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Poker Mindset Lessons Learned from ‘Ad Astra’ | Podcast #272


Sky Matsuhashi

on January 1, 2020

Ad Astra is a science fiction movie about a journey across the solar system starring Brad Pit and Tommy Lee Jones that doesn't contain any poker.  But, there's plenty for us poker players to learn from Pitt's cool, calm and collected character of Roy McBride.

Listen to this podcast episode:

Ad Astra is a Lesson in Mental Clarity and Calm Responses

Ad Astra is Latin for “to the stars.” The movie takes place in the not-too-distant future where we've sent manned spacecraft all the way to Neptune with the goal of contacting alien life. There's also a colony on the moon.

Brad Pitt plays Roy McBride, the son of the captain of the mission to Neptune 30 years ago.

You might be thinking, “What does a sci-fi movie have to do with poker?” Well, the plot and the action have nothing to do with poker.  But I loved the psychological evaluation with an AI psychologist that Roy goes through before any space travel or spacewalking mission. This is where I think we poker players can learn a lesson.

Roy's statement to the AI psychologist to prove he's mission ready:

I’m calm, steady… I slept well… 8.2 hours, no bad dreams.

I am ready to go, ready to do my job to the best of my abilities.

I am focused only on the essential to the exclusion of all else.

I will make only pragmatic decisions.

I will not allow myself to be distracted.

I will not allow my mind to linger on that which is unimportant.

I will not rely on anyone or anything.

I will not be vulnerable to mistakes.

Resting BPM 47, submit.

My ears perked up at this because every line is about mental preparations for a difficult and stressful activity.  So you can see how this relates to our poker sessions.  We must strive to be just as mentally prepared before we play poker. The ability to remain calm and collected through the session and stay in A-game mindset is critical to success on-the-felt.

We must strive to calmly weather the storm of bad beats, suck-outs, maniacs and terrible cards that are inevitable in poker.

Throughout the movie, Roy demonstrates a super cool and calm demeanor no matter how dangerous or stressful the situation.

Attacked by moon pirates in Ad Astra.

Ad Astra's Stressful Situations (spoilers)

There are 4 really stressful things that happen in the movie where an average person would freak out if they weren’t as calm and Zen like Roy McBride is.

1. Space walking

The beginning of the movie finds Roy space walking in low orbit on a huge antenna that’s blowing up and falling apart around him. He calmly completes his task and falls away from the antenna towards earth from miles up, deploys his parachute and safely lands like it ain’t no thing.

2. Attacked by moon pirates

He's attacked while traveling from the moon base to a secure military site. Moon rovers are blowing up around him and the mission commander is shot and killed. Roy pushes the dead commander out of the rover, takes the wheel while being shot at, radios-in to command to apprise them of the situation.  He does all this with another passenger in the rover. The entire time he's nice and calm; not freaking out one bit. He knows his business, knows what to do and handles it.

3. Infiltrating a ship

Roy’s trying to infiltrate a ship that is traveling to Neptune because they grounded him but he wants to complete the mission. Therefore, he enters the ship just as it’s blasting off and subdues the crew. Again, nice, calm and collected throughout.

4. Meeting his “dead” father

The last super stressful thing is seeing his father who is still alive. His dad doesn’t want to leave and commits suicide and almost takes Roy with him. This leads to Roy being stranded miles from his ship and must get to it to ride a nuclear explosion's blast wave back to Earth.  Again, he remains super calm the entire time. In other words, Roy's almost robotically doing what he needs to do to complete the mission.  He doesn’t let the fear of being billions of miles from earth and from help cause him to freak out.

Of course, playing poker isn’t as stressful nor as dangerous as anything involving space and what Roy went through.  But I think we can learn a lot from Roy’s pre-mission mental state and the psych evaluation he goes through.

Falling to Earth from the space antenna.

Roy's Psychological Evaluation = a Perfect Pre-session Mindset

I’m calm, steady… I slept well… 8.2 hours, no bad dreams.

Get enough rest before every play session. Of course, Roy with his life always on the line in space needs to be as well-rested and as focused as possible. There's very little room for error in space. Mistakes aren’t the end of the world for poker players, but we benefit from plenty of rest with enhanced decision-making abilities.

I am ready to go, ready to do my job to the best of my abilities.

This is exactly how we should be. Poker is a fun game and for most of us it’s not our job. But we want to succeed and take our opponent’s money, so we need to be ready to play our best. To achieve this you must focus your mind on the task at hand and pull the trigger on +EV plays.

I am focused only on the essential to the exclusion of all else.

So, what is essential for poker players to do before a session begins? Besides everything else on this list, you want to practice profitable table selection.  Always have a strategy to practice during the session, like improving your cbets or using HUD statistics. You must utilize all the information available to make better decisions than your opponents to earn their chips.

I will make only pragmatic decisions.

Pragmatic means “dealing with things sensibly and realistically in a way that is based on practical rather than theoretical considerations”. In other words, my goal for the session is to have a reason behind every play I make and I should see signs that I’ll achieve what I want with my actions.

I will not allow myself to be distracted.

It’s critical that we ditch all distractions before we play our session like Netflix, emails, training videos and SportsCenter. These things pull our attention away from the task at hand.

I will not allow my mind to linger on that which is unimportant.

Do not let yourself be results-oriented and dwell on lost pots or mistakes made.  Instead, only think about the things you can control.  The past can't be changed and dwelling on it only serves to take your focus away from what matters now; playing each hand to the best of your abilities. In other words, who cares if your AA just lost a full stack to JTo?  That should NOT have any bearing on the next hand you play. But it's easier said than done. Start each session with the plan to let bad results go to train yourself to do this.

I will not rely on anyone or anything.

I interpret this line to mean that whatever happens in this session is my own doing. I'm not a victim and nobody is in control of the way I play my cards other than me, so I’m responsible for my results.

I will not be vulnerable to mistakes.

This is something that still trips me up because I often replay mistakes in my mind and I get down on myself for making them. When this happens, my play in subsequent hands starts to suffer and then I’m in a downward spiral of bad play and a worsening mental state.  I'm better off just tagging the hand and studying it later to learn from my mistakes.

Resting BPM 47, submit.

This is a great reminder to me that I should strive to remain calm and collected at the poker table. As soon as my heart starts beating or I start to breathe heavy, that’s a sign I’m under stress. I need to take a deep breath, recite the action of the hand to remember how I got there and then try to make the best decision possible.

Take Action

Do your next 5 warm-ups with Roy’s pre-mission psych evaluation.  Here it is again, tailored for poker players:

As you recite this, feel for the truth behind each statement.  If one isn’t feeling true as you say it, make it so before you begin your session.

Now, I challenge you to take action!

Support the Podcast

John Dowling, Poul Hollensted and Katherine Rohlf picked up PokerTracker 4, the best poker tracking software.  I love it and use it everyday!  In appreciation, I sent them a copy of my Smart HUD for PT4.  With an ever-growing database of hands to study and all the helpful features, PT4 is the go-to software for serious poker players.

Nenad Blizanac and John Dulay bought the Smart HUD for PokerTracker 4 (and it comes with a 1.5 hour webinar!).  It’s the best online poker HUD in the business, and you can get the Smart HUD by clicking here.

Marko picked up How to Study Poker Volume 2 in PDF form because he's down to study and this book will show him how.  I run through 28 actual days of study I completed along 4 different topics and I show you how I use all the study techniques I taught in Volume 1.


Sky Matsuhashi

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