Poker has always been a game with psychology at its very core. From the early days of pre-internet poker, players have had to be masters of reading body language while masking their own.
Deception and trying to second-guess opponents are both key facets of Texas Hold'em. But there are other psychological concepts and techniques that are often overlooked.
By understanding some of the ideas noted here, you may be able to take your game from intermediate to pro level.
Getting Into State
One of the key pillars of the psychological field of neuro-linguistic programming is anchoring.
This is when people are able to get themselves into a particular state at will through the use of a certain set ritual.
It harks back to the idea of classical conditioning that was discovered by Ivan Pavlov in the early 20th century.
In the Russian physiologist’s famous experiment with dogs, he found that he was able to trigger a salivation reflex by associating the ticking of a metronome with food. NLP practitioners realised that the same thing could be done with humans.
Interestingly, one of the best ways to achieve a powerful anchor is presented by Jordan Belfort in his book Way of the Wolf.
Belfort is a former Wall Street broker who inspired Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, and, needless to say, he has a number of incredible techniques for closing sales.
One of the most important things for him was to get into the right state before a sale. He stresses how crucial it is to be able to instantly call upon strong feelings of confidence and certainty. This is something he was able to achieve through anchoring.
Poker players would be wise to try Belfort's technique while taking part in an important tournament, as it could help achieve a state of assuredness that will smooth the path to victory.
It could also be used to regain control after a bad beat or a poker cooler. In order to set the anchor, Belfort got into the actual state that he wanted to be able to revisit later on through anchoring.
So he waited for the elation and feelings of confidence he had after just having closed a sale. At that point, he would take a whiff of a distinctive smell, clap his hands, and say “yes” in a firm manner.
Later on, when he wanted to recapture those feelings, he would simply sniff the smell again and repeat the actions he had set in place before.
Avoiding Tunnel Vision
Tunnel vision in poker is a concept that is rarely discussed, but it’s something that a lot of players are at the mercy of.
This is when someone who aspires to be a Texas Hold’em expert sticks rigidly to the game in that format, expecting to become the best through years of practice.
Unfortunately, this strategy is just not going to cut it in the competitive world of modern poker.
Think about it this way, does a professional sprinter like Usain Bolt simply practice running the 100m or 200m over and over again? Or does he spend time in the gym with a personal trainer while sticking to a diet provided by a nutritionist?
Professional footballers like Lionel Messi don't play 90-minute match after 90-minute match, do they? In the weeks between competitive games, they spend hours and hours on training drills and strength enhancement.
Aspiring poker players need to see Texas Hold’em tournaments in this way. The major competitions are where they can bring their various skills together and put them to the test.
Players need to expand their horizons when it comes to the variants of poker on offer in order to train the various skillsets needed to become the best.
Between tournaments, professional poker players take part in a wide variety of diverse types of poker and other card games online. There are plenty of online casino table games that can be used as a way to hone attributes needed for poker.
These include offshoots of the bluffing game itself, like Three Card Poker and Pai Gow Poker. It also means playing other mathematical card options like blackjack and baccarat.
It would also be wise to follow in the footsteps of some of the best players in the business and see what other games they play.
You’ll find that the skills needed at the felt can be improved and sharpened in many other ways aside from simply playing cards.
For instance, the top two poker players in the world, Bryn Kenney and Justin Bonomo, both played Magic: The Gathering before excelling at poker.
Third on the all-time money list, Daniel Negreanu, has been known to play Hearthstone when not at the felt as well.
Understand Your Chimp Brain
Psychologists have long spoken about how humans have a system-one and a system-two brain.
The system-one brain is emotionally driven, while the system-two brain is where logical thinking happens.
To explain this concept in a more understandable manner, Professor Steve Peters decided to refer to the system-one brain as our “inner chimp.” He came up with the book The Chimp Paradox: The Acclaimed Mind Management Programme to Help You Achieve Success, Confidence, and Happiness.
This book should be compulsory reading for poker players, especially those who let their emotions take over and destroy their game plan.
There is a good reason why artificial intelligence has been able to beat professionals at the game, and this is because it doesn’t have a chimp brain running the show.
Whenever anything happens in life, the chimp brain is the first one to react. And it’s there all the time at the felt as well.
When you go on tilt, when you have a feeling about a hand, and when you hold a grudge against another player, your chimp is in charge. Players need to be able to override their chimp and allow their logical mind to make decisions at the table.
The tips written here don't appear much in poker courses and books, but they could make a difference to people who feel they are a few steps away from greatness.
Every little helps when it comes to improving your skills, and reading about some of the psychology involved should help you make that next step and handle the variance in poker much better.