The Formula for avoiding tilt and playing your best as a poker player

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Last Updated
May 10, 2023

Maintaining a disciplined attitude while playing poker

Poker is a game of skill with a short-term luck element. Due to this, many skilled players who lack discipline can fail to achieve their potential if they fail to emotionally accept that variance. This means remaining disciplined to play correctly during downswings, as well as upswings. It means always focusing on improvement and making good decisions as opposed to the results. It means facilitating an environment where you can enter what can be referred to as "the zone" or flow state. In my view, the differentiating factor between winners and losers of a similar skill level is their level of discipline. The factor that is going to help one of them improve and the other fail to improve is their discipline or lack thereof. In this blog post, we'll discuss how to maintain a disciplined attitude while playing poker. We all strive to stay focused and avoid tilting during a poker session, and the best way to do it is to cultivate a disciplined attitude.

Establishing and maintaining a disciplined attitude is essential to becoming an elite poker player. Developing such an attitude requires focus, dedication, and self-control.

Balancing a healthy level of optimism with realistic expectations will help avoid internal pressure from derailing your state of mind. This includes an understanding of what range of results can be expected depending on your win rate and average buy-in, but it also goes beyond that - it's about creating a framework for managing both the mental and emotional aspects of the game and life in general. Having realistic expectations helps remove the feeling of urgency that can lead to unproductive decision-making.

The first step to having realistic expectations is to accurately assess your poker skills and edge in the games you are playing. Knowing this will help shape your decisions regarding game selection and bankroll management. You must develop a clear understanding of the state of the strategy of the game and the best ways to improve. Knowing GTO principles is a prerequisite to using your discipline to implement them effectively. We recommend GTOBase and LearnWPT.  

Another initial step in maintaining a disciplined attitude is to be aware of your emotions during, before, and after the game. Strong emotions are perfectly fine. Aggression is often beneficial, and disappointment at losing is natural. What we refer to here is when those things cross the line into hindering your goal to play and think optimally, often referred to as "tilt". Once you are aware of things that are triggering you to stray from a positive mental state you can implement strategies to think about that thing more optimally, or if it's in the form of external pressure, find a way to dismiss or neutralize it. This can be as simple as just realizing someone else's opinion is irrelevant, but it can be more complicated and require deeper thought or even cognitive therapy to overcome.

Staying in a positive mental state reduces the internal pressure that can lead to being impatient.

Emotional reactions to internal (self-imposed) and external (family/friends) pressure can frequently countermand any attempt to remain disciplined in one's decisions or attitude. The practice of limiting these factors is not only important for reaching success in poker, but also teaches valuable life skills as well that can be applied over time to many situations. Mastering this avoidance of urgency and negativity is what leads to the patience required to have discipline.

A disciplined player is able to make more rational decisions by staying focused and controlling their emotions.

A disciplined player is someone who has removed that urgency and developed a calm sense of patience with an invigorated faith in themselves and their skills and work ethic. It enables a child-like curiosity that is essential to maintaining the energy required to devote to study and practice to master any discipline.  These things enter into a positive spiral upwards as with consistent study and practice, you will gain confidence from progress made along your learning curve which can help fuel motivation during periods of intense focus and provide emotional resilience. Having deep faith in yourself and your purpose helps build trust in the process and creates an unshakeable foundation for success. This patience, self-esteem, and curiosity are together the recipe for success at poker or anything. These things together are what unlock self-discipline, the ability for intense study, and working from the flow state. Those are the pillars of mastering a skill or succeeding in any competitive environment at a high level.  

To quickly recap,  

Positive Mindset + Realistic Expectations = Ability to remove Internal and External Pressure

Removing Pressure = Patience, Self-Esteem, Curiosity

Patience+Self-Esteem+Curiosity = Discipline, Flow state, Study

Discipline+Flow State+Study = Success at a high level of competition

Success Flow-Chart
Formula for Success/Mastery by Ryan Fisler for and Ramy Capital Inc.

Together, these components form the formula for taking your poker game to the next level.

The best professional players are disciplined beyond being able to control their emotions during difficult times. They implement what resembles a stoic philosophy -- faith in their training, process and abilities, the patience to weather any adversity, and a curious drive to study and learn the game -- into their performance. Such mental discipline takes time to build, but when developed it can be a key to unlocking peak levels of success in poker, or any other highly competitive field like trading.

There are several things you can do to help maintain your disciplined attitude while playing poker, including limiting distractions, treating it like a business, setting clear and achievable goals, and maintaining a commitment to playing your A-Game as much as possible and not being emotionally attached to short-term results

While maintaining discipline is an important part of playing poker successfully, once you've become successful, maintaining your mastery can be a difficult task. To better improve your chances of success, avoid setting yourself financial targets or trying to chase short-term rewards, and instead focus on improving yourself and your game at all times Set a study schedule that includes at least 4 hours per week of intense study. Take the time and effort to limit outside distractions by treating the game like a business, so that you aren't interrupted from making laser-sharp decisions. Furthermore, set clear and achievable life goals for yourself that you review before each session to keep your mental state in check by attaching them to your purpose. Keeping what's important in mind from a birds-eye view, will help prevent you from emotionally attaching yourself to every individual result.

Remember that discipline is key to success in poker - if you can master it, you'll be well on your way to becoming a winning player in the toughest games.  These days, with an unexploitable strategy easily obtainable through putting in the work to study GTO, the best players' edge is coming from the discipline to stick to their game and raw pattern recognition ability.

Discipline is an essential element for success in poker, without mastering it even highly skilled players will struggle to remain winners. GTO (game theory optimal) strategies can be obtained by putting in the effort to learn them, and sticking to one's game regardless of any external factors is where a player can truly differentiate himself from the competition. Being good at GTO is studying hard combined with natural pattern recognition ability (which has always been the "x-factor" in poker). Having the discipline to implement what you've learned and exercise your talents optimally will put you on the path to victory.

A disciplined attitude is essential for playing poker successfully. Players who are able to control their emotions, stay focused and make rational decisions tend to be more successful in the long run. Poker is a game of discipline and players who can master it will have an edge over the competition. You can cultivate a disciplined attitude while playing poker, by following the formula in this article. If you're looking for more ways to improve your game than purely studying hands, remember that cultivating professional-level discipline is key.

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Ryan Fisler
Ryan Fisler

Ryan is a poker enthusiast and entrepreneur currently living in Kingston, Ontario.

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