Waitzkin’s “The Art of Learning” for poker

I recently read “The Art of Learning” (http://www.joshwaitzkin.com) was very impressed with the concepts Waitzkin used to reach the pinnacle of both Chess and Martial arts.

For those who haven’t heard of Waitzkin, he was a child chess prodigy made famous by the film “Searching for Bobby Fisher”. He competed in Chess worldwide and won his first national championship at the age of nine. Later in his life he became interested in Tai Chi and became world champion. He put’s his success down to his philosophy of learning rather than innate ability.

I believe some key points from his book can be transferred to poker,

Creating an enhanced mental state for competition

Creating a soft zone (an enhanced flexible mental state for when you are competing) and being able to trigger this state at will was a key factor in Waitzkin’s success. He trained himself through meditation and the use of music al triggers to enter this state whenever he was starting a tournament. He also focused on re-shaping the emotions of competition into creativity and stamina.

It’s important to warm up mentally prior to starting your session, to put yourself in this competitive zone. To start a session distracted or unfocused can have a huge negative impact on your game. It’s interesting that this concept can also be seen it Jared Tendlers “The mental Game of Poker” and “Positive Poker” by Dr Cardner it seems that mental game coaches agree pre-session meditation will improve performance.

Stamina and recovery

It’s obvious that recovery and stamina are important when competing in martial arts , but at the Chess/Poker table? Waitzkin believes that being physically fit gave him an advantage at the chess table. He was able to keep his mind alert for longer and recover faster during short breaks ensuring he was always at the top of his mental game even in long sessions.

He did this through interval training in the gym, sprints followed by ever shortening recovery periods rather than a set distance run. Utilizing this method his heart rate recovery improved and he was able to recover both mentally and physically in shorter breaks during tournaments. This creates a huge advantage over opponents who lacked the same recovery capacity. They returned to the table still fatigued and their drop in concentration was open to exploitation, by a more mentally and physically refreshed opponent.

Imagine longer poker sessions, with a fresh clear mind and what that could do for your bank roll.

Love of the game

Waitzkin talks frequently in the book about his love of chess, and how the support and methods of his teachers and parents allowed his enjoyment and respect for the game to grow.

Waitzkin’s early game was fine tuned by a teacher who allowed him to develop his own style rather than adapting a formulaic/classical approach to chess. By being able to show his personality through his chess very little internal conflict was produced. A happy player trains harder and more frequently and learns more.

It’s important to enjoy your poker, you should want to sit at the table or computer and you should be excited pre-session. Keeping your interest alive will help you evolve your game. This will be easier to achieve if you develop a style of play that compliments rather than contradicts your personality.

I have only touched on a tiny amount of the information in Waitzkin’s book. He has views on the concept of “incremental learning”, the stress of competition and general advice on competing at the very highest levels of a sport.

I recommend you read his book and integrate as many of his concepts into your poker game as possible. This book has given me more tools to use in helping players to improve their poker and I’m sure the results will be visible soon.

About the Author Elliot Roe

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