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Performance mode or play mode? How to keep poker fun

Performance mode or play mode? How to keep poker fun

If you go and play a round of golf with a friend, you probably don’t expect yourself to play perfectly. Mistakes are going to happen, and that’s OK. You’re there to have fun.

Sure, you might beat yourself up a little when the round is over if you played a few bad shots, but then that’s what you expected going in. Ultimately, it’s about having a fun experience.

Poker is a little different.

Even when we play for “fun”, we often expect ourselves to play as close to perfect as we can, and when that doesn’t happen, we feel bad. After all, with learning resources like BBZ Poker out there for everyone to access, we’re all technically equipped to play great. In golf, we’re limited by certain physical factors. In poker, we’re only limited by how much we know (i.e. how much we’ve studied).

Poker players also tend to put a lot of pressure on themselves. Whether it’s a drive to make money today or a desire to play optimally and earn the respect of other players, we often play poker in “performance mode” rather than “play mode”.

Should “performance mode” always be our default, or should we sometimes experiment in “play mode” and have some fun?

This is a subject that BBZ Poker’s Performance Coach Frank Hamel recently covered in a Daily Seminar.

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Play and unstructured training

Hamel suggests that when we all started to play poker, we played for fun. We didn’t have expectations of success, we just fell in love with the game.

As we play in play mode, we go through unstructured training (i.e. getting better without technically sitting down to study).

What’s the role of play and unstructured training in our development?

  • It serves an important function in our early development
  • It establishes a range of cognitive experiences
  • It influences the ability to process information in various situations

But as time goes on and we begin to take the game (and the prospect of making money from it) more seriously, we enter performance mode.

Here, the purpose is to win and perform, not to improve specific aspects of our performance.

And that’s when we start to put a lot of pressure on ourselves.

“It depends on what your expectations are,” says Hamel. “Is your performance mode set to perform at the best of your capacities? Or is your performance mode not making any mistakes and playing perfectly? There are many nuances depending on your vision of performance mode.”

Hamel suggests that there’s an expectation in performance mode that you always need to know the answers to tough spots, but in play mode, you’re free of that expectation.

A BBZ student agreed, saying: “In play mode, I’ll try to fuck around in some spots to see what gives, but in performance mode if that same spot comes up and I don’t know what to do, it feels bad. In play mode, I try to learn from it but in performance mode, it feels like a failure.”

It’s just a matter of perspective.

Perhaps we need to change our expectations of what performance mode looks like.

Become a poker scientist

“Performance mode could just be to give it your all and try to make the best decision, but in situations where you don’t know the best decision, that’s OK,” says Hamel.

“Sprinkle in some play mode [from time to time] to free yourself and allow yourself to make some mistakes.”

Hamel mentions watching Jordan “bigbluffzinc” Drummond on Twitch. As head coach of BBZ Poker, Drummond studies poker more than he plays poker, so when Hamel watches him play on his Twitch stream, it’s almost like he’s in play mode. Trying out new things. Experimenting. Reaching new conclusions.

“Allow yourself to be a scientist,” says Hamel. “To try things out, make mistakes, create hypotheses and reach conclusions, whether it’s when playing or studying.

“I think it’s fine to be super structured with your routine and study, but sometimes it’s good to go back to playing with a sense of play, just to lower the pressure and gain some perspective.”

Poker doesn’t have to be so serious all the time. It can be fun as well. Talking with friends is a great example of unstructured training. You talk through things and people have different perspectives. There are fewer boundaries.

“Most of you probably started playing poker because it was interesting, fun and challenging,” says Hamel. “Without play mode and unstructured training, we’re left in a rigid competition mode where we want to win at all costs and not make mistakes which is not necessarily a fun mindset to be in.”

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