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.
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!)