Discover how poker redesigns your brain to improve it

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Jeffrey | Poker Strategy

Once again Lee Davy leaves us a great teaching resolved by the best professionals answering your questions. Discover the power of poker in the brain.

Imagine that your son comes home one day and tells you: “I’m going to leave school to play poker”.

How would you act? Parents who love self-help books would hug their son and wish him well while swallowing and trying to prevent tears from sprouting.

The rest of the parents would throw him out of the house warning him not to return until he has learned that successful people in the world are not at the poker tables, but in hospitals, in the courts, in auditoriums or in banks.

It’s a card game, it’s not real life, you can’t live playing poker. At least that’s what the “responsible” people will tell you.

But, do you know what happens to your brain when you play so that when you sleep you see aces, kings and queens on many occasions?
These Learning and getting smarter? Is your brain functioning impaired? I do not know; I am not a doctor. But Stephen Simpson is.

From Africa to the world of poker

The last thing Dr. Stephen Simpson could think when he saw his whole arm bathed in blood while treating the wounded in the war in Angola and Nigeria, was in poker, where he ended up after a neck operation that forced him to take a sharp turn to your career.

In an attempt to escape from the office, Simpson began working with renowned hypnotist Paul McKenna and the sponsor of neuro-linguistic programming Richard Bandler.

Then, by accident, he started working in the poker industry with Liv Boeree, who contacted him to improve his mental game. Boeree subsequently recommended it to Chris Moorman. Both began working together and in less than a month Moorman took the victory in the LA Poker Classic of the World Poker Tour (WPT).

I know, it was all just luck, right? This win has nothing to do with Dr. Simpson.

“At the time I talked to Stephen (Simpson) and agreed to work with him,” says the world’s best online multi-tournament tournament player and 888Poker ambassador, “I was mentally sunk and probably was -EV in a tournament like the event LAPC principal”.

“It does not mean that I had forgotten how to play poker, but that at the time something went wrong or made a small mistake in the tournament, I would be totally unable to recover mentally and focus again”.

“Obviously, in a six-day tournament, it’s impossible play poker without making any mistakes, so it was essential to be able to reset my mind (in case this happens) to continue playing to the fullest”.

“Live poker has nothing to do with online poker, mainly due to the fact that you have a lot of time to think while you’re playing and until then I was totally unable to avoid thinking of previously played hands”.

Stephen gave me the tools to achieve this and thanks to him I was able to stay in my comfort zone much more than before. It helped me get rid of everything bad in my head, so that I could be 100% focused on playing my best game, maximizing my chances of doing well in the tournament. Since then, Simpson has worked with several other professionals, including PokerStars Team Pro member Igor Kurganov, serving his experiences to write his first book on the subject: Poker Genius – The Mind Secret of Champions.

Let’s ask the Dr. Simpson, ¿Do poker players increase their intelligence every time they sit down to play poker? ¿Can parents of crazy teenagers who want to focus on poker reassure themselves?

Poker, myelin and neuroplasticity

“When we perform an activity consistently, new neuronal patterns are created. The nerve fibers are surrounded by a myelin sheath”, says Dr. Simpson.

“This protects and nourishes the nerve cells. The higher the frequency at which these impulses are transmitted through this network, this myelin sheath becomes larger. This process is called myelination”.

“A good analogy is that of the copper wire. The bigger it is, the faster the electricity will conduct. The same thing happens with the myelin sheath”.

This means that the more we play poker, the more myelin we create. But what is positive about this?

“When we spend a large amount of time using a small number of neural patterns, brain cells have the ability to move from one function to another,” Simpson explains. “New extra cells are recruited in the brain to perform these patterns from other functional areas”.

Understood, this means that the brain is not fixed (established) from birth. It can change depending on our knowledge or understanding the information it receives and the experiences lived, a process called neuroplasticity.

How can poker players benefit from this? I ask myself this question and ask Dr. Simpson to describe some of the skills and knowledge he sees in his clients on a regular basis.

“The poker players who come to see me work very hard in their game. They are really committed and worried because they may have devoted too much time to poker, so they don’t leave enough time for other areas of their lives”.

“These may have high levels of concentration, which is pushed to the limit throughout the high number of hours of competition. In addition, out of necessity, they have learned to live with the possibility of failure and even of continued failure and with the dreaded tilt. As you know, they only have a 15% chance of entering prizes at an event”.

“The best players have learned to control their emotions, they have managed to avoid the great emotional changes, from euphoria to depression, which can occur in one hand”.

“The best mental state is the lack of emotion, but this is impossible to achieve. That said, the more you can get closer to this state, the easier you will have to use your mental and physical resources when they are required”.

“They also develop their intuition skills to a very high level. Intuition, by definition, is intangible. The harder you work to improve it, the harder it is to find it”.

“I use EV and GTO in everything I do”
¿How can these skills be transferred to daily life? I have spoken with two exceptional talents to give me their opinion.

“Poker has helped me substantially in my decisions, improving virtually every aspect of my life,” says Phil Galfond, founder of RunitOnce.

“Learning to see the average result of everything (EV) and avoid thinking only of the results obtained in a particular case must be indispensable requirements for any adult. Although these concepts can be learned without the need to play a poker hand, there is no method as effective as this”.

This is a very bold statement, is there any way to support this claim?

“For example, if I am in London during the day and to return home I can take the train or the taxi, but the taxi is three times more expensive, the normal person will think that the train is EV +”.

“But the truth is that the taxi, where I can write an article, respond to emails or watch a video, is for me the GTO option (optimal game theory). People underestimate the importance of their time”.

A very fine border

Does poker have any negative points? Dr. Simpson points out that “I am afraid that sometimes they spend too much time on poker”.

World Poker Tour (WPT) Champions Club member, Chanracy Khun, comments on the point mentioned by Simpson.

“Playing poker a lot, has a negative aspect. The majority of online players who play a lot in multi-table develop a kind of attention deficit disorder that I didn’t have before starting to play, making it difficult to focus on a single task without getting bored or distracted, “says Khun.
“Most of my peers, including myself, find it difficult to stay tuned for a simple and repetitive task, such as staying focused on a live tournament without using the phone, as it is also difficult to organize time, to be able not to lose things, etc”.

I asked Dr. Simpson his opinion on Khun’s words:
“If you are totally focused and involved in a simple activity that also We enjoy, it can become obsessive and even compulsive. When this activity also carries a reward, then it reinforces the attitude, creating a vicious circle”.

“Playing at several tables at the same time increases the number of reinforcements, which increases the compulsion. For the obsessive (or obsessed) player, playing at one table will never be as stimulating as doing it at several at the same time”.

“The line that separates compulsion (attraction) and addiction is very fine, so all players should be aware of these risks. Once an addictive attitude towards poker is acquired, the difference between receiving a reward or not becomes minimal”.

“This behavior will continue despite having a high amount of losses, with the consequences that this brings”.

Resort to others

What I have learned is that there are many benefits of playing poker since the more you play, the more myelin is produced around our nerve cells.
This is good because it allows us to accelerate the learning process until we manage to dominate the game.

The myelination process created by playing poker also accelerates our attitude of responsibility and our improvement in game skills, as well as in life, as Dr. Simpson comments and Phil Galfond and Patrick Leonard demonstrate.

But we need to be careful because there is a thin line between the need to dominate the game and fall into addiction or compulsive attitude, as Khun and his teammates recognize.

If you are a recreational poker player who is reading this, what conclusions would you draw from the writing? Let Dr. Simpson offer us his last words.

“The best way to accelerate growth in any aspect of life is to expand it and share it with others. This is the reason why professionals and the best in any area have coaches and even their own personal trainers also have coaches. I know it needs more time to learn from mistakes themselves”.

If you want to increase your myelin, find someone to enjoy learning with. If you plan to delve into the wonderful discovery of the poker world, make sure you have a good coach.

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