The Mental Game of Poker. This is because I’m very skeptical about most self-help-psychology books. I think most of them are bullshit. Also, having played poker seriously for a number of years, I didn’t think there was much a book could impart on the topic of improving your mental state. I knew psychological struggles are a real issue for many players (myself included) but I thought that it was just a matter of gaining enough experience to where those mental weaknesses ceased to be issues. I thought that most of the issues were pretty self-evident for anyone who’s played a good amount.
I ended up talking to Jared Tendler (the main author; writer/journalist Barry Carter was the coauthor) on Twitter, and exchanging books with him. So while I initially wasn’t planning on it, I ended up reading the book. Long story short; it is so much better than I was expecting it to be and I highly recommend it. It is not some wishy-washy psycho-babble; it talks about very real mental issues that serious poker players face, whether professional or semi-pro, and does a great job in describing why those issues exist.
Here are the main reasons why I found the book to be effective and why I recommend it to any serious poker players:
1) Being able to put psychological issues in concrete, describable terms helps you deal with those issues. While you might think you know all there is to know about your own psychological issues, I guarantee there’s something in Jared’s book that will surprise you, or make you look at your issues a different way.
2) Even if you do understand everything about your own psychology and don’t have tilt issues and such, it will also give you a look into the psychology of other people. Just like understanding how other people think about strategy helps your game, so is understanding how people might be feeling.
3) While it’s true that many players who have played a lot of poker will have a pretty good understanding of the mental game issues they face, I think this book can speed up the process of understanding and confronting the issues. In effect, this book speeds up the maturity level of a poker player. I believe if I had read this book years ago I would be a much stronger player today, because I would have cut out some of the time I spent figuring this stuff out on my own. But no book like this existed back in the day. And it is one of a kind now.
4) Jared has had personal experience with competitive mental struggles in golf, so he’s not just speaking from a theoretical, philosophical standpoint. My cynical expectations were that, because Jared isn’t a poker player, he didn’t understand the issues. (Similar to my criticism of Joe Navarro, who obviously doesn’t play poker.) But Jared’s experiences with playing competitive golf obviously correlate well with playing competitive poker. When he mentioned these experiences early on in the book, I was set at ease because I could see that he knew the importance of such things.
Jared has coached a lot of well-known poker players, including Lex Veldhuis and Dusty “Leatherass” Schmidt. Go to this page on his site and scroll down to the bottom; you can see more praise from other poker players.
I talked to Jared not too long ago on his Mental Game of Poker podcast. It was a great interview; Jared asked some very good questions about tells and how they’re related to psychology. If you want to download that podcast, click here.