Poker and golf are the ultimate mind games

Rory Brown - poker star

Pro poker player Rory Brown shares some tips. Good advice for golfers too.

In 2012 I met an Irish student and part time poker player called Rory Brown. We shared several things in common. He was interested in psychology and was studying for a masters degree in psychotherapy in Dublin.

Rory was also a talented golfer and we enjoyed playing together several times. It was whilst chatting at the bar that he mentioned he was a semi professional poker player. He was also successful and was able to fund his studies with his winnings.

As a mind coach I was fascinated to know more about the skills required. At that time most of my work involved helping tour golfers improve their game by working on their mind skills. It did not take me long to realise that the skills required in golf were very similar to the ones that Rory was describing about poker.

We spent many more hours exchanging ideas and experimenting with different techniques. In March 2013 we began to work together in a more organised way. I am pleased to say that Rory has really progressed and been posting some great results. He works incredibly hard, never stops thinking about the game and thoroughly deserves his successes. These include cashing over a million dollars and making multiple high profile final tables. Despite his rise to poker stardom Rory remains humble and grounded, and is one of the most genuine people you could hope to meet.

Rory has just finished reading a draft copy of my book Poker Genius. I am pleased to say that he liked it. He also wrote to me with these insightful comments.  He offers them freely to me and to other players in the hope that it will help them master this beautiful but frustrating game.

“There are rare moments in one’s life, when you are introduced to someone and you instantly know they will impact your life in a positive way. It was such a moment in my life when I was introduced to Dr. Simpson.

At the time I was in Portugal and playing quite a bit of golf. Myself and Chris Snape, the club professional, became good friends and we would tee it up together regularly. Having fun and with small wagers on the line to get our attention.

Chris had been working with Steve for some time on the psychological aspects of his golf game. With my budding poker career and psychology studies, Chris felt it was imperative I meet him.

So one day the three of us headed out for one of the most memorable rounds of golf I have played. Not that I remember my score, or a single shot I hit. It became clear to me from very early on that Steve had some knowledge I desperately wanted him to share with me. Doc, was incredibly interested in my poker career. As I explained to him how it worked I could see the cogs turning in his mind.

At that time my poker career was stagnating. I was trying to juggle my psychology studies while at the same time trying to win enough from poker to fund my studies. It was a very stressful time in my life. I thought I was doing a stellar job at hiding my anxiety and stress. That was until Doc saw straight through it.

We started making time for each other and working together. We tried lots of different techniques for my poker that crossovers from his knowledge of golf and sports psychology.

The parallels between poker and golf are strong. They are essentially, at the highest levels games of the mind. Much like in snooker, darts and archery. In golf, the athlete starts the action. This of course gives the athlete time to think. And time to think for an athlete is a dangerous thing. As pressure to perform is piled on, this time to think can ruin an athletes performance.

In poker, though there is no physical element. There is time to think. Endless time to double guess and let fear of failure cloud judgement. Poker is about a series of decisions. Though luck plays an obvious part, a player will win over the long term if they make the correct decisions.

It is when the pressure is on, be it a final table at your monthly game or at a major final table with millions of dollars at stake, that it can be extremely difficult to get a hold of ones own mind and make the correct decisions.

Taking one’s golf game from the practice fairway to the course is a well documented challenge. Taking one’s poker game from hand analysis and data to final table pressure is less documented but essentially the same psychological process.

In highly competitive sports, business and poker where the prizes for winning are so handsome it is hard not to be seduced by results based thinking. If you win you made the right decision, if you lose you did something wrong.

With poker, the element of luck or variance is so obvious that it’s hard to wrap ones head around it. Often you will be rewarded for making the wrong decision, likewise and much more scarring to our psyche, you will be punished for making the correct decision.

Luck and variance appears much more subtly in our everyday life. The only way to be successful is to free yourself from the result. Trust that you have done the practice and hard work necessary. And move from results based thinking to  process based thinking. I believe this to be the key to a happy life as well as success in poker.

These are lessons that I learned from Doc. I’m proud to say we have become good friends over the years and my poker, as well as all aspects of my life have improved from a shift in thinking.

What Dr. Simpson does, is get you thinking about the right things. Gives you the space to get out of your own way. To trust in the hard work you have put in. And to maximise your potential and performance. Good luck at the tables.”

Rory Brown - poker star

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