There are some books written about the mental game of poker. However, the importance of the mental side of poker is not always understood. Learning poker strategy is very important, but if you want to know how to win in poker, you need to be able to master your mind as well. That is not always easy for any poker player, let alone if you are a poker player with ADD or Autism. Trust me, I know, I have them both.
Luckily, there are ways to improve your mental game that are helpful for any poker player, and even more important if you have Autism or ADD. Today I am going to talk about the most fundamental things that help you keep a right mindset for poker. I am going to talk from a neuroatypical perspective, but these tips are useful for any poker player, especially if you have a tendency to tilt on the table.
First I am going to talk a little about the aspect in poker that may cause tilt in Autistic players. Second I am going to discuss how ADD affects your self-control. Next I will tell you about the first steps you should take in order to improve your mental game. I will talk about the importance of a healthy lifestyle in order to keep a right mindset in poker. The second aspect I am going to discuss is bankroll management and how it affects your mental game.
An Autistic Poker Player – A Potential Tilter?
I admit it, I have had a huge Autistic meltdown a few times when I busted from a poker tournament due to an epic cooler. There was an occasion when I busted from two online tournaments in a row with a pair of Aces. What did I do? I went to woods nearby to let off steam raging and crying. I call this kind of breakdowns “tilt meltdowns”.
When you tilt, you tend to be upset about a hand you found unfair. You think you were “supposed” to win. Your opponent may have been extremely lucky and hit a one-outer on the river. This can be especially upsetting for us who have Asperger´s syndrome, because we tend to have a strong sense of fairness. A situation we find unfair can be very upsetting for us, much more upsetting than for a neurotypical person. A horrible poker hand can be this sort of situation, potentially causing tilt.
ADD And Self-Control In Poker
Self-control is a limited resource. Self-control means being able to control your impulses and to work on your long-term goals rather than impulsively going after an immediate reward. This is more difficult for us who have ADD than for other people. Self-control is something you need in order to become a successful poker player. Does that mean people with ADD can´t be successful at poker? Not at all. But we need to work on the self-control issues more than other people.
Fortunately there are ways to increase your self-control. Today I am going to talk about the most simple things you need to do in order to keep your impulses from preventing your success in poker.
A Healthy Body, A Calm Mind
Controlling our emotions can be challenging for us with Autism or ADD. The truth is it is twice as hard if you are hungry, tired and you have a headache from tense neck and shoulders. So first things first, take care of yourself and your body. Poker player and psychologist Dr. Patricia Cardner and poker player Jonathan Little recognize the importance of a right diet, exercise and adequate sleep in their book Positive Poker – A Modern Psychological Approach to Mastering Your Mental Game.
According to Cardner and Little, you should avoid mood swings by eating regularly something with protein and slow carbs, such as vegetables and whole-grains. On the contrary, you should avoid quick carbs that is sugar, so that your blood sugar levels don´t rise and fall quickly. I like sweets myself, so this is not always easy for me, but I try to drink green tea instead of cola drinks when I play poker. Also, I have noticed eating regularly is very important. When I am hungry, I am angry, and that is when you tilt.
When you play poker you may need to sit on the table for hours. Long sitting sessions easily lead to tension in the neck and shoulders, headaches and other problems. If you exercise regularly, you can prevent this sort of problems and are able to concentrate better on the table. Exercise also releases dopamine in our brains. Dopamine is the chemical us with ADD usually don´t have enough in our system. It helps you keep motivated and ready to work on your goals. There is no need to be an athlete, any exercise is good whether it´s walking your dog or swimming. I enjoy doing yoga and walking in the nature most. I don´t go to the gym or anything like that, there are other ways to exercise as well. As long as you enjoy it, you are able to do it regularly and enjoy the benefits exercise has on your game.
It goes without saying, that if you are sleep-deprived, you are not able to concentrate well. If you have ADD like me, you have a hard time concentrating anyway, so why make it worse by not getting enough sleep? Lack of sleep affects your mood and makes it harder to control your emotions, which you need to be able to do while playing poker. If you want to play your A game, you simply need to get enough sleep.
Only Play the Stakes You Can Afford.
How to win in poker? First of all, you don´t want to go broke! I must admit that when I started playing online poker tournaments, my bankroll management was terrible! I played tournaments like Sunday Million on Pokerstars with a 215 dollars buy-in. As a beginner, I should not have played high-stakes tournaments anyway, and I had absolutely not big enough bankroll to play such tournaments.
At the time, I had no idea what bankroll management meant. Basically, if you play online poker tournaments, your bankroll should be at least 100 times bigger than your average tournament buy-in. So if your average tournament buy-in is 5 dollars, your bankroll should be at least 500 dollars. And that is a minimum. Some players say your bankroll should be 200-400 times your average buy-in. If you play cash games it is a bit different of course, you don´t need as big bankroll as for tournaments, but bankroll management is something you need regardless of what type of poker you play.
If you play poker on stakes you can´t afford, even if you´re good, there is a high risk of going broke. That is because your bankroll has to be large enough to last through downswings. And they will happen at some point. Bankroll management is important for the mental game as well. If you play on stakes that are too high for you, winning becomes too important. You may end up playing “scared poker”. You tilt easily, because the financial losses affect you. Actually, playing poker on too high stakes is gambling. And if you want to win in poker, you do not want to be gambling.
Your Mental Game Starts From Self-Care.
Impulsive behavior and tilt affect your game negatively. People with Autism and ADD are more prone to these problems than other people. That is why it is especially important for us to improve our mental game.
The most fundamental aspect of improving your mental game is to take care of yourself and your money. That means eating healthy food regularly, having enough sleep and exercising. When your body is in balance, it helps your mind keep in balance as well, helping you concentrate better and avoid tilt.
A good bankroll management prevents you from going broke. When you only play the stakes you can afford, you don´t lose control of your emotions due to losing more money than you can afford. As a rule of thumb, If you play online poker tournaments, your bankroll should be 100-400 times bigger than your average tournament buy-in.