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The Power of Positive Thinking

Are you a poker player who plays the game with a sense of optimism or do you dwell in pessimism? Have you ever tracked how your session actually went during such different states of mind?

There are theories that claim positive thinkingĀ and a happy, calm state of mind tend to gravitate towards positive and beneficial results. Now such theories have never been scientifically proven nor has it been debunked either and I am unsure if it is even possible to do so since it deals with intangible matters. And the opposite where one is moody, upset, or angry and dwelling on negative thoughts and emotions is primarily surrounded in negative energy and typically bad things tend to occur as a result.

Consider this as a trivial example: assume you are dealt the glorious hand of pocket Aces and you get it all-in with another player preflop. Before the dealer reveals the five cards to come what thoughts usually come into your mind during this moment? Are you optimistic and feeling confident with thoughts that you are moments away from winning with this hand and possibly about to double up your stack? Or are you pessimistic and dwelling on all of the past bad beats you had with Aces when it got cracked and you actually have a sense of dread with thoughts of hoping it does not happen yet again or even more extremely negative to the point where you actually believe that with my bad luck or the way my session has been deteriorating so far, I believe my Aces will probably lose?

Now poker is a game of variance and it is primarily a skill game with an element of chance. And of course, players do not have any control over the unknown cards that come and we can only control our own actions to bet, raise, call, or fold. But could our thoughts or emotions play any part in results of a future outcome?

Let us put this into perspective. The typical professional sports athlete likely has a strong mental aspect to his game as well as great confidence to go along with his skills and discipline. He or she is most likely extremely competitive with a desire to win at all costs. This state of mind probably constitutes a large component of what successfully propelled him to the highest level in sports and drives him along with his teammates to build a championship winning team. He wants to win (i.e. desire), he believes he can win (i.e. optimism), he has the natural skills that are also polished through extensive practice to win (i.e. ability), and therefore he will win and is a winner (i.e. mental).

Now imagine another professional sports athlete who is pessimistic and continuously dwelling on negative thoughts and emotions. Thoughts such as “I will never be as gifted or talented as that guy”, “How come I never get the breaks or opportunities?”, or “I cannot stand playing for my coach and teammates”. Chances are that such negative energy likely manifests itself onto this person in terms of lack of self confidence, belief that they will never succeed or reach the highest level attainable, and probably has never been a true winner or never been exposed to a winning environment or culture. The result tends to manifest itself into reality where such a negative state of mind ends up with bad situations that are the consequences of such negative energy.

Now let us get back to how this relates to poker. There exists numerous times when maybe you made a play and got picked off holding the worst hand at the time, but in your gut you got that feeling that something good was still going to come out of it. This is difficult to explain but it is evident in such situations where your semi-bluff drawing hand got called and you instinctively felt your flush or straight draw was going to come on the river. Or you made a strong move with a weak Ace and pocket Kings picked off your bluff but you could sense the Ace was going to hit on the flop. Now the similarity between all of these examples is that it deals with positive thinking and making the best out of a challenging situation. I tend to believe that such optimistic thinking helps to create a positive result and that is how you end up winning some of those hands in such spots.

But if your mental train of thought after you made an aggressive bluff with rags and got picked off with a strong hand is “why did I risk it all in such a stupid move” and “why did I not simply wait for pocket Aces or Kings” to pull it off, then you are already dwelling in negativity with low confidence and chances are your hand in such situations typically end up losing almost all of the time to mirror the same low statistical probability of success with such hands. And it is the same situation even when you hold the best hand at the time and up against a drawing hand or an inferior pair. Thoughts such as hoping your hand holds up this time (i.e. It is about time that I am due for a break in my favour) or believing you always get outdrawn or always lose to that 2-outer or 5-outers, dwell in negativity and pessimism and it tends to attract unfavourable results.

So the conclusion is to enter a poker tournament believing that you have the ability to win it all or play a cash game session thinking that you will earn a profit by playing to the best of your ability. Do not have thoughts such as it is a hopeless situation to win a tournament with so many players or hoping you do not get too many bad beats and come out on the short side of the ledger in that cash game.

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  • Ivan Y

    Nice read. I agree that ‘positive thinking’ and ‘self-confidence’ are important traits needed when playing in cash games or tournaments. You can definitely learn from past hand histories and experiences.

  • Alex

    “Now let us get back to how this relates to poker. There exists numerous times when maybe you made a play and got picked off holding the worst hand at the time, but in your gut you got that feeling that something good was still going to come out of it. This is difficult to explain but it is evident in such situations where your semi-bluff drawing hand got called and you instinctively felt your flush or straight draw was going to come on the river. Or you made a strong move with a weak Ace and pocket Kings picked off your bluff but you could sense the Ace was going to hit on the flop. Now the similarity between all of these examples is that it deals with positive thinking and making the best out of a challenging situation. I tend to believe that such optimistic thinking helps to create a positive result and that is how you end up winning some of those hands in such spots.”This line of reasoning is silly and illogical. The laws of probability are fixed and as much as I want it to rain, I cannot make it so. If you want to take it to a higher metaphysical degree, in the grand scheme of things why should the universe want to favour your hand winning as opposed to the opponents…just because you “hope and have a positive mentality”? Unfavourable results are, in the long-run, caused by bad judgment, not by negative thinking. Everybody has their share of bad and good luck in even measures over a long enough sample size but if you are talking about tournaments then I don’t play them because luck plays too much of a part in the late stages and it can be frustrating. That’s why I rather stick to cash games. What I do agree with is that we have control over our emotions and if you do get stacked then it is up to you how you react to such situation (with a professional attitude or go on a massive tilt). That one can substantiate in a scientific basis.

    • Steve Tang

      On a logical level I cannot disagree with you. Now I am not stating that positive thinking and optimism can allow you to directly create change such as calling for an exact card to appear or asking for the sky to turn into night while it is still daylight. The statistical probability percentages still remain fixed and it never changes. Your gutshot straight draw with one river card to come is still a paltry 9% chance to hit.What I am stating is a positive mentality and attitude indirectly and subconsciously affects the overall outcome. Here is an example: you play a three day long poker tournament and find yourself at the final table on the third day of play. It is a late afternoon start and just before it starts you suddenly realize that tonight is your 10-year anniversary and you made dinner reservations three hours from start time! Realistically it would take nothing quicker than minimum five hours and more accurately about seven to eight hours to determine a winner. Now obviously you cannot quit or “throw” the game on purpose but subconsciously you hope that either you get knocked out early or that several of the short stacks get knocked out quickly and you can at least finish somewhat higher in the pay scale before having to exit out. In this scenario with this negative mentality I could already virtually guarantee that such a player would never ever win this final table, even if he found himself in the miraculous situation of being involved with winning several all-ins and knocking out several players early on. The mindset is already intent on NOT winning and in bizarre circumstances the ultimate goal is actually bent towards losing and thus this becomes the actual reality.Another example is the mindset of wealthy millionaire or billionaire business people relative to middle class “making ends meet” type people. The business person who earned their millions or billions from a successful business is highly likely to not only retain their wealth but figured out how to continue increasing it because they have the right mindset. Now take the example of a poor working class person who receives a sudden windfall lottery win for $10 million. There have been many documented cases of such situations where despite such a lucky and fortunate event, such people have still ended up broke or even worse off, in debt, because they do not know how to manage and retain such large sums of money and never attained the knowledge of how to achieve it either since it was merely given to them. Such folks have the typical “poor man’s mindset” and thus their wealth soon diminishes down to their actual level.

    • Gary

      I agree with Alex, and it’s also the same reason. I disagreed with that part of the article which implied that positive thinking can help in any way, shape, or form to change the outcome of a particular hand. I do agree with the rest of his points in the sense that positive thinking can help in indirect ways (think positively -> happier mood -> better decisions -> more money in the long run, etc.). However, to be fair, I’m not sure what you mean by stating “…but if you are talking about tournaments then I don’t play them because luck plays too much of a part in the late stages…” because the same sample size arguments apply here. In the long run, tournaments have no more or less “luck” involved than any other game like cash games. However, if you were referring to simply higher variance like having a large blind to stack ratio in later stages of tournaments (which is what I think you meant), then I agree with your entire post. Good post.

  • Alex

    Indeed that’s what I meant. Very little post flop = less skill.