Jared Tendler would like a word with us.
Tendler, author of the “The Mental Game of Poker” and its follow-up, “The Mental Game of Poker 2,” is something of a lone voice in a wilderness of process-focused poker experts, pros, gurus, and writers. Love of process, Tendler writes, has become an overwrought obsession, and needs to be rolled back.
“The shift toward process-oriented goals in general is a good thing, because it has forced players to think more about the aspects of their mental and tactical games that actually lead to their long-term success,” Tendler wrote in a June 2013 article on PokerNews.com. “However, I think this has gone too far.”
Poker’s unavoidable variance – a trait it shares with its cousin, daily fantasy sports – requires a good amount of attention on process, Tendler writes. It’s when results are completely ignored that poker players can miss a key element of a winning strategy.
“By minimizing the importance of results, players have unknowingly taken away a critical element that feeds motivation and direction,” he writes. “If your only goal is to play the best you possibly can, it is very hard to define whether you did, and you can easily mislead yourself into believing that you did.”
I pray at the alter of process, as you’ve read, and as you likely know if you read my in-season fantasy ramblings and follow me on Twitter, so Tendler’s bold talk of results were an affront to my very existence as an avid player of re-draft and daily fantasy football.
I made all variety of noises – groans, grunts, snickers – as I read through Tendler’s articles, wondering how such a well-informed poker writer could be so very wrong on the issue of process and results.
I turned it over in my head a few times before I drifted off to sleep that night. Then I considered Tendler’s central points while I rode the D.C. Metro to work. His writing had latched onto my thoughts and wouldn’t let go, and I think I know why I couldn’t flush it out of my overactive brain.
Every Sunday and Monday night, like clockwork, some of the most dedicated, knowledgeable daily fantasy players come together on Twitter to informally hash out what they did right and what they did wrong with their various lineups. I take away a lot of useful feedback from these exchanges.
It’s my hope that I can learn from other’s mistakes and take note of their successes, just the way I do in my own daily fantasy management.
This back-and-forth chatter, however, sometimes degenerates into what Tommy Angelo calls a grey area, and that’s where the importance of results come into play.
Angelo, in “Elements of Poker,” writes that even the best poker players won’t always know if their process was true, unerring, or at least logical. How do we know for certain that raising on that one hand and calling on the other was the absolutely correct thing to do? How do we know that folding, though it hurt, was the right move?
In daily fantasy, how do we know that fading that receiver used in almost half of that week’s lineups was the right move, even if that receiver goes for 100 yards and a score?
How can we know for certain that plugging in that quarterback with the bottom-basement DFS salary against the league’s worst secondary was absolutely the correct way to go, even when that signal caller ends his day with 190 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception?
Angelo writes that in the aftermath of a seemingly good decision gone awry, “we can expect intelligent, elaborate debates with both sides insisting theirs is the right side. We can also expect to debate with ourselves and to second-guess ourselves. In the central grey area is where we are most likely to torture ourselves with the question: Did I get it right that time?”
Becoming obsessed with the process of poker or daily fantasy can also be bad for our mental health, as ruminating on what exactly went wrong – or even what went right – can trick us into thinking there is a correct answer for every scenario, no matter how firmly entrenched in that grey area.
You want to know, one way or another, if your play was right or wrong. … That’s a mistake. Just by thinking like that, about right and wrong, you are making a mistake. If you play a hand, and you face a close decision, and then you write about it or talk about it, I think that’s great – seriously. Or if you talk about hands other people played, same thing. All good. But be careful. Don’t fall into the grey area’s trap. Don’t burn up valuable energy and waste precious sanity. Don’t assume that just because you have an answer, and just because someone else has a different answer, that one of you is right and the other is wrong. … I believe it is correct to believe in unknowables. Analyze, evaluate, ponder, and then let it be. Resist the grey area’s mind-snaring entrapments. When you examine a betting decision, yours or someone else’s, at the table or away, on your own or with others, remind yourself that debates point to close decisions, and that close decisions matter least, and that the answer is sometimes unknowable.
The aforementioned Sunday and Monday night Twitter commiseration has its purpose, to be sure, but I wonder if it sometimes becomes a collective effort to convince each other that our decisions were correct, as Tendler writes. I wonder if these conversations are really just headfirst dives into the grey area that Angelo warns about in “Elements of Poker.”
Our emphasis of process over everything, in the end, might cripple us if we view daily fantasy football through the narrow scope of process, with results thrown out of sight.
Are we capable of misleading ourselves into thinking that our processes were fine, when they clearly weren’t?
I believe so, and in hindsight, I know I’ve done this in my DFS undertakings. It’s so much easier to shrug your shoulders on Monday or Tuesday morning and write off that week’s failures to the machinations of luck. It’s only luck, we think, that can foil our best-laid plans; it’s never that our best-laid plans were really quite mediocre.
Tendler points out that every poker player, no matter the skill level, needs a way to judge their decision making, and results cannot be tossed out of that equation.
“Results goals are essential because they determine an end point,” he writes. “Process goals are essential because they determine how you’ll get there. The two work together.”
I wouldn’t disagree with this, and here’s why: when you leave your Friday night poker game with empty pockets and a belly full of angst, or when your daily fantasy bankroll is gashed for the third straight week, you likely won’t be able to walk with your head up, proud of your process.
You may have employed a fantastic process, but you have no end point without some attention to results, as Tendler writes.
There is a balance to this process-results paradigm. Striking that balance separates the long-term winners from those who get lucky – using bad process to achieve good results – and mistake themselves for winners.
The above is an excerpt from “How To Think Like A Daily Fantasy Football Winner,” due out on Amazon and iTunes May 30. C.D. Carter released “How To Think Like A Fantasy Football Winner” in 2013.