Books to read: 'The Mental Game of Poker' for sports betting

·7-min read

Before I came into the sports betting world, I lived, breathed and ate poker. For years, I both played and dealt while working in poker media living in Las Vegas. Nearly everyone in my life was in poker. I woke up thinking about poker and went to bed thinking about poker.

I often reference how the game has shaped the way I live and how the things I learned playing no-limit hold'em have crossed over into what I do now in sports betting. I never just played; I prepped by reviewing hands with other players, studied with a coach and read books that were beneficial about both the math behind the game and the mindset.

Some of these books have stood the test of time, but not all of them focused on poker. Some were written on sports psychology, others about finance, but all have helped with my current role as an analyst. It’s all related — golf, finance, sports, trading, gaming, etc. — because it’s all about the psychology of doing the act in which you train for.

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I’d like to share some of those books with you and perhaps they can be just as useful in your life — taking concepts learned and applying them to real-world situations.

I'm starting first with "The Mental Game of Poker," written by Jared Tendler. Tendler is a mental game coach that has worked with PGA and LPGA players, high-stakes poker players, along with other professionals. First of all, the cover alone speaks volumes for how it could be used for other aspects of life with words like "entitlement," "motivation" and "confidence" slapped right there to grab your attention. Here are some concepts I found beneficial that have helped with sports betting.

Can specific books help you become a smarter sports bettor? (Fethi Belaid/AFP via Getty Images)
Can specific books help you become a smarter sports bettor? (Fethi Belaid/AFP via Getty Images)

Concept: One thing at a time

There’s a sentence written in the book when Tendler talks about the Adult Learning Model, which is about the learning process. What really grabbed my attention was, “you can only work on parts of your game at one time.”

He’s so right. When you are either new to sports betting or even an experienced bettor, you could easily get overwhelmed with trying to do it all. Instead, focus on one sport at a time. You see content creators and accounts on Gambling Twitter that talk about MLB, NBA, USFL, KBO, horse racing, WTA, PGA, props, and whatever other sport is on that day. They’re likely not winning. Unless you are using a model, heck even if you are, it’s just entirely too much information to consume.

If you’re starting out, focus on one sport that you know absolutely the most about, the one that you can crush at bar trivia. Then get really good at analyzing that sport.

Even if you’re a seasoned bettor, then you know which sports and which wager types you excel in. Narrow down your focus to less than a handful of sports. For me, it’s football, ATP tennis, and PGA. At least for me, the more I try to add, my brain gets really foggy. It’s like any skill, you can be good at a lot of things or you can put your effort in a few and become great.

How I use this concept outside of betting: same rule applies. Life can be a full bag. People have medical things, family things, work things, and it can just all fill up too quickly. Focus on one thing at a time. Have a list, mark each thing one by one. It will help spread out the burden.

Concept: Identifying your type of tilt

There’s an entire chapter on tilt. If you’ve played poker, you know tilt well. If you ordered food to go, got home to see they gave you regular fries instead of curly fries, then you know tilt. What this chapter helped with was recognizing that there are different types of tilt. In fact, Tendler shares seven of them. The one I identify with most is, “hate-losing tilt.” I’m a competitor at heart so like Tendler says, even if we know that variance can impact results, we still hate losing. Fine if we lose, but how we handle the inevitable losses is what matters most.

What this section helped me to understand is, aside from money, why winning is so important to me and then how to mentally navigate the variance. As it states, “don’t let variance beat you by forcing you to play badly,” or in this case, bet incorrectly. What I mean by that is by forcing action, doubling down, or making a wager after a loss you wouldn’t have otherwise.

Honestly, there are so many great quotes to be used in this section. “If you lost making profitable plays, losing is temporary as long as you keep playing well and improving.” The same applies to stocks, playing golf, really anything and everything. Make correct decisions, then eventually the variance will swing back to your favor.

Oh, but you thought tilt only existed when losing? Tendler explains that there is also winner’s tilt. You go on a hot streak, suddenly you feel invisible, you gain that “I can’t lose” mindset and then find yourself making mistakes, betting too many games, adding more parlays and incorrectly raising your bet sizing. Overconfidence is a thing too and with a boosted ego, mistakes can be made.

Concept: Confidence

Losses are inevitable. The key is to trust the process (cliché but true). It’s not just confidence in betting, it’s having confidence in yourself in everyday situations whether at the gym, creating content or your city-wide softball league. Confidence runs through what we do in our day-to-day lives. For this, I reached out to the author himself. On the subject matter, Tendler said, “the bottom line is that it's far too easy to have confidence be equal to results. Results are strong, confidence is high. Results are poor, confidence is low. That's the most common mistake I see.”

One thing I preach is keeping track of every wager you make. It’s one thing to know what your ROI (return on investment) is but it’s another to analyze why your wins were wins and why your losses were losses. Tendler explains, “As a sports bettor, the luck factor in the short-term means that you're going to get a lot of false feedback. Great bets can lose and bad bets can win. The key to break out of this cycle is to clearly understand how you define quality bets and quality decision-making. Then you base your confidence on your performance, not the results. Do that, and your confidence in general will never get too high or too low.”

So much this! It’s about the quality of actions. I’ve been in a slump as of late so I asked Tendler how I can get my groove back. His response was that it all starts with asking yourself, “Did you like the bets when you made them? How strong was your mentality at that time?”

I know I needed a betting break because at least one of these was a “no,” but if your response is an “emphatic yes, with no doubts and strong mentality for all bets made, then chalk it up to bad luck," Tendler said. "Your confidence doesn't deserve to take a hit and you should keep firing. Streaks like this are part of the game and you don't want losses like this to change your decision-making process. You do want to throw good money chasing after bad money.”

Love that final part. I had to read that one over and over again, "you do want to throw good money chasing after bad money.”

Other concepts in the book that could be directly applied to sports betting: not trusting your gut, second-guessing, burnout, the absence of learning and the illusion of control.

I’ve read this book multiple times over the last decade, including recently last month, and I’ll likely read it again in the future. There are concepts that we know but it helps to be reminded or helps to expand further for a deeper understanding. If you want to improve your tilt, grow your confidence, increase your motivation and cope with variance, this is definitely one book I recommend. There’s a reason why it’s part of my video backdrop.