All poker players want to improve their skills and thus their chance of success. But what is the most effective way to go about such study? Reading the forthcoming Purposeful Practice for Poker is a good place to start.

Appearing this July, Purposeful Practice for Poker: The Modern Approach to Studying Poker by Dr. Patricia Cardner and Gareth James provides readers advice about the “right sort of practice” to start improving their games.

In Purposeful Practice for Poker, Cardner builds on her work in her earlier books Peak Poker Performance and Positive Poker. As in those books, this new one similarly finds Cardner sharing her expertise in psychology (in which she holds one of her two doctorates), as well as what she’s learned from her work as a licensed professional counselor and her experience at the poker tables where she’s collected six figures’ worth of tournament cashes.

This time Cardner has collaborated with tournament poker coach Gareth “Gazellig” James to provide players concrete advice for how to make the most out of their study in order to improve their games. In the book, the pair present and explain the concept of “purposeful practice” and how it can apply to poker, including outlining numerous techniques and exercises to help poker players build their own plans for improvement.

Here’s an excerpt from the book describing what psychological assets help poker players to develop the necessary “grit” to achieve long-term goals in poker.


The Four Psychological Assets of Gritty Poker Players

It is possible to learn and develop our grit and according to [psychologist Angela] Duckworth, there are four psychological assets that will help you do that. They are: Interest, Practice, Purpose, and Hope.

In order to follow your passion, you first have to start off with an interest in something. Having an interest is what encourages you to go deep with something and passion grows in relation to nuance. When you look at poker on the surface, it might only mildly interest you or you may just be enthralled with the money. But if you cultivate your interest and dig a little deeper, you’ll find that there are many subtleties and exhilarations to study. There are so many facets to a game as complex as poker and the only way to start understanding and appreciating the nuances is to go deep and stick around for awhile!

Once you’ve found your interest, the next psychological asset is practice. One of Duckworth’s earliest studies on grit was with National Spelling Bee champions. She found that the winners practiced more than their less gritty competitors. Extra hours of practice ended up explaining most of the variance in their superior performances. If you want to enhance your grittiness for poker, think about how much you are currently practicing and studying. Could you be doing more? Are you interested in excelling beyond your current level? Do you have a persistent desire to be better?

The research is unequivocal on one point. The proper type of gritty practice to use is purposeful practice. Remember that to undertake gritty practice you want to set a stretch goal where you zero in on one aspect of your overall performance that you want to improve. You are looking for your Achilles heel and when you purposefully practice you give your full undivided attention and great focus to fixing and improving your leaks. Get feedback on what you are doing wrong and continue working to improve. This type of practice is effortful and not particularly enjoyable, but it is necessary. Purposeful practice is about going into problem solving mode, analyzing everything that you do in an attempt to bring it closer to your ideal outcome.

Purposeful practice needs to become a habit if you want to get the full value out of it. All experts are creatures of habit. Developing a routine for practice will make it easier to complete — especially when your practice tasks are difficult to do. Learn to embrace the challenge of purposeful practice. It can take years and years to become a fully optimized poker player, so you might as well enjoy the journey!

The third psychological asset of gritty people is purpose. Gritty people tend to talk about their passions in terms of purpose. The long days of toil and struggle need something to undergird them. Most research shows that gritty people view their pursuits as a calling. They are engaging in the long slog to expertise for some reason outside of themselves. Whether it is to contribute to their families, a special cause, or even to advance their sport, gritty people perceive some higher calling. How about you? What is your purpose? How can you becoming a better player benefit society (or your family or community)?

The fourth psychological asset to grit is one we have already talked about earlier and that is hope. Duckworth says that grit depends on a certain type of hope. The hopeful gritty person believes that tomorrow will be better because of their efforts. She says suffering does not lead to hopelessness. It is suffering that we think we can’t control that leads to hopelessness. The best way to keep a hopeful mindset is to think about what you can learn from setbacks and disappointments. When you keep searching for ways to improve your situation, you are likely to find them. It is also infinitely easier to be hopeful when you have a growth mindset. It is possible to get smarter if you have the right opportunities, teachers, and a belief that you can do it.

So as you can see, if you want to become a grittier poker player, you need to develop your four psychological assets: interest, practice, purpose and hope. If you are not as gritty as you’d like to be think about what you can do to increase one or more of the four assets and that should get you started in the right direction.


Purposeful Practice for Poker is available for pre-order in paperback and as an e-book at D&B Poker.

D&B Publishing (using the imprint D&B Poker) was created by Dan Addelman and Byron Jacobs 15 years ago. Since then it has become one of the leading publishers of poker books with titles by Phil Hellmuth, Jonathan Little, Mike Sexton, Chris Moorman, Dr. Patricia Cardner, Lance Bradley, Martin Harris and more, all of which are available at D&B Poker.

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