The Mental Game of Poker and the 'PLO Phase'

Several people, including Betfair Blogger Yorkypuds, have mentioned to us that they are going to use The Mental Game of Poker as a jumping off point to start a foray into playing PLO. Evidently their hope is that it will provide a solid emotional base to withstand the inevitable swings of the four card version of hold'em.

In principal, that is a great idea, and I like to think that the book can do just that. What I would say, however, is that most players should probably work on major mental game issues within their usual games initially before attempting to test them in uncharted waters. One of the things we strongly stress in the book is that you should work on your biggest leaks first before trying to develop new skills. You really need to work on the issues in your 'C game' before moving towards mastery, otherwise they are just going to show up again (and probably sooner and much worse in a game like PLO).

I think just about every poker player (myself included, several times) has had a 'PLO phase'. It is a bit like the poker equivalent of a mid life crisis, most players I know have attempted a different game when they are frustrated with poker – a change is as good as a rest. The ironic thing about most PLO phases is that often players are frustrated with the variance of hold'em, yet seem to think the way to remedy that is to take up an even swingier version of the game.

Of course not everyone has their PLO Phase because of frustration or variance; some just want a new challenge or see it as potentially very profitable. And for many, it isn't a phase, but the start of their new bread and butter game. Yorkypuds is a keen student of the game so I am sure he is fully aware of the swings about to come his way.

I guess the key thing I want to get across is that if you currently have a problem coping with variance in hold'em, work on that issue first until you know it has improved before taking up PLO for the first time. Variance itself doesn't cause mental game issues, it only amplifies them, so taking up a higher variance form of poker is only going to create more problems. I say this both as someone who has spent the last two years shadowing Jared Tendler, and also someone who has had their fair share of ill advised PLO phases.

Of course the nice flip side of this is that when you do have a really solid ability to cope with variance, you put yourself in an even better position to make money in the high variance games. Jared had a great article about a year ago about how often these highly charged testosterone fuelled games often comes down to the player with the best 'C game' and I think it's very applicable to PLO. 


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