Mental Game Tips for November Nine

The November Nine successfully played their way past 6854 players, and now to become champion, they need to successfully navigate the next few months. I’ve coached professional golfers to handle the intensity of the spotlight and big tournaments. In the past 4 years I’ve done the same for pro poker players and I know firsthand what the November Nine will experience. The bottom line is this: What each player does between now and the final table, plays a part in determining the eventual winner.

I watched a lot of the action from the rail over the final four days, and witnessed firsthand players crumbling under the pressure. The November Nine, however, not only played great and ran well, they’re among the strongest mentally. I didn’t observe any major mental leaks in their game. That of course, doesn’t mean they’re without weaknesses, or won’t develop any over the next few months. Every player on the planet has tactical and mental leaks, even if slight.

With over two month until they face the biggest test of their poker career and the cost of a poor decision potential a million dollars (or more), here are a few tips to help the November Nine enter the Penn & Teller Theater prepared to become champion:

1. Keep it Simple

With only two months to make changes, only fine tune or work on your biggest leaks. Don’t make major changes. It’s impossible to master major changes to your game in two months and if you try, when under pressure, you’ll end up overthinking decisions. Avoid filling your head with too much information, so you can make clear and well thought-out, tactical plays.

2. Avoid Dreaming Too Much

You’re going to be asked in a lot interviews, “What would it be like, or mean to you, to win the Main Event.” Answer it very simply, “I’ll tell you if it happens.” Whether in interviews or on your own, if you spend too much time dreaming about what could happen, you’re instantly less likely for it to actually happen.

Don’t just visualize or think about winning. Instead, mentally prepare yourself to handle a range of spots that are likely to pose problems. For example, imagine how you’d handle losing several big pots in a row, being card dead, or a decision for your tournament life. It’s cool to imagine yourself taking down the title, but also make sure to visualize yourself successfully handling the critical spots necessary to actually do win.

When the FBI prepares for a raid, they don’t all sit around imagining themselves taking down the villain in some dramatic way. They prepare by mentally rehearsing how they’ll handle every possible terrible situation. Why would it be any different in poker? Your tournament life is on the line.

3. Pressure is Fuel to Perform

Pressure is the fuel great champions use to perform at their highest level. It’s also what causes players to crumble. What’s the difference? That’s the million dollar answer. Put simply, intense pressure exposes weaknesses, both tactically and mentally. To avoid crumbling, you need to be well prepared, which means, your weaknesses are known well enough to be easily corrected while playing.

Straightforward enough in theory, but the problem is that most players don’t know their weaknesses until they cause major problems. To avoid that, identify the weaknesses likely to show up, so you aren’t surprised by them. Start by closely analyzing your play during the Main Event and major tourneys during the year prior. Get your good poker friends to help you study your own game. Then, use the next few months to fix them. By the time the final table rolls around they may be completely gone, or worst case, you’re prepared to make immediate corrections before they happen.

4. Talk to Former November Niners

There’s no one better to talk about what it’s like to be in that environment than the 27 players who have been there before.

5. Avoid Overconfidence

Constantly being in the limelight can make players feel too good about their chances of winning. Having confidence is critical for success under intense pressure; however, having too much confidence causes as many problems as having too little confidence. Overconfidence can make it feel as if you’ve already won. When that happens, you don’t pay attention to the small details of the action critical to making the best decision. Why? It’s illogical to do the little stuff to win when in the back of your mind you already believe you won. The mind is powerful enough to make you believe the hype, but not real enough to make it come true.

6. Plan and Rest

Showing up rested, while also being tactically sharp, requires planning. Find out early what obligations you’ll have (WSOP, ESPN, etc) and start mapping out a rough schedule. It doesn’t have to be exact, but you want to make sure there’s a good balance of time off, responsibilities, playing, and working on your game. Somewhere in the next two months, I suggest taking a week or two completely off from poker. Lastly, just as football players do before the Super Bowl, get your family and friend’s travel and tickets sorted out as far in advance as possible.

7. Enjoy it

This is an experience of a lifetime. From now until you bust or win, enjoy it. The odds are it will never happen again – so treat it that way.

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