Poker and mental training: the synergy to succeed

Success in poker comes through various factors. One of these--the most substantial in my opinion--concerns the psychological aspects: ability to read the opponents, presence at the table, and mindset. They are all just as important to have as they are difficult to implement when the action at the table becomes too tense, fatigue prevails, and concentration wanes.

I am an online Texas Hold'em player, and I decided to be coached by a mental trainer not on game techniques but on what can be defined as "tactical" aspects. I managed substantial improvement in terms of achievements, awareness about how I play, and how much I am able to be consistent and to control my personal approach to the game.

In particular, I was able to cope better with some critical stages of tournaments (or sit&gos) like the pre-bubble phase. The key was overcoming those fears and obstacles which were slightly holding back my game. Moreover, my trainer helped me to strengthen my mental routine of reasoning which allowed me to be much more self-confident in many situations at the table. What's your opinion and how do you evaluate mental training in poker?

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Here my opinion: undoubtedly, poker is a game with a constant mental component, not only through tells, but also and essentially because it is a game in which the mental discipline makes the difference. Certainly, it is very important to spot tells, to have a psychological take on the table, or to read the opponents, but being psychologically solid above all means approaching a tournament with the correct mental state. For this reason, I strongly believe in mental training, an approach derived from sports psychology.

Here's what you can learn from a mental trainer:

Analytical capability: Too often in poker even great players tend to take for granted one's own way of playing. One example is the die-hard habit of blaming bad luck when things go wrong. First of all, let's learn to dig deep into our gaming and its possible technical-tactical gaps. Let's learn to be self-critical and to make a self-analysis of our gaming.

Defeat one's own demons: By working with a mental trainer, it is possible to sort out and best use our strong points but also to identify our weak points like the fear of being eliminated and the related incapability of playing the critical phases of tournaments (i.e. the pre-bubble stage), a wrong management of money leading to a too-passive attitude in the game (or to an excessive indifference towards losses), difficulties to cope with specific types of players (the bête noire), etc.

Decision making skills:It's important to have a clear mental decision-making procedure so that each time you sit at a table you can control all necessary variables in order to cope at best with the many decisions you have to make (type of players, specific stage of the tournament, choice of starting hands, level of aggressiveness, etc.). This is a fundamental element to optimize our play at both critical phases and in boring stages of the game.

If you can find a good mental trainer, you can make the same improvements. It's even better if the trainer (who doesn't necessarily have to be a player) has a good knowledge of poker peculiarities. It's good if the trainer knows all the dynamics and problems, especially those concerning the decision-making process specific to poker.

I sometimes turn to a mental trainer in the comfort of an online contact both at the end of a session or after a live day to evaluate the the feelings I experienced and the the hands I played. It's an important phase of analysis of what has happened to me. Even if you don't want a trainer, these are exercises you can do on your own.

It takes discipline and perseverance to succeed. Those two factors, in my opinion, remain the key words of this game.

Luca Pagano is a member of Team PokerStars Pro

Luca Pagano
@PokerStars in Luca Pagano