Warning: Your brain is trying to kill your poker game

Warning: Your brain is trying to kill your poker game

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

By Nick Wealthall.

During my time playing poker and interviewing, or being coached by, some of the best poker players in the world, I made a shocking discovery. You naturally suck at poker. In fact, your brain is trying to kill your poker game.

In writing that, I’m assuming two things: first, that you’re at least mostly human and, second, that you’re not one of the tiny, tiny percentile of humans that is wired differently to the rest of us (think Tom Dwan and his computer-for-brains friends).

As humans, we’re the most adaptable species on the planet. That’s why we’ve conquered the world, enjoy vast climate controlled shopping malls and have other people hunt our food. However, it leads us to assume we can do anything and be competent at anything.

The problem is that when it comes to poker nothing we’ve learned as a species really helps us. In fact, a lot of things we’ve learned completely destroy our poker game because poker is so different and produces such different challenges to our day-to-day lives. Challenges like making huge decisions quickly under pressure, taking big risks, dealing with long losing runs, doing everything right but losing, concentrating on one thing for long periods of time and much more.

So you suck at poker, but then so do I, and so do most other people. You’re naturally incredibly bad at it – but that’s not your fault.

I can prove it to you. Let’s look at a typical example. Have you ever been playing a poker session, doing pretty well, playing focused, and then you lose a pot you were supposed to win? Let’s say you get it in with Q-Q against 9-9 and this pot would either double your cash stack and set you up to dominate a table, or give you a tonne of chips in a tournament. Sure as night follows day, a nine arrives on the flop and you lose. In a flash you go from focused, controlled and happy to agitated, emotional and maybe even angry. You can’t let go of your bad beat and you play badly the rest of the session.

The reason is our brains suffer from “bad luck bias” (trademark – every time you use it please send me $2 c/o Bluff). We’ve been programmed that we’re supposed to get what we deserve most of the time. It goes back to our primal days when resources were scarce and we couldn’t waste time or energy. If something didn’t work, like for example we tried hunting a certain animal and it constantly got away, we quickly needed to abandon the strategy. This instinct is conditioned in our modern lives through the idea of hard work getting results, as well as the ideas of “justice” and “entitlement”.

When we lose a pot as the favourite, it’s the equivalent of a huge red flashing light accompanied by a siren going off in our heads. It’s the same as if we were running a race and got to the finish line first, but instead of crossing it we were forced to wait while a fat kid huffed and puffed his way from hundreds of yards back to pass us and win. It’s not supposed to happen, it feels bad and it’s not fair. Our brains really notice that.

Do a quick exercise to prove this. Think back over your last few poker sessions. List all of the bad beats you can remember. Once you’ve done that list all of the times you got lucky and put a bad beat on someone else. I’ll be impressed if you can remember even half as many times you got lucky compared to unlucky.

This “bad luck bias” can make you feel like you’re unlucky or jinxed and it destroys your ability to get better as a player. It makes you focus on the wrong things: the results of all-in pots; the things you can’t control rather than the decisions that you can. Top players recognise this and spend almost no time on results of hands they can’t control (like that Q-Q versus 9-9 all-in) and a huge amount of time on their decisions in other areas that they can control.

If you feel unlucky when you play or you feel like bad players constantly get lucky against, you try this simple tip. Write out a mini mantra for yourself – something like:

The reason I play is to get my money in good against bad players.
He got lucky this time but if I always get my money in good I end up rich.
I’m glad he’s here – players like him are where my profit comes from. Also, every time you’re fixating on a bad beat, find another hand with a more interesting decision to study and ask, “Did I play this the best I could?” This focus on bad players as a source of money, and refocus on things you can control, will start to change the way your brain reacts to things that happen at the table and improve you as a player.

There are many other ways our brains make it impossible for us to play great poker. You fear losing and putting our chips at risk because, as a species, we’re programmed to protect and preserve what we have. You think less clearly in big pots because the stakes are raised due to the flood of emotion when all our chips are at risk; despite this being the time you actually need to think better. Your brain deals with losses incredibly badly and losing runs even worse. You get frustrated because you can’t understand why you’re losing – the unfairness of it all – then, the next time you play you play even worse because you’re so handicapped by your losing mentality. You struggle to focus and focus on the wrong things while we’re playing because we live in an attention deficit disorder world.

All of these problems and many others happen because you encounter the challenges of poker in other areas in outside life. You never deal with sustained losing because you give up things you suck at. You don’t have to make huge pressurised decisions because you either avoid them or give yourself time and get advice to make them. In short, everything you’ve learned in life has actually set you up to be terrible at poker.

The good news is that all these problems are fixable. In fact, by changing your mindset when you play and adopting the attitudes and mindset of a top professional player you can achieve a huge jump in your results, understanding and enjoyment of the game. Top players have a different way of thinking about poker, a different blueprint. After noticing how they think about the game over many years, I started to copy their mindset and saw huge changes in my results and understanding of the game.

I then translated it into a system of easy to follow step-by-step tips and techniques and started teaching it to others. The results were startling and it’s been amazing to see the transformation players get in their poker game by solving these problems through The Winning Poker Blueprint coaching program.

I’m delighted to announce I’m giving you access to some training containing tips you can use to start transforming your poker game instantly.

Simply hit this link and then sign up with your email to get access to the free training videos:-


Tags: Nick Wealthall, strategy, coaching, videos