received a food pellet for the first several times it pushed the button and then started received only shocks, it would stop pushing the button after a number of shocks. But if half of the time the mouse received a pellet and half the time a shock, the mouse would continue pushing the button even when the machine had switched to doling out all shocks, until it electrocuted itself to death. Obviously we are much more sophisticated animals than mice, but I believe this is a good representation of the dangers of gambling addiction (and in fact, addiction in general).

Ideally, the only thing you should gamble on is poker and financial markets, and possibly also prop bets which are either small bets made largely for fun against friends, or ones in which you are certain you have a big edge in. Neutral EV sweats like credit card roulette, vig free sportsbetting, superbowl squares pool, and flips for a small % of your roll should also prove to be relatively harmless, if done in moderation and if you are not risking a significant percentage of your net worth on them.

I advise staying away from –EV bets such as sportsbetting with a vig and pit games as much as possible. The problem with doing this type of betting is that 1. You will lose money in the long run and 2. You could get hooked on the rush of gambling and get used to the idea of risking money on things even if you’re not getting the best of it, which might lead to your play at the tables creeping in the direction of action seeking degeneracy away from carefully thought out decision making meant to eke out the most possible EV.

Another problem is if you are constantly gambling on things in life, it can be difficult to derive excitement or pleasure out of anything in your life that you don’t have money riding on. For instance, ever since I started betting on sports, I have a lot of trouble focusing on or caring about any sporting event I haven’t bet on. Making sure you are living a balanced life and having plenty of non-related gambling activities is important to your overall happiness in life. Do you really want a large part of your level of happiness and well-being to continuously be determined by sheer chance?

Gambling is fun, having your life consumed by gambling isn’t and/or losing a large percentage of your net worth gambling without an edge isn’t.

Mindfulness/Buddhism Concepts

”The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it” –Thich Nhat Hahn

"Few of us ever live in the present. We are forever anticipating what is to come or remembering what has gone." -Louis L’Amour

"Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).” – James Baraz

I’m not going to spend too much time on this section, lest I sound like a Jehova’s Witness going door to door trying to convert people. However, using these concepts has significantly improved my poker results (not to mention dramatically increased the amount of happiness and decreased the amount of unpleasantness in my life), so I’d like to at least touch on some mindfulness stuff.

Basically, mindfulness (which is in other words, the practical, non-mystical teachings of Buddhism) involves living in and savoring the present moment as much as possible, being accepting and carefree, seeking to minimize stress, worry, anxiety, anger, fear, sadness and other suffering, and practicing love and kindness towards all people and animals. It accomplishes this by focusing on breathing and putting intense focus and awareness on your senses and on what is currently transpiring at this very moment. It seeks to eliminate ruminating on the past, worrying about the future, other unnecessary mind noise, and the ego.

There’s a misconception that mindfulness equals meditation. While meditation is a form of mindfulness (and probably the best and most effective one), you can mindfully do virtually any activity. A good way to mindfully breathe while you are doing something (like poker, walking, or driving), is to inhale deeply through the nose. If you put one hand on your belly and one hand on your lungs, your belly should expand more. While you are breathing in, you could say to yourself “Breathing in, I am aware I am breathing in” or even just “In.” The exhale is the most important part: you should breathe out through your mouth slowly and evenly and with great focus on the air escaping, until every last bit of air is out. While you are breathing out, say to yourself “Breathing out, I am aware I am breathing out” or “Out.” Repeat this process for as many breaths as possible, and you should find your mind settles after a few breaths.

That’s all I’m going to write about that, but again I just want to reiterate that this stuff really does work and rates to improve the quality of your life if you are able to do it consistently. If you are interested in learning more about mindfulness, good starting points are Episode 3 and Episode 8 of The Eightfold Path series on Deuces Cracked, Tommy Angelo’s Meditation webpage, Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn, The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hahn, and The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.

Final Thoughts

“No one is tiltless, which means everyone can tilt less.” –Tommy Angelo

Playing poker professionally can be a wonderful thing—it allows many people to make more money than they could otherwise, and the lifestyle demands very few responsibilities and provides a great deal of freedom. After playing poker for three years, averaging maybe 20 hours a week at the tables, supporting myself and never having anything close to a desperate need for money, I can’t imagine working a 9-5. Nevertheless, playing poker professionally can be a cause of great agony. I can’t count the number of times during my career I’ve sat at my desk and alternated between staring at my drastically depleted cashier balance and the ceiling, in utter disbelief and despair, feeling like I was trapped in a nightmare.

In order to maximize your profits and minimize the suffering from poker, mastering yourself and the mental side, mindset, and intangibles of poker is absolutely critical. Developing the discipline, awareness, motivation, and self-control to do this will be very hard work. Jared Tendler like to use the weight-lifting analogy. He says that you need to practice over and over again to develop the skills necessary to play your best a high percentage of the time, much as you would need to do a lot of reps weightlifting to get stronger. You need to push yourself to get better at poker (or anything), as in the way you need to push yourself past the point of discomfort in order to increase the amount of weight you are able to lift over time. The best advice I can give you on the subject of developing discipline and motivation is “Just ****ing do it”—it comes down to sheer will.

Once you start consistently making smart decisions for your poker career at and away from the tables, they will build on each other and eventually become habit. When you’re on a streak of making good healthy decisions, every subsequent one will be easier. Every time you quit when you’re tilting and every time you use coping strategies to prevent tilt when you start to lose it will be good for you in both the short and long runs. But you can’t give yourself excuses, you can’t say “**** it, I don’t care that I’m fire tilted right now, I’m going to keep playing so I can try to get unstuck.”

You have to make a good decisions in the moment, now, right when the spokes start to come off. If you keep telling yourself “I’ll quit in thirty minutes” every half an hour, you won’t stop playing until you hit a lucky streak and get back to even, bust your account, have to be somewhere, or can barely keep your eyes open. If you keep telling yourself “Tomorrow/next week/next month, I’ll work on my game away from the tables/put in a bunch of time at the tables/do some serious work on tilting problem/start living healthy,” that time will never come because you’re always delaying it to the future.

Tommy Angelo has a concept derived from old TV game shows called “Door A, Door B,” the essence of which is that you can divide all your decisions in life in to decisions that rate to improve your score in poker and your happiness in life (Door A) and those that figure to do the opposite (Door B). For instance, Door A is quitting or taking a break when you see a lot of your tilting triggers and warning signs, Door B is to keep playing and chasing losses. Door A is folding a marginal hand oop after taking a bad beat, Door B is 3-betting it. Door A is making a call on the river when you estimate you are good 1 in 4 times but are only getting 2.5: 1 on your call, Door B is folding. Door A is eating, sleeping, and exercising well, Door B is living in an unhealthy manner. Door A is saying “OK sorry” when someone blames you for something inconsequential even if you don’t think it was your fault, Door B is getting in a fight about it. Door A is living in the present and experiencing the deep joy of being and existence, Door B is constantly ruminating on the past and worrying about and anticipating the future.

The more you open Door A, the happier you will be.
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Old 12-28-2010, 12:11 PM   #4
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Re: 500th post: Mental Game/Poker Mindset Manifesto (way, way, way tl;dr)

Will certainly read later
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Old 12-28-2010, 12:34 PM   #5
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Re: 500th post: Mental Game/Poker Mindset Manifesto (way, way, way tl;dr)

Excellent stuff, will read it again. Thanks for sharing.
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Old 12-28-2010, 01:06 PM   #6
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Re: 500th post: Mental Game/Poker Mindset Manifesto (way, way, way tl;dr)

thanks, will definitely read. Not sure I'm the best reference, but I'll ditto the comments about Jared - he knows his stuff. Of course it's up to the student to execute
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Old 12-28-2010, 01:13 PM   #7
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Re: 500th post: Mental Game/Poker Mindset Manifesto (way, way, way tl;dr)

Will definitely be reading this, but not this hungover..
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Old 12-28-2010, 02:16 PM   #8
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Re: 500th post: Mental Game/Poker Mindset Manifesto (way, way, way tl;dr)

I spotted this in BBV earlier today. Really eye-opening to see the difference in reactions between your standard BBV moron and successful people in the PLO forum.

Thanks for sharing, Jared.
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Old 12-28-2010, 02:45 PM   #9
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Re: 500th post: Mental Game/Poker Mindset Manifesto (way, way, way tl;dr)

only done with the first post so far but thanks for the read, it's pretty clear this took a lot of effort and hopefully people take the time to wade through it. it seems that no matter one's leak, a nugget or two of wisdom could definitely be gained from this post.

also, I love this line:

“Poker is a bit like a beautiful woman who will only come home with you once you show you are truly indifferent to her” -Larry Phillips
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Old 12-28-2010, 05:45 PM   #10
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Re: 500th post: Mental Game/Poker Mindset Manifesto (way, way, way tl;dr)

nice post.

BBVtard is a good way of describing the level of responses in BBV

and what happened half way through ur graph that suddenly made ur redline go up 45 degrees?
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Old 12-28-2010, 06:37 PM   #11
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Re: 500th post: Mental Game/Poker Mindset Manifesto (way, way, way tl;dr)

Pure Awesomeness mr. I think this was just what i needed. Not giving up playing drunk though
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Old 12-28-2010, 09:12 PM   #12
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Re: 500th post: Mental Game/Poker Mindset Manifesto (way, way, way tl;dr)

will read when I feel really strong and have lots of time
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Old 12-28-2010, 10:26 PM   #13
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Re: 500th post: Mental Game/Poker Mindset Manifesto (way, way, way tl;dr)

Just read all of this. Incredible post and really highlighted so many key issues that I go through. I just want to thank you for the superb advice.
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Old 12-28-2010, 10:32 PM   #14
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Re: 500th post: Mental Game/Poker Mindset Manifesto (way, way, way tl;dr)

Loved it, superb stuff and really great timing for me in particular. Thank you so much.
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Old 12-28-2010, 11:54 PM   #15
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Re: 500th post: Mental Game/Poker Mindset Manifesto (way, way, way tl;dr)

Totally worth the read. Thx a lot for taking ur time and doing this. Very wise words and directions.
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Old 12-29-2010, 12:19 AM   #16
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Re: 500th post: Mental Game/Poker Mindset Manifesto (way, way, way tl;dr)

Its been said already but this is an excellent compilation of info. Fantastic work and thanks for sharing.
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Old 12-29-2010, 04:15 AM   #17
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Re: 500th post: Mental Game/Poker Mindset Manifesto (way, way, way tl;dr)

Good read.

But definitely tl.
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Old 12-29-2010, 11:55 AM   #18
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Re: 500th post: Mental Game/Poker Mindset Manifesto (way, way, way tl;dr)

Quote:
Originally Posted by crashwhips View Post
(Part 2)

(Ive probably lost over 6 figs lifetime playing while s-faced).
mee too buddy, mee too.

Great post, ty!
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Old 12-29-2010, 12:00 PM   #19
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Re: 500th post: Mental Game/Poker Mindset Manifesto (way, way, way tl;dr)

wonderful post, thanks for taking the time to write this down.
much appreciated.

btw, you can have an edge on sportsbetting with a vig, too
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Old 12-29-2010, 12:06 PM   #20
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Re: 500th post: Mental Game/Poker Mindset Manifesto (way, way, way tl;dr)

5* nice read ty.
liked the quotes
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Old 12-29-2010, 06:33 PM   #21
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Re: 500th post: Mental Game/Poker Mindset Manifesto (way, way, way tl;dr)

cliffs? is it his life story or is it an essay kinds thing on how to play or is it a short book or is it just random words to fill the posts?
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Old 12-30-2010, 12:44 AM   #22
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Re: 500th post: Mental Game/Poker Mindset Manifesto (way, way, way tl;dr)

Read all of it, people asking for cliffs dont deserve it anyway. This isn't the type of stuff you can put into cliffs.

Not that it's a big deal if you can edit the OP one of the examples was backwards...

Quote:
Door A is making a call on the river when you estimate you are good 1 in 4 times but are only getting 2.5: 1 on your call, Door B is folding
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Old 12-30-2010, 03:33 AM   #23
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Re: 500th post: Mental Game/Poker Mindset Manifesto (way, way, way tl;dr)

Very good read
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Old 12-30-2010, 04:27 AM   #24
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Re: 500th post: Mental Game/Poker Mindset Manifesto (way, way, way tl;dr)

Great post exactly what I needed to read. Thanks OP
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Old 12-30-2010, 04:33 AM   #25
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Re: 500th post: Mental Game/Poker Mindset Manifesto (way, way, way tl;dr)

fantastic post
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