Interview with Expert Mental Game Coach Jared Tendler

Mental game coach Jared Tendler

Jared Tendler, MS, is the leading mental game coach in poker. Over the past 6 years he has coached over 300 poker players from around the world, many of whom are top professionals. The combination of earning a Master’s degree in counselling psychology, being a licensed mental health counsellor, and over 8 years of experience as a performance coach with golfers and poker players has given Jared a unique approach to helping players of all skill levels improve and exceed their goals. He has recently published his second book, called “The Mental Game of Poker 2”, which can be found here.

You can read our previous interview with Jared here.

Interview with Jared Tendler

Hey Jared, thanks for speaking to me again. How are things with you at the minute and what are you up to these days?

Hey Benny, definitely good to catch up with you and HSDB. Things are great, I'm excited to have the new book out and I'm getting married next week, so lots of exciting stuff happening.
It's amazing how it snuck up. I had a big motivation to get the new book done before the wedding/honeymoon!

Oh congrats! Sounds good.
So could you give a brief description of what we can expect in your new book and maybe even some of the new/key concepts that are covered?

Thanks. The new book is focused entirely around areas of the mental game that will take your game to a higher level and will help you to optimize your approach to the game. The zone and efficient learning are the two biggest areas of the book, and topics such as focus, decision making, mental endurance and discipline are also covered. Basically the first book (The Mental Game of Poker) was designed to get rid of the crap in your game, such as tilt, fear and motivational problems. The new book is designed to help you play your best possible poker.

For those who may be unfamiliar with your first book and were interested in those topics, where/how would you recommend they start?

If they don't have any big mental game leaks in the areas I just mentioned, then I'd suggest starting with book 2. If they're new to the mental game, unsure if they have big leaks, or actually have them, then I suggest starting with the first book. Ultimately, to be able to fully capitalize on the material in the new book you can't have any big mental game leaks.

Do you think that players are becoming increasingly aware of the mental side of poker these days, and do you think it is now becoming increasingly important?

Yes, and yes! When I look through the forums I definitely see players talking about it more, and clients that I work with are more often part of study groups where the mental game is being talked about amongst the members. It's definitely grown a lot since I first entered poker 6 years ago. As far as its importance, there's still a huge edge in this area of the game. Even though it's grown a lot recently, there are still many players who have yet to work as hard on their mental game as they need to.

Do you think that it is harder gaining an edge there now that more people are better in that area and aren't so leaky in it these days, and do you think that it now requires more work to gain an edge?

I'm not sure. While there are more players who are better in this area, there are a lot who aren't. In general, to really make improvements in the mental game it takes more work than most players realize. I saw a distinct trend in the comments made by players who really put the time into working on their mental game with my book vs. the ones who just read it. The ones who really worked at it saw the most benefit. So it does require work, and more than players realize.

Speaking of work, this book also has some interesting sections and worksheets for the reader to fill in, so that it's more interactive and personal. Why did you decide to include them in this book, and how do you think they might help the reader?

I'm constantly looking for better ways to communicate my material and help players make use of it. I got some good feedback for including the client questionnaire in the first book and was looking for sections of the book where I could offer something similar. Utlimately what these sections and worksheets do is make it easier to learn, evaluate mental game results, and track progress. Many people previously viewed the mental game as something that could be learned quickly. "If you tilt, well just don't do it.", "If you're not focused, just focus." I'm oversimplifying the advice, but that's essentially what a lot of it was. What I'm promoting is an approach to the mental game that looks at it as something that is learned, just like you would learn poker strategy. So the worksheets become a way for players to do that.

Sounds good. In the book you make an interesting point about the differences between learning while playing, learning in general, and learning to learn. Do you think that it is common that players are unaware of the differences, and what do you think that people may be doing wrong in their approach to learning? 

I do think it's very common. When I was growing up, at no point did someone teach me how to learn. The way that I learned how to learn was always by learning something - like golf, or calculus. But I never examined if the way that I was approaching learning those things was actually affecting the quality of how I learned them. I've since had hundreds of conversations with clients and people in all walks of life and most said the same thing. What are they doing wrong? In this case, they're not aware of how they're learning and the ways that their approach can be improved.

How do you think that people could improve their learning ability/technique?

That's what the entire 3rd chapter is all about. I cover the theories about learning as well as many of the most common mistakes. How to learn by teaching, how to eliminate current C-game, how taking vacations helps you learn. There are over 40 pages devoted to the subject. I don't think I'd be doing the chapter justice by picking out a quick tip, but the simplest way to improve your learning is to start by analyzing exactly what you're doing to learn, understand the natural/best ways that you learn and identify the biggest leaks in your learning.

At one point in the book, when talking about decision-making, you said: “Optimize your decision-making process by correctly judging what information to use, when to trust your gut, and how to avoid the limits of thinking." What did you mean by avoiding the limits of thinking?

That sentence is a summary of the decision making chapter. Essentially thinking is less powerful than intuition because intuition has the benefit of utilizing unconscious data that the mind has collected. I know this can sound a bit like BS, but I go into detail about the science behind this in the Zone chapter. This unconscious data is the information that fuels those decisions when you're in the zone and just KNOW what your opponent is holding, or just know it's the right time to bluff. However, you can't fully explain why that's the case. You can't access this level of knowledge by thinking. Thinking is a tool, but you can't think about unconscious data.

When talking about being consciously competent/incompetent, the book says: 

"The only catch is that in order to be skilled, you need to think about what you've learned - otherwise you'll return to being incompetent". 

So do you think that if a person doesn't think about what they've learned, not only will they not progress, but they will actually get worse and become "incompetent" at that particular thing again? And do you think that this statement applies to all aspects of poker and even other general mental concepts?

This theory isn't mine, and it applies to all learning, period. It's a fundamental way that the brain is designed. So absolutely, you can lose competence for something in your mental game that you've only recently learned if you aren't thinking about it. This is why so many players take big steps back in their progress when things are going well. They make a ton of progress, think they've mastered tilt, fear or focus, and then suddenly it pops back up. There's no randomness here. It popped back up because they simply had not mastered it. Until that point, if they aren't thinking or considering the areas of their mental game, or tactical game, or anything else that's being learned, they will be more incompetent and make mistakes.

Could you give our readers any quick tips or advice on how to avoid doing that, and possibly how to even turn it into unconscious competence?

Repetition is a huge factor. There's no way around it. This is why professional golfers spend hours on the driving range honing and changing their technique, why Tiger Woods said it took him 2 years back in 2005 to master his newest swing change. People underestimate the importance of repetition, especially in the mental game, and often stop focusing on something they're learning far too early. Work on it constantly, review sessions and look for progress. Prepare beforehand to make improvements by reviewing your strategy, to manage tilt for example. Look for new details or things you're learning. Write about it. Talk with friends. All of this equates to a lot of repetition away from the table, and it's designed to get a lot of repetition at the table where it matters most. Ultimately you have to be able to consistently apply this new knowledge (be it tactical or mental) at the table, consistently, otherwise you can't get it to unconscious competence.

Good advice. Have you been playing poker yourself lately, and if so how has it been going and are you learning anything from it?

I played at my Bachelor party, but I busted out in 3rd in our $20 buy-in tourny. I don't quite remember why I lost, I was probably a few drinks deep at that point!

Haha nice, sounds like fun.

Yeah it was!

And finally, do you have any other projects or concepts that you're currently working on, or anything upcoming?

Always. But for the time being I'm just excited about the book that just came out and my upcoming wedding/honeymoon. I need a vacation! We'll be away for a few weeks, and I can't wait.

Sounds good. Well thanks for taking the time to speak to us Jared, and enjoy your wedding and honeymoon!


Note: This interview took place on May 8th.


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