Lee Davy sits down with Jared Tendler to talk about his recent appearance on the BBC, get the lowdown on the progress of his most recent book, and to talk about downswings.
I kept running into poker players in the midst of their worse downswings during the World Series of Poker (WSOP). Shannon Shorr, Matt Ashton, and Dylan Hortin were three of those people. I sat down with Mental Game Coach, Jared Tendler to see if we could dig around and come up with some advice for the three of them.The interview is a hour in length. What follows is an abridged version and I recommend you find the time to listen to the audio. We talk about having a family and how to manage the balance of work, rest and play. Then we get into the topic of his recent appearance at the BBC, and his struggles completing his latest book.
The transcript below focuses on a portion of the interview where we talk about downswings. I want to stress that neither Shannon, Dylan or Matt had any input into this interview and all of the opinions shared are Jared’s or my own.
Shannon Shorr told me that the most difficult thing to accept about his downswings was that it came at a time when he had worked on his game the most. Jackie Glazier told me a similar story before the WSOP. What’s your view on this?
“Athletes have an easier time seeing the challenges that come when you make big changes or work very hard on your game. It’s a physical thing. A golfer changing his golf swing for example. I am inferring that when you talk about Shannon’s and Jackie’s situations they were adapting their game and trying to make improvements.
“The thing is that is a really complex and hard process to undertake and poker players in particular underestimate how challenging that is. You need to get that new knowledge to a level where you can autmoate it so it becaomes relativelt intuitive, or instinctive and fairly autmoatci and that takea a long time.
“You put in all of this work, and especially if you are talking about complex stuff, if they are working hard work 10+ hours a week for a month straight. Then it’s going to take you at least several week’s even a month or longer to feel competent about that stuff in applying it What about week 2, 3 & 4 stuff? Now you have reverberated six weeks of content that needs to be absorbed into your game and become fairly automatic.
“If you are doing that and expecting things to click into place, it’s difficult for your mind to absorb all of it and then also deal with the bad run. A mistake a lot of players make is making an assumption that the work is going to immediately payoff, and they make the mistake of learning too much and making too many changes in their game. It creates more difficulty in understanding what it is you need to be doing to improve your game, not just improve it in terms of your conceptual understanding off the table but in your ability to apply it.
“You are faced with so many unique situations and when you make changes to parts of your game it has a ripple effect to other areas of your games. I would caution people just in general in how much they undertake. If you are talking about minor adjustments to your game then fine but if you are talking about larger conceptual upgrades you have to look at it as if you are a top athlete.
“Back in 2003 Tiger Woods undertook his second major swing change. He said it took him two years to make that swing under the pressure of a major championships without having to think about it. We are talking about one of the hardest working athletes around, two full years to change his motor pattern to a point where it was automatic.
“Poker players have a similar mechanism that occurs. It’s difficult to compare physical stuff to mental concepts but just think about the complexity of what it is you are learning, try to get an understanding how long it will take to master that stuff and don’t add more because you are enjoying the process of studying and opening your game up unless you are ready to spend 6 months to a year honing and mastering it, playing lower stakes, fewer tournaments/cash game sessions, timing them where you have a heavy study week, three weeks of play and use the play as a point of feedback.
“Tiger doesn’t have to deal with the variance in poker. Maybe it would take him four years if he was making that kind of swing change dealing with the variance that exists in poker.”
What advise would you give to players to help them prioritise what to work on?
“One of the good things about a bad run is it helps to expose core weaknesses that exist. If you view it that way and you’re inquisitive and curious about what your weaknesses are, and I remember seeing a tweet from Shannon saying the downswing was making him feel insecure and he saw it as a personal development opportunity. That was really cool, because it is.
“On a personal, or a poker level, you can look at a downswing as an opportunity to notice where your fundamental weaknesses are. That’s a core tenent of my new book. You have to be able to be upgrading your worse and making it better and making it good enough so its automatic.
“The last two players who made the November Nine I worked with. I won’t go into specifics but the roadmap is we figure out every one of their core weaknesses and we make them a non-issue at the final table IF we do that is becomes easy to get them peaking.
“During a downswing it’s a great opportunity to understand core weaknesses. That should be your main priority. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be the thing that takes the most time to work on because you know the stupid things that you do. It’s the obvious stuff, but the fact it’s happening means it needs to be corrected because there are mistakes you used to make that you are not making and you need to do the same with these new weaknesses. I think it makes development very simple in my mind.
“On top of that, how you wade through your B+/A- game so you know what to improve? That’s the art form. That’s the challenge you have as a competitor to understand where your game is heading. What’s interesting to me is how much clearer it becomes when your big weaknesses start to improve. Your mind opens up and is able to improve your A or B game with greater clarity because you have more brain capacity. The essence of automation and making them a non issue, automatically correcting them, means you are taking things out of your thinking brain, and giving you more space to think about the next set of challenges.”
What’s your view on vulnerability and how willing to be vulnerable could help improve a player’s game?
“Vulnerability is an interesting word. I have been thinking about it a lot recently. I don’t like the word. I say that because the word, for many people who hear it including myself, there is something implied about it that’s negative. Having a weakness is a functional reality for everyone. When you think of a vulnerabilty it’s a more convulated and complex way of saying weakness and I don’t know if it helps people learn as efficiently as they could.”
I see vulnerability as a core strength
“When you have an understanding that weakness doesn’t mean something bad as you do…when you are saying vulnerability in this concept it means you are open to your weaknesses. Words are just useful tools to better understand things. To me the way vulnerability has been used is a self help industry type of way. For guys, it’s made it more convulated and compex because it’s really about understanding you have weaknesses and if you don’t understand them they are going to become a bigger problem. Having weaknesses is not a problem but many people view it that way.”
Are you saying that vulnerability is an emotion and its easier for your coaching if people remain in the logical space?
“Yes, that’s correct. That’s my style in general. I take things and make them logical and orderly. A lot of guys are like that. If vulnerability makes sense to you then great, but to me it implies there are weakness surrounding your weaknesses and nobody wants that.”
Shannon talked about being embarrassed about his behaviour at the table. Andrew Lichtenberger has brought a zen like attitude towards the table of late. I believe Shannon could learn from that. A poker player told me that he believes Lichtenberger’s spirituality bears no relationship to his results and that he has always been an exceptional player. What’s your view?
“I don’t choose people’s goals. When they come to me for help or are looking to problem solve the direction I am going to take them is the one we spoke today. For Shannon, the embarrassment is a symptom of a deeper root of a problem and we need to figure out what that is. We need to figure out what that is. It’s not shameful there is nothing wrong with having that type of reaction because its incredibly common.
“It’s impressive the openness to be able to talk about that and the next step is what are we going to do to fix it. We are going to better understand that emotional reaction. It’s only through a downswing where those reactions emerge. When things are going well it’s hard to improve your core weaknesses because they don’t show up unless you are super tuned in to what they are.
“The challenge of learning when things are going well is different to learning when things are not going well, and that’s the road I would take Shannon down. It doesn’t have to be a spiritual thing to recognise the root of your embarrassment. They could be do to high expectations of yourself, something personal that happened to you years ago that you never got over, there are a lot of reasons for it, whatever they are their yours and we need to figure out what they are.”