Mind Games

Jared Tendler is putting players’ focus where it belongs

During the early years of the poker boom, a couple of guys jokingly set up a table at the World Series of Poker and put a jar on the table. If players busted out of a tournament and needed to vent their frustration about a bad beat, they put a dollar in the jar and the guys behind the table would listen.

This was the earliest form of poker therapy.

Mind GamesWhat was once a joke of an idea has evolved into a legitimate business for people like Jared Tendler, one of poker’s premier mindset coaches.

Instead of focusing on which hands to bet, raise, and fold, Tendler focuses on how to get poker players to control their emotions, limit their tilt, and play better poker for longer periods of time. This emotional control is what he says will help players’ win rate go up.

“The emotional system has the power to shut down higher brain function, which includes thinking,” Tendler said. “When emotion rises too high, you stop thinking, and you do dumb shit. If you can recognize the early pattern or the early sign that you are getting frustrated because of a few suckouts, then you have the ability to inject logic or think your way through it.”

The ability for your brain to have room to think is at the center of Tendler’s system for controlling emotions and minimizing tilt. If a player is unable to recognize the fact that his/her emotions are starting to rise, there is less room for logical thinking, which in turn creates bad play.

According to Tendler, the key to fighting tilt is catching it while it’s still manageable.

“It’s almost like a math problem here,” said Tendler, whose latest book, “The Mental Game of Poker 2,” was released in April. “If you catch the problem while it’s small, you have lots of thinking to battle the small amount of emotion. If you wait too long and the emotion gets too big, then you don’t have enough to build the battle against it and you will continue to make mistakes.”

With the World Series of Poker right around the corner, some of Tendler’s clients have been adding more sessions to mentally prepare for the long grind that comes with playing a full schedule at the series. One of his clients in particular, Darren Kramer, schedules his sessions so that he can mentally peak during his biggest tournaments.

“We kind of look at playing the World Series and the Aussie Millions as his two majors,” Tendler said. “He is a guy that has loved tennis and golf and looked at the way Tiger Woods and Roger Federer kind of schedule their year to peak for the major. He has taken on a similar frame of mind.”

Ideally for Tendler, if a client is only coming in sparingly in order to prep for a certain tournament, the therapy would start at least a few months in advance in order for his clients to let the material sink in and be able to truly learn the material. He also stresses that he would keep it simple for his students if they were only coming in for tournament prep.

“If I were to try to apply full service work, it would be overwhelming,” Tendler said. “They would not actually learn that much and then once they got into pressure situations, it would be far easier for things to blow up. World Series prep is all about understanding some basic keys that you will absolutely guarantee to improve under all circumstances and under the most extreme pressure.”

Even though the ideal situation is to start a few months before the World Series starts, it is not so that therapy can become more intensive. It would still only be 3-4 sessions, but it would allow the client to play some poker beforehand and practice the concepts that were gone over in therapy.

Tendler’s goal is to get his client to understand the concepts to the last stage of adult learning, unconscious competence. This is where the client can implement something without even thinking about it. Achieving this goal is easier to do when there is more time to let the material sink in.

“It’s like cramming for a test,” Tendler said. “You can cram, but what happens when you are under major pressure? Things are going to get lost and you’re going to fall apart.”

Tendler made his way to poker from a golf background. After being a three-time All-American golfer at Skidmore College, he received his master’s degree in counseling psychology from Northeastern University in Boston. He got his license as a mental health counselor and moved to Arizona to be a sports psychologist and work with golfers.

While golfing in Oregon in 2007, Tendler met poker pro Dusty “Leatherass” Schmidt. That was how Tendler got his first taste of the professional poker world.

“We just kind of hit it off,” said Tendler of his meeting with Schmidt. “He was a former professional golfer and knew the value of sports psychology.”

After admitting that he was having some tilt issues while trying to achieve Supernova Elite on PokerStars, Schmidt committed to a few sessions with Tendler. Tendler was able to accurately pinpoint Schmidt’s tilt problems and come up with a solution for him to fix it.

Tendler got Schmidt to recognize when he was starting to let emotion get the better of him, which he says is the first step to fixing the problem. He then got Schmidt to have a strategic reminder which helped him to keep thinking logically even though he could feel the onset of emotion.

“For Dusty, it meant having a checklist of his decision-making process,” said Tendler of Schmidt’s strategic reminder. “So for him, when he would get too tilted, some of those questions wouldn’t get asked and he would make mistakes because his emotions were blocking him from thinking that way.”

After seeing improved results with Tendler, Schmidt extended an invitation to Tendler to become a member of Stox Poker, an online training site which has since merged with CardRunners. Tendler started making mindset videos for the site and he slowly began to make a name for himself in the poker world.

Tendler slowly grew his client base from just Schmidt to currently having clients in 40 different countries. He is liable to be on Skype or his phone at any hour of the day to do a session with one of his clients.

Even though most of his clients come to him needing help with their tilt issues, there are plenty of mindset problems that poker players use him to help cope with. Players come to Tendler with fear issues, anxiety, motivational issues in terms of both putting in volume and adequate amount of work away from the table, as well as confidence issues.

“Overconfidence is a major problem,” Tendler said. “It has caused players to play in games that they shouldn’t and it has caused players to get lazy with their games. There are a lot of player that played during 2008-09 and thought they were going to print money forever. Now they are out of the game.”

Regardless of the emotional issue a player has, Tendler feels that he can give them an edge on the rest of the field.

“I’d say the edge is that they are going to be relevant longer,” he said. “Games get tougher, edges get smaller, but they are not only sort of increasing their tactical edge because they are learning more efficiently, but they are also minimizing the severity of their mistakes.”

June 2013