Johnny Poker Returns to Vegas — Part 1: Leaving for Las Vegas, Getting Into “The Zone”

WSOP Day1CloseupOf all the well-wishing emails, comments, and tweets I’ve received over the past 24 hours, only a critical one really stood out.

It came from my friend, Jim Fannin, a world-renowned mental performance coach, whose client list features an all-star team from virtually every major professional sport.  I didn’t realize until we spoke that he has also counseled plenty of famous poker pros as well, including one of my favorites, Phil Gordon, a pro who once placed 4th in the Main Event of the World Series of Poker (WSOP).

Jim was taken aback by my negativity in the email I sent friends announcing my trip to Vegas — I had written that repeating my final table finish from last year would be “an absurd implausibility.”  Jim let me know in no uncertain terms that this was the kind of attitude that could send me to the rail in a short time.

To help turn me around, Jim gave me a quick coaching session that was invaluable.  His mantra, to “clean my mind” and “stay in the zone” — a strategy that was brilliantly described by Tom Chiarella in this Esquire piece — requires me to wipe away all of my defensive rationalizations of sure defeat (Jim calls this my “safety net”), and focus instead on my ultimate goal — winning a WSOP bracelet.

Indeed, my un-coached visualizations from last year proved prophetic.  My goal — my dream — was to make the final table of a WSOP tournament.  Indeed, I did, but I was so crippled by my tiny stack of chips and sheer physical and mental exhaustion, that I was soon eliminated — in 8th place.  Of course, I couldn’t have been happier making the final table, but Jim urged me to think bigger this time and envision a championship.

Jim FanninSome other tidbits of advice from Jim Fannin:

  • Drink a ton of water.  I’ve heard this continually from my personal trainer (see below) and every medical professional that’s treated me; but constant hydration in the uber-dry Vegas climate, as well as with the mental challenge of 12 straight hours of poker ahead of me, will be critical to keeping my mind sharp.
  • Stay away from caffeine.  This seems counterintuitive — I credited Diet Coke with keeping me alert during the late hours of the grueling 4 day event last year.  But caffeine’s high also has very deleterious consequences:  It dehydrates you, clouding your mind; It has a boomerang crash effect once the caffeine wears off; and it keeps you from sleeping well to recharge the next day.  That sure was the case last year — on Day 4 last July, I was the walking dead.
  • Breathe deeply at the table, take brief mental breaks, and keep my jaw unhinged and relaxed.  Jim instructs that the world’s most successful performers think less thoughts than the rest of us.  Keeping my mind clear and focused on the present (definitely not the past) is critical to empowering me to trust my math skills and my intuition that served me so well last year.  As far as the jaw, Jim suggested that I think about how Michael Jordan stuck out his tongue on his greatest plays — he was in “the zone.”
Click here to review and purchase

Click here to review and purchase

Want more advice from Jim Fannin to empower your performance in any field?

Check out his latest book, The Pebble in the Shoe: 5 Steps to a Simple, Confident Life. I highly recommend it!



I’ve also sought counsel on how to stay in the best physical shape for the grueling week ahead.  (And yes, sitting for 12 hours, focused on cards, may be nothing like a day of painful physical labor, but for this broken down, middle-aged man, it is grueling!)

My personal trainer, and this Web site’s regular Thursday columnist, Josh Bowen, sent me the regime below for tomorrow morning, with a picture that will help me visualize my ultimate goal.  Between the visualization and the water recommendations, I think Josh and Jim are working in concert.

Join me if you like:



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