Legendary poker player, author and coach Tommy Angelo joins us this week for a discussion about his new book, Painless Poker. The book is focused on mental game and dealing with pain in poker, using an imaginary poker clinic featuring characters who embody seven archetypes of poker players. Inspired by a hand history that’s almost too painful to review, Angelo’s insight into dealing with pain transcends poker and delivers real life lessons.
Angelo based his new book on a spreadsheet he developed during his time as a poker coach, itemizing the many different “poker pains” his students were struggling with. The book tells the story of a fictional coaching seminar run by Angelo, wherein he works with each of seven characters who exhibit the various types of pain and methods of dealing with them. The book begins with perhaps the most painful hand history imaginable, which Shaw and Angelo go over at the end of the podcast.
From Pro Player to Coach
Angelo discusses his transition from professional poker player to poker coach, and how Painless Poker draws on the lessons learned in making that adjustment. Whereas Elements of Poker was more autobiographical and focuses on how to live an optimal, sustainable life as a professional poker player, Painless Poker focuses on lessons learned in Angelo plugging mental game leaks in his students.
“Everyone goes through the poker pain,” Angelo says of his gradual realization that as a coach, he was always helping students with similar issues around experiencing the hardships of poker.
Angelo points out the pain he talks about transcends the kind of run-of-the-mill pain you get from losing to a two-outer. Painless Poker is more about the pain we suffer when we’re not happy with something in our lives.
“The movement to painless poker and to a painless life,” Angelo says, begins with the understanding that any form of unhappiness can cause us pain in both endeavors.
After identifying that pain in all its forms has deeper roots in our unhappiness, Angelo takes his fictional clinic on a hunt to find the root causes of the unhappiness. He then wraps up the book with a chapter answering the question, “What can we do about it?”
Mental Game vs. Tactics
Angelo talked about the need to balance study of poker strategy and tactics with mental game. This is accomplished in the book by developing the seven fictional characters and illustrating the many flavors of poker pain they experience. Angelo answers the many questions lobbed at him by his students, and helps them work through their perception of the source and meaning of the pain.
We all bring our own different issues and experiences around pain to the game. Angelo says it’s not so much the specific type of pain itself that is important, it’s how we deal with pain in general. The latter part of the book focuses on mindfulness as a way to combat the negative effects pain can have on poker players.
For example, meditation can play a huge part in playing your A-game consistently.
“You really can analyze your meditation process in a quantifiable way,” he said, challenging poker player presuppositions.
“How many breaths are you aware of when you’re breathing in and breathing out?”, he asked, giving the answer of 1% for when he’s actively talking, but 50% at the poker table.
Angelo points out that, “We all suffer from the same suffering… the problem that we all share is that we want things to be different than they are.”
The way to undo that pain, Angelo says, is not to have everything be perfect. You have no control over that at this second. So you either can suffer the pain, or recognize the moment of unhappiness is sources from not having things be the way you want. Being mindful about this gives you the perspective to deal with tragedy and challenges with understanding and even humor.
“While the game forever changes, the pain remains the same,” he says.
The Most Painful Hand
“In 1995, I went down to St. Louis to play, crushed this pot limit game, went back the next week, crushed it again. Went back the third week with my entire bankroll, roughly $10,000. The most money I ever had. Took it down there, buying in for $1,000 or $2,000 at a time. Got all the way down to $1,000, built it all the way back up to $10,000,” starts the story of Angelo’s most painful hand of all-time.
In the hand, Angelo goes head-to-head with Quinn, a pro player that he respected highly. In 1995, there were no poker forums, no poker coaching sites, so understanding the setting is important. Quinn is incapable of bluffing big on the river — the pros didn’t do that back in the day, because it wasn’t needed. The play was much looser back then. It was not necessary to weather big swings to try to win the maximum, as you do today.
With Quinn in the big blind, Elvis puts out the straddle, and he’s playing his last $300. They’re playing on a river boat in St. Louis that docks in harbor at 4am, so players have to leave and stop playing by then. The hand Angelo reviews on the podcast takes place at 3:45am. Angelo opens with A3 of diamonds, a hand he’d normally fold, but he wants to mix it up with Elvis, who is a loose player, especially before closing time. He raises to $40, Quinn calls, and Elvis calls.
Angelo flops the straight flush, Quinn checks, Elvis bets $100 into $120. Angelo reasons a call will see Quinn fold and Elvis getting priced in to continue the hand versus his straight flush. Quinn raises to $400, Angelo puts him on a set or a worse flush. Angelo smooth calls, though he questions whether that might be the right play.
Want to know what happens next? Tune in to the podcast or pick up Painless Poker, because you won’t believe where this hand goes… Shaw even gives Angelo a quick crying break.
Picking Up Painless Poker
TommyAngelo.com has more info on the book, including excerpts. If you buy any print books, you get the eBook free. Type in “REDCHIPPOKER” into the bonus box, you’ll get $5 off any order. All print books on the site are autographed. You can also see Tommy’s Tweets at @thetommyangelo.
And lastly, check out the Red Chip Poker forum link, we’ve invited Angelo to come by and answer your questions, so if you’ve got something you’d like to discuss, please visit the forum now and post your thoughts.