Transitioning to NOW

What was doesn’t matter. Only what is.

If every poker player could live by this little aphorism, then the standard of play would skyrocket.

Our mind doesn’t like the present; it prefers the past and the future. It is difficult to stay centred, and poker players know this better than most.

Somebody new to meditation finds their mind racing away, when they are instructed to be calm. A tennis player at 0-30 starts obsessing over the possible break of serve. A heartbroken suitor replays the most painful moments of their relationship over and over, fully aware that he is prolonging his misery.

Some gentle nostalgia can be therapeutic up to a point, and having future goals is certainly beneficial to productivity. However, they are for contemplative moments – moments away from the heat of action. No tennis player is better served thinking about a possible break of serve in the future than they are staying present. No footballer benefits from thinking about last season’s missed penalty when he’s starting his run-up to take one right now.

Transitions in poker

My recent, five part series for Drag the Bar was entitled Transitions (available for FREE here), but in hindsight the title was misleading. A better name is Transitioning to NOW.

The inspiration came from one of my students, Hans, who has a tendency to spend more time in the world of was and the world of could be than in the world of is. Much of my coaching is focused on helping Hans return to the present when his mind wanders, and helping him to develop methods of staying focused with more reliability.

How NOT to play Ace King

Transitioning to NOW manifests itself in a number of different ways in poker. Here is a simple example:

Hans holds Ace King, shallow stacked in a SNG. Its a monster starting hand, and almost always worthy of getting it in pre-flop.

However, when villain elects to call Hans’s minraise and then comes out firing on J-9-8, Hans is in a world of trouble if he can’t recognize that his AK has transitioned from a monster to junk.

Sometimes he clings to his previous appraisal of the hand strength (monster), rather than the new, post-flop one (junk), and can’t bring himself to find a fold. That is an obvious error. The error then gets compounded when he glosses over the real issue when discussing the hand with me:

‘I busted with Ace King,’ he’ll explain, shrugging his shoulders as if to say ‘it was a cooler’. It would be a cooler if it was all-in pre-flop, but it wasn’t. Hans had a simple fold to make, and he failed to do so because he couldn’t transition to NOW. He got all wrapped up in was, and forgot all about is. Brushing it off as a cooler perpetuates the problem, because it suggests that he hasn’t learned anything from the error.

And errors are only truly errors if nothing is learned from them.


A damn Feyn Man "Richard Feynman Nobel" by The Nobel Foundation -

A damn Feyn Man
“Richard Feynman Nobel” by The Nobel Foundation –

You are the easiest person to fool

I heard a great saying the other day, that applies perfectly to Hans’s Ace King inability or refusal to transition to NOW:

‘The first principle is that you must never fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.’ – Richard Feynman.

In brushing off the Ace King bust-out as a cooler, Hans fools himself. If he allows that to become a habit, then handling transitions will go from tough to near-impossible. And that, in itself, is another transition.

I will be writing more about transitions in my Anchoring article that will be online soon. I want to hear your experiences of transitions, and how you identify and manage them. Let me know in the comments below, or on Twitter or Skype (add me – casy151 – I’m friendly!)


The Poker Player’s Mental Toolkit – Ep5 – NICK PRICE SYNDROME (THE PEAK-END RULE)

Are you the sort of person that freaks out if your poker session starts out poorly? Why does the start and end of the session dictate our memory of the event?  Christy explains all in Episode 5!


The Poker Player’s Mental Toolkit – Ep6 – The Illusion of Control

EP 6 – THE ILLUSION OF CONTROL: Are you the type of poker player that sweats cards? Does that Ace on the river always have you throwing the mouse against the wall? Do you perceive grudges with other regs?


Christy explains the cause of this bias, and gives you some strong advice.

The Poker Player’s Mental Toolkit – Ep4 – Survivorship Bias

EPISODE 4 – SURVIVORSHIP BIAS: If you only compare yourself to Phil Ivey, you’ll never be happy! Yet this is one of the most pernicious leaks to be found in poker.

Find out how this common little cognitive bias can be hindering your progress at the poker tables.

The Poker Player’s Mental Toolkit – Ep 3 – Hindsight Bias

Almost everybody mis-remembers their experiences, so everything seems a whole lot more inevitable in hindsight. Why is this, and how can it harm our poker game?


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The Flaw in Your Approach to Poker – and a Better Way to Think!

Why do you play poker? It is the simplest question, and has the simplest answer. Yet, in years of coaching, I have found it one of the most fundamentally misunderstood concepts.

Not many people actively ask themselves why they play the game to which they have devoted considerable time and effort. And if they do, they invariably come up with the sort of answer that is symptomatic of a flawed approach to the game.

Answers like these:

‘I play poker to win money.’

‘I play poker because it means I can take a day off whenever I choose, not whenever my boss chooses.’

‘I play poker because I am competitive.’

‘I play poker because I don’t want to work a 9-to-5 in an office.’

Do any of these sound familiar? Are you the sort of player that plays poker because the alternative sucks? Are you the sort of player that plays poker because it enables you to beat opponents and feel good about yourself?


If you are, that’s fine. Most good poker players are the same as you. They want to prove something to others, to point to their Sharkscope rankings and say ‘hey, see, I have achieved X, Y, and Z.’ Or to take their parents on holiday with their poker earnings, as if to say ‘look, mum and dad, I’m not a screw-up! This game can make me rich!’

I know I did, when I played full-time. I played poker for all of the reasons mentioned above, and several more besides.

I played poker for every reason, except the only truly valid one. The one valid reason that is at the heart of the great players’ approach to the game.

The great players play poker to become better at playing poker.

It’s so simple, yet so often misunderstood. The game is the goal. Money; fame; admiration: these are consequences, not goals.


I use the term ‘inside-out’ poker, for where the player is motivated to enjoy and improve their game, and the pleasant upside of money and respect may follow naturally. They ensue organically from playing to become better at playing.

However, if these consequences become primary pursuits then it will lead to disillusionment, to self-judgment, and to a fundamental discontent with the nature of the game. Every losing day will feel like a failure. The temptation to check results after every session will persist. Studying will seem like a chore, because you could be grinding some extra volume to boost your ranking. This is ‘outside-in’ poker, where external considerations drive your approach – and it’s the quickest shortcut to disillusionment and burn-out.


Doyle Gets It!

Doyle Gets It!

Have you ever wondered what makes 82-year old Doyle Brunson leave the house to play high-stakes poker most days? After numerous battles with cancer and the frailty that comes with ageing, he could be forgiven for turning his back on the nocturnal lifestyle and the hassle of the cardroom. He could be forgiven for letting his style go stale and becoming a loser in the nosebleed games of which he is a permanent fixture.

But he doesn’t. Not only does he still play – he still wins. Doyle is the archetype of ‘play the player, not the cards’. He isn’t bound by conventional wisdom and he doesn’t care much for what people think he’s ‘supposed’ to do. He knows, better than anyone, that there are no rules. His style is adaptive, fluid, and innovative. All of the great players share these hallmarks. Doyle plays because he fundamentally loves the game, and he still learns every day. It could be said that playing to get better at playing is what keeps Doyle Brunson young – it is undoubtedly what keeps him a fearsome competitor when countless attention-seeking would-be usurpers have blazed in and burned out over the years.


To the greats of the game, poker is an autotelic pursuit (derived from the Greek words for ‘self’ and ‘goal’.)  The goal of poker is self-contained. It is not ‘outside-in’, where external validation drives motivation, and which ultimately causes burn-out and stress. It is ‘inside-out’, where the challenge of improvement and enjoyment brings long-lasting fulfilment.

The grind, and its inherent connotations, has made many great players fall out of love with the game. These players are resisting poker’s true nature. Leaderboards, parental judgement, money….none of these are poker’s fault. Poker is just a game that you can play, to get better at playing it. And it’s beautiful in its simplicity. The complications are something that that you or other people have added, but they aren’t part of the game’s true nature. Recognise this, and you are taking a giant step towards liberating yourself from the ‘outside-in’ mindset.


Use the comments section to discuss your experience of the downside of the ‘outside-in’ approach. And don’t forget to be a hero and give this blog a share on Facebook and Twitter!

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The Poker Player’s Mental Toolkit – Ep2 – Availability Bias

In poker, psychology is king. In this series, Christy helps you to overcome your mental leaks. Ep2 is on the availability bias – how we overweight the factors that spring to mind quickly.

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The Poker Player’s Mental Toolkit – Ep1 – Regression to the Mean

In poker, psychology is king. In this series, Christy helps you to overcome your mental leaks. Ep1 is on regression to the mean.


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Live FREE Coaching Session with Collin Moshman for

I am doing a live session this coming Wednesday (6 August) for The session starts at 8pm UK time, and runs for 90 minutes.

SNG legend Collin Moshman will also be interviewing me.

You can tune in for FREE right here:

Be sure to post up a question and let me know what you make of my 6max and HU play!


The Poker Problem – What Does Your Behaviour Say About Your Character?

Brian take the train a lot. When he is travelling solo, he likes to read a book and relax. There are days, however, when groups of boisterous teens or arguing couples ruin his relaxing journey.

‘Those inconsiderate so-and-sos’ thinks Brian, ‘how could anybody be so rude and oblivious to the noise they’re making? Anybody making that much commotion on a public train is clearly a selfish person. I bet they were brought up badly by their parents.’

This time it’s different!

A week later, and Brian is travelling to the cup final with his friends. Some beers get cracked open, a sing-song is started. Brian is loving every second when a middle-aged lady catches his eye. He knows exactly what she’s thinking: ‘those inconsiderate so-and-sos…’

But this is different. It’s the cup final! Brian is with the guys! He hasn’t seen some of them for years! Plus, it’s a one-off. Brian doesn’t usually act like this…


Can you relate to Brian?

Here’s the crucial bit: when reflecting on others, we tend to use their behaviour to make judgments as to their character. Someone who is obnoxious in public is a rude person.

When reflecting on ourselves, we tend to use circumstances to explain our behaviour. When we are obnoxious in public, it is because of the external factors. It is cup final day, or it is because we are excited at catching up with friends.

We do not re-evaluate our character because of our actions, but we do use them to evaluate the character of others.

This is called correspondence bias.

In poker, we are quick to label players as fish (or nits, or nutters, or whatever) based on a hand that we deem bizarre. We use scanty evidence to make judgments as to the character of our opponents, deeming them tilt-monkeys or probable-drunks or likely-degens, because they played a hand of poker a little strangely.

However, when we make a reckless re-jam or a loose call, we dismiss it as a mis-read or a mis-click or a mystery. We blame the circumstances – often with due reason – for our errors in judgment. Even when we know that we are on tilt, we write it off as an anomalous development which is not representative of our typical poker game.

Character vs Behaviour

There are people who have multiple affairs or who commit fraud or who bite other players on the football pitch who will argue that they are not bad people, but they had a momentary lapse in judgment.

Outsiders looking in, so quick to judge, will label them ‘scumbags’ and speculate that they are bad parents, liabilities as employees, and selfish in all aspects of life.

Brian on the train will argue that he acted selfishly, but is not a selfish person. Then in his next breath, he will argue that the couple having a shouting match on the train are selfish people and terrible partners and bad parents.

Correspondence bias in poker can be kept in check by refraining from making judgments as to the character or traits of opponents, based on moves that could be explained by circumstances (game flow, erroneous belief in fold equity, mass-multi-tabling mis-clicks etc).

And, by extension, it is important to task your poker coach with keeping you in check when it comes to justifying your own play. Sometimes you will be on tilt and eager to blame it on external factors. Make your coach earn their money by keeping a close eye on the development of leaks that you are eager to blame on easily-explainable errors.

Does correspondence bias ring a bell with you? Have a little think about scenarios in which you are too quick to extend your judgments as to behaviour onto their character, and give the article a share on Facebook and Twitter!


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