Why Mental Game in Poker > GTO

Much of modern poker training is focused on understanding GTO (Game Theory Optimal) play and memorizing very specific situations. There are a number of reasons why that is not the right way to start studying the game (Read more about limitations of (GTO strategy HERE) but it is also not the area where you should focus to see the greatest improvement in your game.

In order to win in today’s game, you need a strong theoretical background and a solid understanding of spots that frequently come up (Practice with CLAI HERE) but the way that you can separate yourself from the competition the fastest is by developing a bulletproof mental game.


What is a bulletproof mental game? Let’s dive in!

1. Emotional Control:

Emotional control is about managing emotional responses during the highs and lows of a poker game. It involves staying composed, regardless of the outcome of individual hands. Players with strong emotional control can avoid going on “tilt” after a bad beat and maintain a level-headed approach to decision-making.


How often have you seen a player lose a big pot due to a bad beat and then punt the rest of their remaining stack in the next few minutes? This happens all the time due to poor emotional control. 

2. Focus and Concentration:

Maintaining focus is an ongoing challenge in tournaments, where you can be sitting at the table for days. Laser-sharp concentration helps in making well-informed decisions and exploiting the weaknesses of opponents.


Very few players are actively paying attention when they are not in the hand – they are usually on their phones and missing tons of information about their opponents. Developing your focus muscle and putting your phone away will drastically improve your win rate.

3. Resilience:

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from setbacks, whether it’s a series of losing hands or a significant financial loss. Resilient players don’t let short-term results affect their long-term confidence. 


Poker is a brutal game. You can play your A game for hours or days and get knocked out on a bad beat in a minute. Players with a strong metal game understand and embrace the up and down nature of poker. 

4. Adaptability:

Poker is a dynamic game with constantly changing dynamics. Adaptability involves adjusting strategies based on the evolving circumstances of the game. The best players shift their approach depending on factors such as the playing styles of opponents, the size of their stacks, and the stage of the tournament.


Doing this takes focus and concentration over an extended period of time. Are you willing to properly fold for hours when you are card dead while your less experienced/talented opponents build a big stack? 

5. Confidence:

Confidence is a cornerstone of the mental game. It’s the belief in one’s abilities and decision-making. A confident player can make assertive moves, seize opportunities, and recover from setbacks with a positive mindset. 


Many players know the right play to make but lack the confidence in big spots as they don’t want to look stupid for making a wrong decision or not being able to mentally bounce back if they lose the hand. 

6. Continuous Improvement:

The commitment to continuous learning and improvement is a fundamental aspect of the mental game. Successful players actively seek out opportunities to enhance their skills, stay updated on new strategies, and learn from both successes and failures. Embracing a growth mindset is key to long-term success in poker (and life in general).


Players with a poor mental game tend to blame bad luck or different circumstances as to why they aren’t achieving desired results while someone with a strong mental game will embrace the ability to improve and focus on what they can control. 

Wrapping It Up: 

Next time that you play a tournament, focus on your mental game and look for “mental leaks” where you can improve.


Mastering your mental game will separate you from the field and take you farther in poker than becoming a GTO expert ever will.

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