Poker as a Mind Sport: Strategies For Mental Toughness

min read
A royal flush leaning against stacks of red and black poker chips.
BetMGM Jan 01, 2024, 3:03 PM

Many people play online poker for fun, but many others enjoy the incredible competitive scene. The desire to succeed and rise to the top has become the dream of many poker players around the world, particularly after Chris Moneymaker completely surprised the professional poker scene in 2003. 

At the time, Moneymaker was a complete unknown who had secured his place at the World Series of Poker Main Event by winning an online tournament. But little did people know at the time that he would go on to the final table, win the event, and become a poker legend.

If you want to recreate the same success as Moneymaker, it’s important to treat poker as a mind sport and ensure you’re mentally prepared for what lies ahead. You’re going to need your poker game psychology honed to a sharp point so that you can deal with the tough choices and stressful situations that you’ll have to deal with in the competitive poker world. An important way to achieve this 

Here are five strategies that you can use to improve your mental toughness.

1. Move Out of Your Comfort Zone

To improve your overall mental resilience, it’s a good idea to move out of your comfort zone. All too often, people get used to being comfortable with the status quo, and the moment that something comes along that challenges that, people can be easily thrown off. However, by taking steps to move out of your comfort zone, you can reap a number of benefits. The Harvard Summer School outlines some of these benefits in the article “Is It Time to Leave Your Comfort Zone? How Leaving Can Spark Positive Change,” including:

  • Building your resilience so you become more comfortable with situations that are unfamiliar and could cause you stress and anxiety.
  • Boosting your self-confidence by knowing you challenged yourself.
  • You achieved your goal of stepping outside of your comfort zone and growing as a person.

Moving out of your comfort zone is an important part of mental toughness training, with the skills proving incredibly useful in competitive poker.

2. Ensure You’re Well-Rested

As a serious poker player, you want to begin by making sure you have gotten enough sleep. While losing a few hours of rest to put in some additional practice may not seem like that big a deal, the reality is quite different. In the article “How Sleep Deprivation Impacts Mental Health,” the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry emphasizes how crucial sleep is. 

“Sleep helps maintain cognitive skills, such as attention, learning, and memory, such that poor sleep can make it much more difficult to cope with even relatively minor stressors and can even impact our ability to perceive the world accurately.“

If you’re entering a high-pressure poker environment, there’s no doubt that you want to ensure you’re well-rested to best deal with the challenges coming your way.

3. Practice Calming Breathing and Other Mindfulness Techniques

Even if you’re well rested, you may find yourself slipping and getting agitated under the pressure of an intense, close poker game. In moments where you find yourself losing your cool, mindfulness techniques like deep breathing can help you recenter and refocus. 

If you feel a bit jumpy before a game, you can use yoga practices to help you reduce your stress levels so that you can enter the game with a calm mindset. These and other practices like meditation, spending time in nature, or even just going for a walk, can all help you prepare your mind for an upcoming poker game and help you maintain emotional control. 

4. Avoid Mind-Altering Substances Like Drugs and Alcohol

In order to ensure your mind is ready for the potential pressures of a poker game, it’s important to avoid recreational drugs and alcohol use. The article “Drugs, alcohol & mental health” from Rethink.org, describes the various negative effects that drugs and alcohol can have on your mental health. These include:

  • A negative outlook on life
  • Loss of motivation
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

These can all greatly impact your chances of winning in a competitive poker environment, so it’s best to avoid mind-altering substances that could drag down your mental fortitude.

5. Accept That You Can Play Perfectly and Still Lose

One of the most valuable lessons that you can learn to ensure you stay on top of your mental game is this: in a game of poker, you can make all the right choices and still lose. 

Unlike games like chess and checkers, where an optimal strategy will always lead to victory, poker is a game with an element of luck. This means that you can play a game where you made the best choices based on what you knew, only for something you didn’t know to completely throw off your plans and cost you the game. 

When you do lose, and you know you couldn’t have played any better under the circumstances, it’s important to accept the loss and move on so that you don’t undermine yourself and unnecessarily question your decision-making and skill in future poker games. This is a critical part of developing your poker mindset and mental fortitude.

Put Your New Mental Toughness Skills to the Test or Just Have Fun at BetMGM

Whether you’re a highly competitive poker player or simply enjoy playing a few hands of poker for fun, BetMGM is the place to play. BetMGM is an online poker site with everything a poker fan wants and needs. If you want to take part in some quick cash games or sharpen your poker skills in poker tournaments, BetMGM is the place to go. There’s an excellent range of casual and serious poker games available in three exciting variants: Omaha, seven-card stud, and the wildly popular Texas hold’em.

And, if you like to bet on more than poker, you’ll also be able to try your luck at online slots, table games, variety games, and even live dealer versions of many popular titles.

Register at BetMGM to play the best online poker and other exciting gambling experiences.

Actress Vanessa Hudgens flipping casino chips next to the text "The King of Casinos"
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Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.