Keeping Your Sanity [Long]

For the last three plus years since I’ve been in poker, the threat of online poker going away has been a fear that I’ve talked about with many of my clients. Mostly, we were talking about it because it was affecting their performance at that time, but we were also planning for this possibility.

In the panic that often sets in after such a shocking announcement, it can be hard to be objective. I hope this post can help you to be better at figuring out what to do, rather than getting overwhelmed by fear, confusion, and uncertainty.

It’s hard to know what this means, but I do think it’s important to avoid speculating or get caught up listening to others who are doing it. Stay tuned into facts, listen to credible people, and do what you think is best. It’s easy to think only of the absolute worst case, and on one level it can be smart to prepare for that possibility, it also may not be the most helpful when ultimately figuring out what you need to do. Try to brainstorm some options so you’re prepared to make decisions as more information becomes certain and avoid making premature definitive conclusions.

This situation is different for each of you. Your circumstances in life, mean that what you need right now is different – so I’m going to post a few general ideas/thoughts that I’ve had and see which fits best. I’m happy to expand on any of these, answer any questions, and help in any way I can.

Dealing with Fear

Part of what makes fear so difficult, is that like tilt, it overwhelms your ability to think clearly. The thinking part of your brain can’t do its job because it’s overwhelmed with emotion. Instead, whatever thoughts you do have ripping through your head have a hard time settling down. Images of the worst, uncertainty about your future, and how you’re going to make money cause more anxiety because there are no answers.

The antidote to fear is an answer you are certain about.

That may sound overly simplistic, but think about it logically, if you knew without a doubt, that you’d have all your money and online poker would be regulated in the US within 1 month, you would have nothing to fear.

Right now you’re looking for answers. The problem is that some of you are so desperate for answers you’ll listen to almost anything or anyone. That desperation is very similar to feeling desperate to win. You’ll do almost anything to shake this feeling because the uncertainty is almost too much to handle.

The reality is that there aren’t many answers out there right now. If you try to force an answer too soon, you’ll be making the same mistake if you were forcing the action because you need to win money right now. You have to stick to a sound and logical strategy.

Of course, there is no playbook for this spot. There is no equity calculations you can run to figure out what the best thing is for you to do. However, I do know how to help you figure out what is in your best interest. It’s going to take some work on your part. There are no easy answers right now, but you can make the situation a lot easier by following my advice. Eventually, this shit storm is going to turn into something positive for those of you who can see the opportunity that’s present right now. It is hard to see, especially when your vision is clouded by fear, but it’s there.

The one that’s most obvious is learning how to be resilient (I wrote a blog about this recently). The economic downturn that rocked the world three years ago, forced millions of people into a similar situation that you’re in, and thousands of them found ways to succeed through tough times. Learn from them. And perhaps more importantly, learn from the people who haven’t succeeded. Their story is a cautionary one and if you learn from what they didn’t do, or the mistakes they made, you’ll be in a better position to capitalize on this situation.

Bottom line: This isn’t a tragedy like the Tsunami in Japan. No poker players died yesterday. In the game of life you still have chips on the table. Your stack took a hit, but you’re not busto. You’re a smart group of people, you’re going to be fine. Is this going to be hard, absolutely. Some of you facing difficulty for the first time, but:

“Necessity…the mother of invention” – Plato

You’ll figure something out. You’ll get through it, and will be stronger mentally for it. I’ve had a bunch of thoughts the past 24 hours, here are a few things I’ve come up:

1. Book Excerpts.

I wasn’t planning on releasing any excerpts of the Fear chapter of my book, because tilt was a much bigger issue. Amazing how that can change in one day. Click here to view excerpts of the fear chapter – there’s also a link there where you can download it. You need this now more than ever, and I think can really help you to focus on what’s most relevant right now.

2. Write.

(In the excerpts, I go into this more.) The biggest problem with fear, is that it can run wild if left unchallenged. Whether it’s just in your mind or in a group of players yacking about the situation, if you get caught up in a wave of fear, it becomes easy to lose all sense of objectivity, and you’ll make poor decisions.

What do you write about? Very simply write what’s on your mind. The way to get you thinking more clearly is to clear out the shit in your head. Write what you’re specifically worried/fearful about? What your biggest fears are? The thoughts, ideas and questions in your head. The mind is limited by how much you can think about at one time. Writing helps you dig through all the things in your head so you can think clearer.

Most importantly, try to identify the questions that are underlying your fear, and that you’re trying to answer. Subconsciously, that’s what the fear is really all about, and the first step is to determine specifically what questions you need answered.

  • What am I going to do for a job?
  • What if all my money is gone?
  • How am I going to live?
  • What are all my friends going to think?
  • Should I move overseas?
  • Should I play live?

The antidote to fear is an answer. Right now it’s impossible to know definitively what that answer is, and you’ll make the situation worse by trying to know definitively. Instead, gather information so you can pull the trigger when it’s time for you to act.

I wasn’t planning on releasing any excerpts of the Fear chapter of my book, because tilt was a much bigger issue. Click here to download excerpts of the fear chapter that I think can really help you to focus on what’s most relevant right now and what’s most likely going to help.

3. Fuck regret.

I know there are some of you out there who are pissed you didn’t play more, didn’t work as hard, didn’t do X, Y, and Z. You had a window of opportunity and not it seems closed. The situation is hard enough as it is, do not get yourself bogged down thinking about the what ifs. The major reason is because it keeps you living in a fantasy. A fantasy world where you can dream about something positive. It’s a waste of time and energy, and makes you less prepared to make real decisions.

Its sucks right now. I’m not here to blow sunshine up your ass. I don’t think that’s useful. I’m here reminding you that there is opportunity out there, and it’s only going to show up for the ones who are actually dealing with reality rather than hiding in a fantasy to avoid how they feel.

4. Like the NFL Lockout.

Poker isn’t going away. There’s no chance a multi-billion dollar/year industry disappears. Instead, this period reminds me of the lockout going on in the NFL. There are hundreds of pro football players wondering when they’re going to get back to playing. Not all of them are rich btw. Of course there are those at the top, who want to get back to doing what they love and have no worries about money. But there are many of the marginal players who are in a much different situation.

I heard an interview from one player today on ESPN. He said that he’s going to keep working hard so he’s ready when the lockout ends. I realize the situation is very different, but some of you can take his advice. Keep working. Online poker will come back. When it does, will you be ready?

Even if you get a job and never play a hand of poker before online poker is regulated, your mental game issues aren’t going to change unless you work on them. The cool thing about the mental game is that you can work on it in other areas of your life. Sure poker may make these issues worse, but they tend to show up in other areas of life in smaller ways. If you’re new to my blog, there are many articles on here to read, old blogs, and forum posts.

5. December Blackout.

Last Nov/Dec there was a lot of chatter about the 18 month blackout in online poker if the Reid bill would have passed. At that time, you and others had thought – many of the probably very good – about how you would handle it. This situation has it’s obvious differences – so the planning/ideas you had then may not apply exactly. But, another difference between then and now is the level of panic, which ultimately has a direct impact on your level of sanity.

If you want a dose of sanity revisit the threads that popped up then, either to remind yourself of things that you wrote, or others. There’s a lot more clarity in figuring out what you’re going to do in those posts than in the threads right now.

6. Transferable Skills.

Some of you are going to have to get new jobs. It’s a reality. One thing I talked to clients about every time we discussed their fear of poker disappearing is transferable skills: the skills you learned in poker, that transfer to other professions. There are many of them, some completely unrecognized.

The biggest one is that you’ve been running a small business. It’s often under appreciated that you have to be the one making all the decisions about how you make money, and you have to be your primary asset that makes money. In other words, you’re a player/owner. It would be like the owner of the Yankees also playing. An extreme example yes, but think about all the different things you had to do to be profitable:

Decide what games to play. How long to play for. How to get yourself ready to play at your best. Decide what you do to improve. How long to study vs. play. Who to get help from. And none of this has anything to do with the actual decisions being made at the table.

There was no boss standing over you telling you to play. You were accountable to yourself. That’s hard. Not everyone can do it, and it’s a major reason why some players really struggle to get in enough volume.

If you made money playing poker, you ran a successful business. Figure out specifically how you did it. Being successful is something you can learn, and the traits are similar across professions. Identify the ones you have and know them well. They are the ones that you’re going to carry with you to your next profession.

Also look back on your time in poker and identify specifically what the steps were that you took to become a skilled player. There are a lot of things you did well. Have them written down so you know what steps you’re going to need to take to learn you’re next profession. Also, identify the mistakes that you made along the way, and be ready to fix those mistakes.

From the mental side of the coin, many of you have broken through a lot of the things that have kept you from having success in other things. Expect these same issues to come up again. Even though you eliminated them in poker, they are often connected to task specific skill. Meaning if you become an equity trader, go into sales, or another job, the same mental game issues will pop back up. Not usually to the same degree, but enough that if you aren’t prepared, could cause troubles.

This post became a lot longer than I expected, but I had a lot of thoughts on this today. I’m sure I’ll have more thought soon and will post them as I have them. If you have questions for me, my forum has is spotty. Send me your question via the contact form here, and I’ll either respond via email, or if it’s a question that I think can help others I’ll post it to my blog.

Do what you have to do to stay objective.


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2 Responses to “Keeping Your Sanity [Long]”

  1. Thanks for the mention(s). The other thing to keep in mind that you should do your own research. I know not everyone has the contacts or tools to do so but you should be much more receptive to the thoughts of someone who demonstrates some expertise over time rather than some guy who pops up in a forum in the middle of a crisis and starts slinging around worst case scenarios.


  1. When the Music’s Over (thoughts and links about the poker panic) | Asymmetricity - April 17, 2011

    […] Good advice from Jared Tendler for poker players not to panic. […]

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