How to Become a More Confident Poker Player
Becoming a more confident poker player means knowing the game inside and out. It also means knowing yourself to that same degree.
In this post, I’ll offer the best advice I can find on how to become a more confident poker player. Some of it also applies to becoming a more confident sports bettor, too.
What Is Confidence?
Before we talk about ways you can build up your confidence in poker games, let’s decide on a definition of the word.
According to the OED, “confidence” in this context means “a belief in your own ability to do things and be successful.” By this definition, confidence is a kind of belief in yourself, in your own surety, and in your own good qualities.
What Psychology Teaches Us about Confidence
I don’t like to depend on just one source, so I emailed my therapist and asked her for a more therapeutic definition of the word.
She said she thinks of confidence as two-pronged. Part of it is a belief in yourself and your own abilities, but a big part of it (in human beings) is a willingness to act on that belief.
I hadn’t considered that aspect of confidence before.
By her definition, poker confidence requires more than just smug certainty of your skills, but the willingness to act on what you know about the game.
She went on to say that confidence is a troublesome thing to pin down because it combines both thinking and feeling.
She identified positive confidence as the intersection between thinking about success and feeling successful. She says negative confidence often comes from the intersection of thinking about success while feeling unsuccessful.
Her final thought on the subject came in several hours later.
In it, she identified a third type of confidence. It’s the confidence in mediocrity that comes when a person is totally unconcerned with society’s definitions of success. That type of person doesn’t need to feel successful, so everything is in a kind of balance.
That balance, she says, traps people in mediocre jobs, bad relationships, and toxic thought patterns.
Here’s one way to gain confidence when betting on sports — take advantage of the promotional codes available out there. They’ll pad your bankroll just to get you started. Many of them offer online poker games, too.
How Lacking Confidence Affects Your Poker Game
Three things stand out when I think about the times I played poker without much confidence:
People who lack confidence lack the aggression necessary for poker success.
Good aggressive poker play pays off when you can force your opponent to fold a better hand. It also works when you’re best and your aggressive play gets you called. The poker metagame requires a confident aggression that’s hard to fake.
People who lack confidence fail at the psychological aspect of poker.
You can’t bluff or do any of the other 1,001 things poker players need to do mentally if you aren’t coming from a confident place. The cold sweat and other physical signs of anxiety are going to give away your weakness and lack of confidence
People who lack confidence tend to overthink things.
The old cliché “think long, think wrong” is valuable, especially when considering the question of poker confidence. Confident players act without too much thought. That comes from the physical and mental preparation confident players engage in outside the game.
These are just three ways having low morale at the poker table can affect your game.
It’s good to think of approaching a poker table the way you’d approach an animal. You can’t creep up anxiously on a horse and expect to jump on for a ride. You have to move confidently toward the animal, convincing it that you’ve done this before and you’re not going to hurt it.
Walk up to your next poker game like it’s a horse you’re determined to ride.
Better Poker Playing through Science
Can you use science to improve your poker confidence?
Yes and no.
Medical science has identified a few different compounds and treatments that seem to boost confidence.
Oxytocin, a hormone produced in the hypothalamus, is a chemical messenger closely tied to feelings like love, trust, empathy, and sexual excitement. Some patients given oxytocin report an increase in confidence.
You can’t use oxytocin to boost your confidence at the poker table. It isn’t approved for that use. Besides, the side effects (headaches, blurred vision, feeling unsteady) are unpleasant.
Two drugs that are approved for social anxiety disorder (Paxil and Zoloft) do seem to work to increase confidence in some patients. If you think your lack of confidence in poker comes down to chemical imbalance or serious shyness issue, it might be worth talking to your doctor about this option.
Most people probably aren’t willing to try to improve their confidence by altering their brain chemistry.
You can do like me and go see a therapist. Psychotherapy (talk therapy, counseling, or whatever you want to call it) can help tackle confidence issues.
After I called her for her take on this topic, my therapist offered help. She said she’d be happy to help me work through whatever poker issues I’m having. I felt like that was a subtle dig. She said we can work on those feelings, too.
Study the Game of Poker to Gain Confidence
Let’s put science and psychology away for a second and talk about three poker-centric methods for raising poker game confidence.
Study Great Poker Books to Boost Poker Confidence
Here are three great poker books you need to read right away if you haven’t already:
1 – Theory of Poker by David Sklansky (1983)
No book explains the concepts of the game better than Sklansky’s seminal text. If anyone was going to beat Theory of Poker, they’ve had forty years to do so. I haven’t found a better basic introduction yet.
2 – Playing the Player by Ed Miller (2012)
I think of Playing the Player as the next step after Sklansky’s book. Ed Miller’s 2012 book will teach you how to categorize your opponents methods and exploit their weaknesses based on that categorization. That’s putting it in a general way. Lots of great advice along the way geared toward cash game players.
3 – Applications of No-Limit Hold Em by Matthew Janda (2013)
Your biggest boost in poker confidence from this book will come from its coverage of hand ranges. Janda offers the best range vs. range analysis available in book form. This one is dense, spiked with lots of advanced math.
Watch YouTube Videos to Gain Poker Confidence
Not all poker studying means shoving your nose in a book. I like to create mental imagery of my poker success by watching great poker players doing their thing on YouTube.
It sounds corny, but as I’m watching these geniuses play, I’m imagining myself in their position. I take mental note of how they play and sometimes compare it to my own instinct.
How Playing Poker Builds Poker Confidence
It sounds obvious, but playing poker is probably the best way to boost your poker confidence.
And betting on sports is the best way to improve your confidence as a sports bettor.
In fact, playing poker could be soon as a great way to boost confidence in general.
People who struggle with math or think they aren’t good with numbers can use a growing poker skill to boost their confidence in their mathematics abilities.
It’s always confidence-building to gain new abilities and competence. As your poker skill improves, so will the confidence required to play the game.
Since so much of poker is about concealing and searching for deception, playing poker cash games boosts your belief in yourself. We don’t have many socially-acceptable ways to practice lying to people. Most of us have thankfully few chances to catch liars in the act. Poker provides that stage.
How to Fake Poker Confidence
If you’re feeling a lack of confidence, it may be worth it to try and fake it.
Your opponents can only judge your level of poker confidence by your body language, your conversation, and the way you play.
What does a confident poker player look like? There’s no fidgeting or shifty eye movements. The skin is normal in tone, there’s no flop sweat pooling and dripping down the face.
Learning to keep the emotion out of your voice will take time. A tight, high-pitched voice or clipped words and short sentence lengths are all dead giveaways that someone lacks poker confidence.
Confidence is a journey, not a destination. Short-term results are bound to be wonky. Improving your confidence will produce long-term gains.
In short, you’re not going to do a few confidence-building exercises and turn into a poker pro overnight.
So much of a game of poker is mental. Being a confident poker player means something more than knowing when to play and when to fold.