Jared Tendler, MS, is the leading mental game coach in poker. Over the past 5 years he’s coached hundreds of poker players from around the world, many of which are top professionals. The combination of earning a Master’s degree in counseling psychology, being a licensed mental health counselor, and over seven years of experience as a performance coach with golfers and poker players has given Jared a unique approach to helping players of all skill levels improve and exceed their goals. He has a book out now called “The Mental Game of Poker,” which has been very well received across-the-board with amazing comments from many of the very best players.
He will be very kindly giving away a signed copy of his book to a lucky competition winner! Details of how to enter are at the bottom of this interview.
Interview with Jared Tendler
Hey Jared, thanks for taking the time out to talk to us, it's really appreciated. Are you just swamped right now with the World Series happening?
No problem. I'm definitely busier, it's picked up since mid-April, both with players preparing and people who are out there already.
So are you in Vegas now?
Not yet, I get there on July 1st, so have been doing stuff remotely. I'm actually really looking forward to meeting some of my clients in person for the first time, as most of them I just have sessions with over Skype.
Do you have many clients right now that are playing in the WSOP, and how is that going for you and them?
Yeah I do actually, about 15-20 who are there right now, and so far so good. I can't really say how well they are doing as that would give some of them away, but yeah, it's been a very good World Series so far.
And what is the most common problem or topic that people have talked to you about this series?
Mostly just dealing with the pressure. It can expose a lot of weaknesses, such as tilt issues or focus issues, but they are secondary to dealing with the pressure, because that is what magnifies them.
The pressure of the cameras and the atmosphere, or from the prestige of it all?
Both actually, and the amount of money. And some of them have a lot less experience playing live, so it's a setting that they're not as comfortable with.
Have you had any new particularly interesting things or ideas/thoughts arise this series from yourself or clients?
Good question. Nothing in particular really. I'd say probably the most striking thing is that the techniques I've been working on that used to be theories many years ago, I see being proven in practice more and more, such as playing consistently well under high pressure situations, which is great. I already saw proof before I wrote the book obviously, but the confirmation is certainly motivating for me.
Yeah that sounds nice that it's affirming all your work. What advice would you give to someone coming to the World Series for the first time? Both if they were just planning to play 1-2 events, and if they were planning to play more events and grind cash games?
Hah, oh man, there's a lot. There is a temptation when you're in Vegas to just play as much as you can, but you should know your weaknesses and you should have a decent game plan going in for how much you think you can play. The setting is really motivating, it's an experience. And you want to get the most out of it, but you also don't want to burn yourself out. You should also prioritize what you want. For example, would you be OK with going into the main event not 100% because you grinded a bunch of cash games until then? Or are the cash games more of a warm-up? If they are then you don't want to be having those marathon sessions, because the consequences will be you won't be as sharp later on. Set yourself some goals as well as priorities. Then once you get there, make some adjustments based on how much energy you have, how focused you are and how fresh you feel. Get some rest when you don't feel sharp enough, and then when you are feeling good you can play more.
The other thing is that you should make sure you have some fun. Vegas is a great place, it can almost be like it's calling you at all hours of the night to come out and play. I actually think it's draining and a mistake to completely resist that urge, especially if you are one of those people who likes to go out. But to what degree you indulge depends on your goals.
And if you were just going to play a couple of events is there any kind of mental preparation you can do before or during or any tips for when you bust?
I think the first thing is to try not to be too excited. You can burn yourself out that way if you have an intense first few hours focusing on every minute detail. So they may be playing their best ever have for three or so hours, but then their energy starts waning and they can't sustain it. It’s a common mistake. I suggest you try to work your way into it and not come out all guns blazing, especially if it's your first time. The pressure is already going to help you to focus, you don't need to add too much to it by being so excited. Also, focus on playing the best that you can, that way if you bust, it's a lot less painful to walk away knowing you played your absolute best.
Definitely agree there, good advice. What advice would you give to people transitioning to live poker from online? Perhaps someone who is used to playing a faster-paced game, for less time, and is used to being able to just jump into another tournament straightaway after they bust?
I actually wrote an entire article on this. Online players normally don't have a whole lot of experience in reading their opponent's physical tells. So they can sometimes go into settings like that, kind of dismissing the importance of it. Having said that, I think that a lot of the players that I speak to agree that the tells aspect of it is a little bit oversold.
You have this surplus of focus, because you're so used to being able to process large amounts of decisions. This mental workload that you've built up is like taking an F1 racecar to go pick up groceries. Like you're going 20 mph down a side road, and the thing can go 200. It's frustrating when you are capable of high performance like that, not being able to perform to that level. So the suggestion is to have a comfortable, relaxed focus that allows you to just naturally absorb things. When people are very focused and in the zone, they're able to adapt and respond to the environment in a way that's not conscious. Like they don't know exactly why they're doing something. From a tactical point of view, sometimes you'll make reads and you make a decision, and you're not exactly sure why, it just feels right. When you don't have much experience with live reads, it's much harder to formulate some tangible concepts as to why you're making some decisions, and that's OK. You just want to have the information there. If you're too distracted because you think it's not important, or you're not even paying any attention at all, then you lose the opportunity to have it assist in your decision making. In essence, by being comfortably focused you're feeding this subconscious or instinctual-like reaction, to the action.
You've got to maintain focus and almost force yourself to stay committed to it, at the times when it's harder and there's not much going on. Doing that will certainly take you much further than if you were distracted checking twitter on your phone or reading a book at the table etc.
For someone who is going through a bad or break even patch and has lost motivation, how would you advise them to keep their head up and get motivated again?
Reconnect to your goals, like why are you here and what are you doing? If you don't have clarity on that, it can be easy to lose hope. If you do have goals, then you're not guaranteed to accomplish them, but you are guaranteed not to if you give up. So the choice is yours.
There was a great quote from Dwayne Wade recently, which I actually put on my blog called "Hurts to be a Champion." He said: "It’s going to hurt to be a champion. It’s not going to feel good for you to get to that point. The pain will feel a lot better if you get this win." They were using that as motivation to push through a really tough time. To become a champion you're going to have to go through pain. If it really were as easy as I think some poker players want it to be, it wouldn't be very rewarding. It also wouldn't be as satisfying, and not as profitable. It would be too easy. It's just one of those things where the more struggle and the more pain, the greater the reward, financially too. Like the challenge to create a multinational company out of nothing. If you can do that, then the reward is there. The same thing in poker, and in other sports as well.
But it sucks. It’s hard. There are not a lot of people who are able to sustain long, bad runs without getting frustrated. And that's okay. You just don't want the frustration to get you down. You want to use it as motivation to work harder, to focus harder and to play better, not as an excuse to lose hope and to give up.
I totally agree. You have a great radio show on QuadJacks called The Mental Game, which helpfully addresses all kinds of players' issues, and that will resume again after the WSOP. Do you have any interesting guests or other plans lined up for it in the future?
Thank you. I actually don't have anything lined up at the moment, but it's going to be more of the same really. Once the World Series starts to wrap up, I'll start booking people up again and hopefully I'll get some extra contacts for it from Vegas. I'm interested in poker players in the game who I think have interesting stories to tell, good advice to share, and who are struggling. I think those are the kinds of things the audience can relate to and learn from. For me, I'm just continuing to promote the value of the mental game. I don't think it's as accepted yet in poker as it needs to be and is still completely underrated. I try and bring people on who can spotlight it, to show the value of it and to show that it doesn't have to be this big mystical thing. I also want it to be a place for people to talk about the mental game, because sometimes people can't even talk about it. I've worked with a lot of clients who have never been able to speak about these issues before. They don't have other poker playing friends or family that they can talk about it with. So the radio show is a place where people can come and talk, and listen to other people struggling with similar issues, and work on them and get help.
Yeah, it's a great thing. I'm sure you're aware of Isildur1 and other online players like him, that would typically raise and continuation-bet close to 100% of their hands when playing heads up. How would you suggest people could deal with that kind of mental onslaught of aggression, especially across 2-4 tables?
I think very simply your tactical strategy needs to be more solid. I’m not talking about the mental side.
Every single poker player that I have talked about this issue with, who got frustrated by it, their frustration was hiding tactical weakness. They don't know, well enough, how to play against them profitably. The frustration is more because they're getting beaten, and they're constantly being put in spots where they’re not 100% sure what to do.
Not everybody has major mental game issues. This is a case where tactical strategy is creating frustration, and that frustration is merely a signal indicating that you've got to get better in these particular spots. There may be mental game issues that make those situations worse, but that's a different deal.
Right, so look at the mental game aspect of that only after you have solid tactical strategy?
In this particular spot, yes, exactly. If you improve your strategy, and you're able to play profitably in those situations, or at least not have that reaction when you're still figuring it out, then great. But sometimes even being in the process of figuring it out can take a lot of the frustration away.
If the frustration is gone then you've solved the problem. But, if the frustration is still there, at that point you want to start looking more deeply at what is causing the excessive frustration. Sometimes it can be frustration with mistakes, frustration with losing, or just with feeling like you're getting owned or beaten.
I'm not saying that all of that frustration is bad. Anger and frustration sometimes gets a bad rap. You do want to resolve the sources of them, but sometimes you can use frustration to your benefit, and it's motivating. At this point it gets quite specific to what each player is reacting to, but you've got to draw a line between the tactical frustration and mental game issues.
In your book you introduce an interesting concept called inchworm, which is basically where players improve the standard of their C-game and reduce how often they play it, in order to more easily inch forward improving their A-game and overall poker (and mental) game. How would you suggest players go about beginning and progressing to do that?
All poker players have a range in their game. You want to know the weakest and the strongest points of your game, but the point is even if you don't know it, you still have it. Every poker player has a variation both in their poker game, in their mental game, and with how they approach the game. The variation is because we're learning, we're not robots.
If you want to improve that range, by which I mean all from your A-game up to your C-game moving forward, it's not just going to happen by making your best better, and focusing on your strengths. The way in which you make progress consistently over time, is to eliminate your C-game and improve upon your A-game. That means that you've learned the corrections to your C-game mistakes to the level of unconscious competence (which means you've mastered them). Then once that's happened you've freed up mental space to allow your A-game to go higher. And so you're matching progress from the front side of your range with your A-game getting better, with the progress from the back side and your C-game getting better.
To go about doing that the first thing is you've got to know your range, and know your weaknesses that exist when you're playing at your absolute worst. Then slowly work your way up through your C+ and B-game mistakes etc, up to your A-game. Being able to do that allows you to know specifically what you have to focus on every single time you play. The absolute easiest way to improve is to make sure that under no circumstances do you ever play your C-game. That doesn't mean that you won't, but when you do make those types of mistakes, really work hard to learn from them. If there are mental game issues attached, such as tilt, then you've got to address those mental game issues so that you can then allow your tactical game to advance from the back end.
Most poker players have very wide ranges in their game and great disparity between how well they play at their best, against how poorly play at their worst. So the first priority is you've got to narrow your range, and then you can establish a more consistent approach, where you're improving both your A-game and your C-game.
Another thing you talked about in your book is the actual benefits of tilt, one of them being how it can exaggerate and then highlight your weaknesses. Any advice on how someone could help highlight them and then work on them later?
A lot of poker players hide from these type of tilt sessions. They just chalk it up by saying they'll never do it again. "It’s so obvious, how can they possibly make these mistakes!?" But the reality is, that they're still part of their range. And because of that there is still potential for these mistakes to show up again next time you play, unless you are actively trying to correct them.
Tilt can be a good thing to help you identify your mistakes. So, you should review those tilt sessions and really take a hard look at the reality of the back end of your range, not what you wish it to be, but what it actually is. Then from that point you can really work to build your game stronger from the ground up.
Have you got any other plans for a second book in the works, given that this one was so well received?
Yes, I do have a second book in the works. It's actually going to be very different and more of a performance-type book, getting players to be able to play better and more consistently.
The first book was more kind of a “here's the crap in your game, let's get rid of it,” this second book is, "now that the crap's gone, let's see how good you can actually be." I've only just begun though. I've been thinking about writing it for a while, but the first book was such an intense process, writing and publishing, that only recently have I felt ready to write again. But I'm really motivated now. The first book took me two years to do, so hopefully this one will take a little less time and be out in time for the 2014 WSOP.
Any co-authors or guest writers for this one?
Barry (Carter) will be involved with this one as well. He and I work really well together. I have thought about having other people involved, but the book is still in the early stages of brainstorming, so there hasn't been any actual writing yet.
Good luck with that, I look forward to it! And finally, do you have any other plans for the future with clients or otherwise?
Thanks. I will probably be launching a coaching package around the new material, for players who want to start utilizing it before it's in book form. I'm not sure when that will be, but it'll mostly be aimed at players without major mental game issues that just want to be playing their best more often and want to be learning as effectively as possible.
Sounds good. Well thanks a lot Jared, we appreciate your time.
-Absolutely Benny, you're welcome.
A free copy of The Mental Game of Poker audiobook is currently being offered by Amazon. Go to Jared’s website (http://jaredtendlerpoker.com/mental-game-of-poker/free-copy-of-tmgp-audiobook/) to find out how to get a free copy. There you’ll also find information about the softcover and ebook versions, as well as information about his coaching.
To enter the competition to win a signed copy of Jared’s book, post an answer in the forum to this question: "Why do you need this book?". The best answer will be chosen at the end of Saturday the 30th of June.