Jared Tendler: Always Playing Your A-game is Impossible

jared tendler
Jared Tendler shares new insights into the mental game of poker.

One of the most common requests I get from new clients turns out to be impossible to achieve. Wanting to play your A-game all the time might sound like a simple request, but it’s not.

In this article I’ll prove why and provide steps to realistically play at a high level consistently.

Trying to playing your A-game all the time seems simple in theory when you look only at your current A-game. You know what it’s like to play your best. You win more money, feel better about your game, leave the table happy, and a host of other great things attached to playing great poker.

It makes sense why you’d want that to happen it all the time. The only problem is that wanting or wishing it were true is the poker equivalent to believing in Santa Claus.

The reason it’s impossible to always be at your best is because your best is a moving target, which is constantly rising higher. When your game improves, it means that your peak has risen higher than before. In other words, your current A-game becomes your B-game, and you’ve gained a newly minted A-game.

Chips
Play your A-game as much as possible to get more of these.
 

It shouldn’t take much to realize this has already happened to your game. Think back to what your A-game was like a year ago and compare it to your A-game now. Heck, go back far enough, and your current C-game today is better than your A-game was back then. (By the way, if you’re a serious player and this isn’t happening, follow the steps in the next section.)  

Your game isn’t static. It’s constantly improving; although often in ways that are so subtle they’re hard to see. As soon as you’ve played at your best, a new standard has been set.

The first time you play well it’s often hard to describe why you played so well. If you can’t explain why you played so well, it’s going to be pretty hard to do it again. Funny enough, once you can explain why you played so well, you’re able to play even better; and a new A-game is created.

Playing Your A-game Consistently

While it’s impossible to always play your A-game, you can play that way consistently if you put the work in. Most poker players aren’t willing to take the extra steps and instead are happy to dream of what it would be like to consistently play that well.

Here are a few tips how to get your A-game show up more often:

  1. Eliminate C-game. Your number one goal every single time you play is to make sure your C-game does not show up. Every time you make a really obvious mistake, no matter what the reason, you actually reinforce poor play. You simultaneously fail to correct the mistake, and get better at making it. That means it’s more likely to show-up again, and your A-game is now less likely to show-up. Instead, by consistently eliminating your C-game, you make it easier and easier to play your A-game.
  1. Eliminate Your Mental C-game. The mental side of the major poker mistakes you make have to be eliminated to correct your tactical C-game. Mental game issues like tilt, anxiety, boredom, being distracted, unmotivated, and losing confidence often lead to poor play. If you want to be at your peak consistently, these big issues have to be eliminated.
  1. Assess Your Range. Write out the full range in your game, from A-game to C-game. Start by listing out all the mistakes you make now, when playing at your absolute worst. Then, list the mistakes that are progressively less bad until you reach your current A-game.
  1. Quick Recovery. Playing your A-game consistently requires that you recover it quickly after slipping into your B or C-game. Having your range clearly listed out, makes it easier to recognize when your game has slipped and thus easier to recover your A-game quickly while playing.
  1. Be Prepared. Consistently playing at a high level doesn’t happen easily. All great poker players and great athletes show up prepared to play at a high level. If you don’t have a warm-up routine, a simple way to get started is to review hands connected with all parts of your game (A to C-game). That way, you know specifically how to play at a high level and improve your B or C-game when it shows-up.
  1. Tracking Progress. A good way of tracking your progress is by keeping a journal where you regularly assess the quality of your play after a session or tournament. This not only increases your skill of recognizing when you slip into B or C-game, it’s also a great way to focus you more and more on what’s necessary to play quality poker and you automatically become less results-oriented.

It may seem strange to focus mainly on eliminating B and C-game as a way to play your A-game more often. However, if you think about, you’ll automatically play your A-game more often if the rest of your game doesn’t show-up. The more consistently you play your A-game the easier it is to take your game to an even higher peak. 

Jared Tendler, MS is a mental game coach for over 200 poker players and author of, "The Mental Game of Poker." A free audiobook version of his book is currently being offered by Amazon. Go to Jared’s website to find out how to get a free copy.

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Sean 2013-02-17 10:00:24

Thank you for this article.

From the very first time I played hold em I showed an aptitude for it. However it did not take me long to realize that if I wanted to play consistently with any level of success some study and focus would be necessary.

For the last three days I found myself in a rut of making the same mistakes I made as a beginner. My biggest weakness being that when the cards are cold (or luke warm for me) I grow impatient and then make bad moves trying to MAKE something happen. Sadly I made moves that were unnecessary (such as an all in with AJs when I still had roughly 15 times the blinds to carry me while I waited for a good hand)

I am making a journal of my progress and noting my mistakes but I had not been including the ways in which my play had improved.

Before I play tonight I will mentally prepare myself noting play to avoid and reinforcing the my strong play.

Thanks again.

Sean

sda 2013-02-11 19:23:05

lol no. if you cant beat idiots, how do you want to beat good players, seriously? luck means little if you play hundreds, thousands of hands. maybe ur just not as great as you think?

dylan 2013-01-04 18:16:55

his talking about bringing ur a game will work on the higher tables but in the lower limits u can bring any game so is that the trick higher limits means you can actually play real poker cause im sick of playing with monkeys is play at the higher limits means you can actually play a A game cause in the lower limits you can bring a A game consistantly and get crushed jared do you think one would be in better shape steping out of the jungle and into the ocean

JG 2012-09-14 17:42:44

Yes luck is a factor but even in the lower levels skill matters when you play over the long term. When you talk about Luck you are getting into more of a discussion of variance which then ties us back into the level of play.

You should not be evaluating your game on the amount of chips in front of you or that you take off of the table. That is determiend by variance/luck as it is your level of play. You should be evaluating your game based on your hand valuation, reads, odd/pott calculations, and ability to control your emotions.

I can tell you I have walked away from a table many Buy-ins down and still feel good about my play. Even sometimes feel better about my play when I lost money or broke even than when I won. When you look back at the session and know you played the hands that gave you the best oppertunity and situation to win the most, that is how you know you played your A-Game

Jared 2012-09-07 08:47:01

Luck for sure plays a factor in the short-term in poker, but bad luck doesn't have to have that big of an impact on how you play. Right now it has a big impact on your game and the way many others play, but it doesn't have to. Being able to handle bad luck well enough that you're able to keep playing well is a major part of my coaching and I have a client list full of players able to control tilt well enough to continue playing well enough to minimize the effect bad luck has on their results. My book includes a huge section just on how to control tilt.

Not everyone tilts because of a bad beat. Not everyone handles losing, or bad runs by playing their C-game. Yes, many players do, but that's why right now there's a huge edge to be gained by being able to control tilt and handle bad luck better. I'm not saying that's easy, I'm just saying it's possible. With the right information and hard work, you can handle bad luck better and you'll make more money by saving money.

me 2012-09-06 07:49:41

Lets not forget that luck plays a massive part in any poker game.And at lower levels ,where there are tilt monkeys and downright idiots everywhere it plays even more of a factor.I would estimate the ratio to be 70 luck 30 skill.I understand the concept of "A game" but really ,you never play your A game when your getting horrible suck out after suck out.So basicly what i'm saying is your "A-C game" depends on your "A-C Luck" .Are you hitting or missing, are you getting it in good only to be runner runnered oer and over.If your running good you can play great ,if your running cold you can only play a C game ,trying to stop yourself from tilting.