Mind over matterJared Tendler is making quite a name for himself as a gambling performance coach, notably in helping poker pros with the mental side of their game. Journalist Barry Carter, who is writing a book with Tendler, puts some key questions to him. A lot of this will ring true with most readers
Performance coach Jared Tendler has carved out a unique niche for himself in the gambling world. A former golf professional, he got his Masters in Psychology and started working with professional athletes as a sports psychology expert. Then a chance meeting with high-stakes poker pro Dusty ‘Leatherass’ Schmidt saw him transform himself into the most renowned mental game expert in poker. Whether you are a professional gambler, poker player or even a financial trader, there is plenty you can learn from Tendler about keeping your cool and making good decisions in the face of adversity.
We ask Jared about some of the most common issues faced by winning gamblers and how we should all be dealing with them.
Gambling: We have probably all found ourselves in the situation where we have lost a big sum and all of a sudden think about putting on a big bet that would get us even. That’s not a good idea right?
Jared: No [laughs]. Any time that your strategy for how you make decisions is not determined by the facts in front of you but instead by a desire to get even, you are guaranteed not to make profitable decisions. You are ignoring valuable information in order to make a quick score. The strategy you are employing is a long-term losing one; you have worked hard to develop whatever method you have that makes you a profitable gambler and now you are abandoning it.
To break this habit in the moment, ask yourself why are you abandoning a solid strategy for a reckless gamble? Then no matter what, you have to force yourself to get back to a profitable strategy.
On the flip side of that, everyone has had times where it just seems they can’t lose. A lot of conventional wisdom suggests we should ‘play our rush’ at this time, should we?
The emotional highs that come with winning are one reason why you gamble. Winning is a hell of a lot of fun, especially winning big. Particularly if you have a high variance approach a few big wins in a row can create a feeling of invincibility – where all you see in the future is you continuing to win; which is the least likely scenario. While it may feel as though you’ve suddenly figured it out, you haven’t. You clearly have a winning strategy, but you’re not just printing money and showing up to collect it. You’re more like a slot machine with a small edge created by the work you put in to make profitable decisions. Over the long-term you’ll earn that edge as long as you stick to the strategy that profits in the long run, not the one that just feels it. If that happens, take a step back and remind yourself how you got the big wins and stick to that strategy.
Should we be totally professional about how we approach betting and fight any urges to just gamble for the sake of gambling?
The question is how bad of a problem is the urge for you? If the need to gamble is quite small and makes gambling fun, I don’t see the problem. Why take the fun away? On the other hand if it’s big, you’re going to have to work really hard to fight that urge and stick to a profitable strategy. Often this urge is strong because the person needs to win now or because they are overindulging in chasing the rush of a big score. You have to look at what you’re intent is – profit or a high?
Primarily I would say isolate the urge to gamble by setting aside a small amount that you can afford to lose, to get it out of your system once a week/month and being incredibly firm about the amount. If, however, the urge is too hard to control, then you really need to consider professional help.
Obviously when gambling gets dangerous is when you do it beyond your means, but it’s surprising how many people do it. How do we deal with that?
In the moment, you are abandoning the rules you have set up to avoid going broke when you think you have a sure thing, an urge to gamble, desire to break even or a feeling you can’t lose. Good bankroll management is a proven strategy that you are now replacing for something unproven. It’s the mind fooling you by giving you tunnel vision, where in that moment all you see is what you want without thinking about a realistic means of getting it. This may mean you have to solidify your bankroll management strategy to become instinctive, write it out and put it in your wallet, so when you find yourself caught up in the moment you can pull it out and remind yourself of what you have already decided to do. At that point the decision has already been made, now it’s your job to execute that decision, not abandon it.
Probably one of the hardest things to go through is a prolonged stretch of bad results, how do help people cope with variance?
Downswings suck. It’s very hard when you are put under pressure to stay consistent with a strategy that normally you know to be profitable, but now question what is correct. Decisions that are usually clear become hazy, thinking becomes harder. It becomes much easier to jump ship and abandon your strategy.
Since you can’t prevent a downswing, the solution here is to prevent the chaos by developing a consistent way to evaluate and track your skill. On a regular basis make sure that you take detailed notes about your decision-making process by tracking the results of the decisions.
So let’s say you are a successful football bettor, make detailed records of the factors you were weighing prior to making your pick, and on how your assumptions played out. It isn’t enough to know whether you won or lost the bet, you need to know why. Writing this out basically tries to prove what makes you successful, and why you’re not. Then when things go badly, you’ll have a valuable record to help you see more clearly what’s causing the bad run, your decisions or luck, and can remind you of your winning strategy.
Finally, what would you say are the biggest issues serious gamblers need to be aware of to keep their mental game in check?
There are two things that combine all of the issues we have discussed. First of all, gamblers need to know that their skill is essentially the same as the football players they’re betting on. Decision-making is a mental skill that plays by the same rules as physical skill. During tough times you will abandon what you don’t fully know to the level of instinct, just as a footballer abandons technique and strategy when roughhoused by another player on the pitch or when tired. So the simple rule is that whatever decision-making skill that goes away at this time, simply means you need to work harder on them, study more, find out more about the subject matter and so on, until you’ve mastered it.
The other factor here is the issue of control. Whether you are a sportsman, a poker player, a professional gambler or a stock trader, there are always many things out of your control and many you’re also completely unaware of. When things go really well or very bad there is an illusion you have more control than you actually have. If you are on a hot streak you think you have something solved and can’t lose, or if you’re down you force the action to try and get lucky. In either case, there is an assumption on your part that you have more control than you actually do. The only reason you would force action is that you’re trying to control something you can’t. The only reason you think you can’t lose is that you believe you have control over the future in a way that you can’t. All you control is a strategy to win over the long-term.