Your brain is epic. It consists of over a hundred billion neurons with theoretically unlimited storage.

It is capable of firing information around the body faster than a Formula One race car….well, that’s what Google says anyway. 

And what’s more, somewhere within that biological super-computer is your mind. This mysterious energy is responsible for stuff such as  – 

  • Your likes and dislikes,
  • Your mood
  • Your attitude
  • Your road-rage
  • Who you fall in love with
  • How you react under pressure
  • Whether you like cheese
  • Whether you like this article
  • Your best poker plays (good job, brain!) and your worse (FU brain!). 

It’s the thing that makes you, you. 

Despite what you might have seen in The Terminator movies, the most remarkable thing about the mind is its ability to be self-aware

This self-awareness makes your mind mouldable. With the proper perspective, you can condition and improve your mindset the same way a distance runner improves their cardio. 

  • A sharper mind makes better decisions, which means that your success at the poker tables is tied to the quality of your mentality. 

But how good is your poker mindset? Let’s break it down and find out. 


What Makes a Good Poker Mindset?

What Makes a Good Poker Mindset?What Makes a Good Poker Mindset?

I’d argue that there are two crucial components in improving your poker mindset

  1. Minimising toxic habits. 
  2. Improving what you’re doing right.  

Now, this might seem super obvious. But the difficulty lies in human emotion, which can often cloud people from reality. 

The key to poker success being honestly self-critical, coupled with a genuine desire to improve. How well you can identify your weaknesses and develop your strengths determines the development of your poker mindset.  

This advice sounds pretty straight forward but, unfortunately, it’s not quite so black and white. 

  • We, humans, are complex creatures: Arrogance can blind us from reality. At the same time, our habits can see mistakes become normalised and instinctive.

Turning the mirror on ourselves requires a level of vulnerability (which often makes people feel uncomfortable). Identifying your weaknesses can be especially difficult.

But here’s a few areas where people fall short. 

Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias is the term given to someone who only notices or acknowledges things that match their beliefs.

  • It’s kind of like having a selective memory. 

Have you ever had one of those days where there seems to be something like 1:23, 2:34, or some other kind of pattern whenever you look at the clock? 

Well, this example is most likely the result of confirmation bias.

In reality, it’s way more likely that you looked at the clock a whole bunch of other, less exciting times. But your belief that you keep looking at the clock at rhythmic times causes you to forget or ignore them entirely. 

  • The interesting times match your belief. 
  • So, your confirmation bias caused you to give them more attention. 

Whereas confirmation bias can often materialise as innocently as someone claiming – 

  • “I am the unluckiest player in the world!”
  • Or “you run so good against me!”

But it can be way more destructive if it alters the way you play your hands.

Verify Confirmation BiasVerify Confirmation Bias

Believing that a player raises your blind specifically, for example, can lead to you making huge mistakes. You may go on to make as incorrect and/or premature adjustments.

Annoyingly, confirmation bias can be challenging to identify. Beliefs, by definition, are things that we think are true. 

Nonetheless, understanding your confirmation bias is an essential part of a healthy poker mindset. By acknowledging it, you can stop you making expensive, preventable mistakes.

TIP: If you’re unsure if your reads are the result of confirmation bias or not, take a look at your database. (Keep a tally on your phone’s notepad if you’re playing live.) The cold-hard numbers will let you see the whole story and verify your reads. 

Denial, Ego and Self-Honesty

Denial and ego are similar to confirmation bias in that it can see you ignoring the bigger picture. 

  • Poker is a competitive sport, and, as with any competition, it comes with ego

The problem with ego is that it can build a false or inflated sense of confidence, especially during an upswing. The resulting over-confidence can cause you to underestimate your opponents.

  • You’ll feel invincible, and exaggerate your own poker skill level
  • This combination is a dangerous cocktail at the poker tables, where fortunes can change so quickly. 
  • Short term results are such a terrible indicator of skill level. 

(You can learn about swings in this poker variance guide)

It’s comforting to attribute winning sessions to skill, especially if you’ve spent hours improving your game in the lab. But it’s way more productive to focus on your common mistakes and strategic shortfalls. 

  • As the Greek philosopher Epictetus once said, “If you want to improve, you must be content to be thought foolish and stupid.”

This saying translates perfectly to poker. If you’re in denial about your leaks, how can you fix them? 

While a healthy amount of confidence can be an asset, success can only be built on an honest critique of your flaws. 

  • Ego and denial are as much of your enemies as tilt since they can all warp your perspective of reality. 

Forget positive affirmations – 

  • You’re probably not the best value-bettor in the world.
  • Your river-raising ranges are almost undoubtedly imperfect.
  • You call or fold in specific spots too much.
  • And you definitely don’t have ‘white magic’. 

Believing you are a better player than you are, is disastrous.  You must strive to be honest in your self-reflection. 

  • Ego and arrogance can distract you from your shortfalls
  • Denial leaves you doubting they even exist. 

Remember, humility is a key ingredient in a healthy poker mindset.

And by the way, nobody’s asking you to write up your weaknesses and hand out a hundred copies at your local card room. One of the best things about being honest with yourself is the privacy that comes with it.  

Your weakness can be your biggest poker secret. But it’s vital you understand and reflect fairly on your own poker abilities. 

After all is said and done, if you can’t be honest with yourself, you’re doomed. 

As another Greek philosopher, Plato put perfectly, “the worst of all deceptions is self-deception.”

Understanding Tilt

No poker mindset article would be complete without mentioning tilt. There are a thousand articles on this already, so we won’t waste too much time discussing it here. 

But the thing to remember is that everyone tilts differently:

Everyone Tilts DifferentlyEveryone Tilts Differently

Some swear others break things. Some start spite-calling, and others run hyper-aggressive bluffs. 

  • But it materialises. The behaviour usually frustrates the player further, and they tilt again.  

The whole vicious loop continues until the player either finds a way to calm down or goes broke.  

Personally, I tilt when I ignore my instincts and talk myself into making a play that I knew was a mistake beforehand. 

Typically, I tend to take my frustrations out on my mouse. That’s my computer mouse to clarify, just in case any of you have the animal cruelty hotline on speed-dial! 

Since I’ve been playing for such a long time, any tilt typically stops after a deep breath and a little, light mouse abuse. But I also employ a baseball-style ‘3 strikes and you’re out’ rule to nip any potential blow-ups in the bud. 

I keep 3 poker chips in my hand and lose one every time I see a sign that I’m tilting. When all three are gone, I force myself to do 100 push-ups and take a break.  

My focus switches to the workout, and I blow off steam that way. 

Tilt is a major mindset leak.

In most cases, the solution is as simple as taking a short break.

With that said, I’ve seen so many good players lose their minds and burn through sessions of profits just because they refuse to sit out and cool down. 

Unfortunately, taking a break is usually the last thing you want to do when tilting. But those with a strong mindset manage to do so. 

Feeding the Tilt Trolls

Beating tilt is merely a matter of perspective. 

I’ve heard so many people claim they ‘don’t tilt’. But, in all honestly, denying that you tilt is like claiming the moon landings weren’t real. 

Whatever lights the fuse, tilt is little more than an emotional reaction to a poker outcome. These reactions are basic human nature. So, unless you’re a robot or some kind of emotionless cockroach, you almost undoubtedly tilt. 

  • But that doesn’t mean it can’t be managed. Like a drug, porn, or used celebrity slipper addiction, the first step in beating tilt is acknowledging its existence.  

Once you accept it, you realise that managing it is as fundamental as a solid opening raise strategy.

Remember, tilt is just another opponent that needs to be beaten. Think of it like an internet troll. It’s always there, watching, lurking, waiting to get into your head and drop a big, steaming load right in the middle of your poker session. Don’t give it the satisfaction!

Feeding trolls makes them bigger and more vicious. But if you ignore them, they get bored and go away. 

Instead of playing tilted and feeding the troll, take a break, calm down, and let it go bother someone else. 

Get Out of Your Own Way

Get Out of Your Own WayGet Out of Your Own Way

I opened this article with a bit of dribble about the brain. Whereas I hope it made for an intriguing intro, I mainly included it to highlight the wonders of the human brain

In all its complexity, though, the most wonderful thing about the human mind is its diversity

  • Sure, we may have similar skills and interests to our friends. 
  • We might even share the same clumsy forgetfulness as some of our peers or family. 
  • But the beautiful truth is that we’re all completely individual. 

Unsurprisingly, nobody can understand your individuality better than YOU. 

Sure, I can throw a few suggestions and, hopefully, they highlight a few concepts to work on and improve. But the most significant thing standing in your way is yourself. 

There isn’t a magic potion for improving your mental game leaks. But if I had to sum everything in one sentence, it’d go something like this:  

“If you want to be successful, you must get out of your own way.”

Chad Holloway as some great times for getting out of your own way here:

Impulse and Toxic Habits 

Self-honesty has been a common theme throughout this article, and for good reason. You can only get out of your own way if you understand the importance of being honest with yourself. 

  • We mentioned strategic weaknesses earlier. But there are so many personality traits and toxic habits that can hinder your game too. 

And this list goes beyond being lazy, aggressive, and impatient. 

  • Do you struggle to check your gambling impulses?
  • Or sit checking your social media when you could be taking notes on your opponents?

 This scenario is all down to a lack of focus – another mental leak. 

Just like when tilting, this behaviour causes a volatile feedback loop. It can ruin your frame of mind, mood, and bankroll

Poor focus is a recipe for poor play, and that’s a sure road to Tiltsville!

Here’s an example of a big mindset leak I see time and time again in card rooms or on poker posts:

  • Player A is facing a huge river check-raise on JT44K after flopping two pair with JT.
  • His opponent is a player who has entered the pot from UTG. Every fibre of Player A’s being is telling him to fold. But he sits contemplating, nonetheless.
  • He thinks about his opponent and remembers he’s seen him opening a lot of hands preflop.
  • Concluding his opponent is aggressive, Player A tosses in the call and loses a massive pot.

What happened?

Well, to put it bluntly, Player A simply didn’t want to fold. 

So, he found any reason he could not to. 

In reality, Player B’s preflop raising frequency has nothing to do with his river raising range. But, desperate to call, Player A took his opponent’s preflop raising frequency out of context. They used it as an excuse to call.

Player A lost a big pot because he didn’t have the strength of mind to be honest with himself about his opponent. A player with a strong mindset wouldn’t have lied to themselves like this. 

Lying to themselves is typical of a player with a weak mindset

Here are some other examples of ways we lie to ourselves: 

Poker Mindset - Final thoughts

There’s no magic potion in poker. Only you know how to fix your mental game with an increased level of self-awareness.  

We hope this article has encouraged you to be more self-critical about your poker mindset and helps you thrive on your poker journey.

Dan O’Callaghan is a professional poker player who got his start in the online poker world as danshreddies. He has racked up over $290K in online earnings.