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How to Open Up Your Poker Brain and Play Better, Now

Jared Tendler was conspicuous by his absence at the 46th Annual World Series of Poker (WSOP).

Where was the renowned tilt killer and author of The Mental Game of Poker during the biggest poker event of the year?

I caught up with Tendler shortly after to find out and he filled me in on the process he follows to improve as a coach, his view on brain-enhancing drugs, how player problems are evolving over time and his experiences of fatherhood during the first year.

How to Be a Better Poker Coach

Lee Davy: How do you keep on improving as a coach?

Jared Tendler: I'm constantly reviewing my own work. Like a poker player who gets better from playing I do that as well when I am coaching. Now I have a new project that I'm working on so I'm reviewing the structure of my one-on-one coaching in a different way.

Jared Tendler Jamie Gold
Coaches improve like you: through work.

If you look at the first two books there's a lot of content and a basic structure on how to utilize that content in this system that I developed.

It’s not that much different from cognitive psychology but it goes a bit deeper in terms of trying to resolve issues. And that’s the big difference between what I do and cognitive psychology.

The next stage of evolution is more about the client process. What's it like for a client to walk into the first session? What's it like for them to move through eight sessions over a four-month period?

The more I can create standardized content around that process the more efficient it becomes. How I go about doing that is very much like what poker players do.

I review the responses I give the clients in certain scenarios. A lot of my clients like to have audio recordings of our sessions so they can review them.

Frankly, when you're involved in the process going back to listen to it a few days later is really helpful. I also use these recording to listen to my coaching technique and figure out what works and what doesn’t.

LD: Would you coach a 72-year old differently than a 21-year old?

JT: No differently than I would approach any two people who are different. I have dealt with 21-year-olds with terrible memories and I have dealt with people 50-60+ who are sharp as a tack.

Like poker, your job is to read your opponent and understand them. I try to do that to the best of my ability.

nootropics poker
Brain pills can only take you so far.

LD: What’s your view on brain-enhancing tools like nootropics?

JT: My sense is that a lot of them will have some value but I don’t think they'll have the trans-formative value people are expecting.

I think a big part of that is there's an underrepresented focus on trying to get rid of the crap that exists in your mind. A large part of that is emotionally stored memories.

If you think about your computer, as an example, they used to have this defrag system and you could see all the different colors and it would condense your hard drive so it could work more efficiently.

Players have these recurring emotional memories like a big bustout from years ago. These memories take up bandwidth within the more conscious part of your memory system.

Procedural memory is like all of your automatic behavior - unconscious competence, for people who know my work well. That memory system seemingly is unlimited but what is traditionally called long-term memory is stored in the emotional system and it's a limited space.

When you have too many memories like this then you're actually limited in how present you're going to be. You're going to be more reactive to certain situations based on some old memory.

When you revert back to old habits in these stressful situations, that’s why. The nootropics ... I'm sure they have value but they can't change the severity of these weak points within you that are often forced by these emotional memories.

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LD: This week I've been touched by a lack of forgiveness in the poker community. Do you believe a lack of forgiveness also takes up bandwidth?

poker coaching
Can forgive by letter, too

JT: It’s certainly going to consume various parts of their mind and will happen in many sub-conscious ways that they won’t be aware of.

I've recently had several clients who have had issues with their parents. Having them go and talk to them: to tell them why they chose to play poker and that they screwed up when they were younger, definitely brought up some stuff in the short term. But it was productive for both of them.

You don’t always have to do this in person. You can forgive people in a letter for example. An increase in emotion to actually work through it and long-term resolution and you become free.

Freedom is a very important word. People think that putting people into a box in their mind labeled ‘scumbag’ allows them to be free. It doesn’t.

Now you have created points of resistance for yourself where you will always be triggered when you hear their names. So you're not free from them because they will always be in there, rattling around.

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LD: How are players and their problems changing over time?

JT: I have to weigh the issues that come to me in relation to the material I have created. There are a lot less traditional "Book 1" tilt issues; when they do show up it's because they haven’t read the book.

poker tilt
Emotional core remains the same.

Frankly, I'm happy to say that most of the issues concern what to do after having lots of success: whether that’s remaining in poker or leaving to do something else.

I have a client who was very successful before poker, very successful at poker, and now he's finding some points of resistance within his personal life. We can’t just work on poker because it’s not a poker issue.

I had a guy who was trying to manage his poker career but realized he was having tilt issues at the table connected with stress related to his indecision about what games to play in, what poker sites to be playing on – this high-level decision making was creating some angst.

Things evolve but at the core the main emotional signs are always the same.

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LD: Can you think of one particular success story that you are proud of?

JT: I think what is interesting is I don’t often get to see the after-effects of my work. There was one guy I hadn’t spoken to for three years and we recently connected.

I went back to check out his original questionnaire. Back then he was playing 50c/$1 and now he's playing in the biggest PLO games in the world. We recently started doing some more coaching together. That was nice.

In terms of fulfillment I can say that I've taken something from 90%+ of my clients. In the beginning some really big-name players approached me and I was a little nervous to even talk to them.

I asked myself: “What is the worse-case scenario?” I realized that there was no single person who would make or break my career. I wanted a coaching practice that was more sustainable than that.

Working with Jorryt {van Hoof} at the final table last year was great. I had a lot more clients after that and it was great validation for a lot of material in Book 2, in terms of getting into the zone.

Dusty {Schmidt} bringing me into poker was also important. But for me, in terms of the stability, it’s been very consistent which is what I am after.

LD: Clients can often be after the quick fix. How do you protect yourself from worrying about clients leaving too early, giving you that feeling that you weren’t able to help as well as you could?

poker coaching mental game
No miracle cures.

JT: I do it before they even become a client. It’s a discussion we have before they become a client or during their first session. They're left under no illusion that there are no miracle cures; sometimes it gets worse before it gets better.

This is why the client process material has come in very handy. I am understanding what people are going through in terms of their learning and I am able to match up tendencies with these types of issues.

Take a perfectionist in poker. They are going to transfer that issue to their coaching process. It happens all the time because poker players have high expectations of themselves.

I will have a good insightful first session where we come up with an underlying idea of a problem. They will go out and come back and say: 'I still {still being a keyword} have this issue but such and such is better.' So the general tone is negative while acknowledging progress.

That’s an indication that the perfectionism has extended to their perception of progress. Now I can talk to them at the end of the first session: 'listen, here is what is going to happen in our next session unless you make some changes in terms of how you are aware of how you are even thinking about your progress as you are making it.'

So effecting change on a more efficient level. Part of this is you just don’t know how ready a person is until they get there. Sometimes what can be exposed can be scary.

I'm under the idea that as long as I put in good-faith effort and I understand where the risk points are, that’s me doing my job. I have had clients who have come to me with major issues that I have turned away before or soon after.

I have told them that they need more face-to-face specialized coaching. If I have done my due diligence to reject the people who don’t fit my spec, and they fall within my realm, I know that as long as I am focused and put in the effort I will help them as much as I can and that’s the best I can do.

LD: What has shocked you about being a father in the first year?

JT: It’s going to sound cheesy but the shock has been how much you can love another human being.

poker coach jared tendler
Love just gets bigger.

There are moments, especially in New York, when you worry that people are shady, and things like that, and there is this charge of defense that is so powerful. You never knew it existed.

She is a good sleeper, has a good temperament and is a happy kid. I work from home so I get to spend these 10-15-min intervals with her and that’s great.

Both Corey and I stop working at 5pm, we have about 90 minutes of family time before she goes to bed and then we go back to work or whatever else we are doing to end the day.

Shocks have been at the low end. I was 36 when I had her. If I didn’t have a younger sister and see first hand what it was like to raise children, and be somewhat involved in that process, it may have been different.

I had never changed a diaper before though. That was tough. Nothing can prepare you for the stink of poop when you are that close to it or it’s actually on you.

LD: Is there anything from fatherhood that you have brought into your coaching?

JT: My overall mood is much better. I used to do full-time Dad duties on Thursdays when she was younger. When Corey went back to work her Mum looked after her for two days, we had a nanny for two days and I had her for the one day.

jared tendler poker
Pursue meaning.

It’s hard, man. People who denigrate mothers and don’t believe it’s tough should try it for a week. You don’t have full thoughts; you don’t have time for yourself and are always looking after this other human being who is so helpless.

I love working and I like the opportunity it provides on many levels for me. Being able to have limited quality time with her is good.

If it was all the time it could wear on me and be overwhelming. I wouldn’t want that. My life EV is much higher when I have good contact with her.

LD: What three pieces of advice would you leave her if you had to depart this world?

JT: I would say that the pursuit of happiness is not the be all and end all. Happiness is a temporary thing and deep, fulfilling, meaningful things are more important than happiness.

Pursue meaning. To push yourself. What is easy seems like the most attractive thing whether that’s with your career, friends or hobbies. Doing what is easy is not always the most valuable and it can actually make your life less valuable.

I would also say something about finding someone who treats you and loves you as much as you deserve to be treated and loved.

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