Being present for what is actually happening is always at the heart of everyone’s best performances.
It is a myth both pervasive and understandable in equal measure that doing the “Phil Helmuth” and acting like one is the greatest ever player is an attitude that will work best for you as a player. It is true that a degree of this attitude often held a little more privately is useful but for most of us, that’s where it ends.
Even Phil for all his bravado focuses more completely on hard work at the table and determination in his mental preparation particularly before and during a tournament than nearly anyone else more consistently.
Particularly during 3 series of the Premier League, it became clear the more time I spent with him that deep down he mostly gave himself credit when he deserved it and paradoxically he , even he , had more of that underdog mentality than you might think.
He connects with “white magic “ in my opinion as a way of showing respect to that which is greater than him and his determination to tune into that power makes him in some ways a spiritual vessel for the achievement of his destiny.
The more others do not respect his “special powers “ the more he uses that as fuel to show them how wrong they are. This allows him to embody one of the defining features of the underdog -that of always being on a journey of struggle rather than having arrived.
So how can we create our own version of being an underdog to inspire us to play our best?
Here are a few thoughts that might be useful to reflect on.
All of us are an underdog to win any tournament simply because only one person can win that tournament.
Each hand is a struggle to make the best decision as if we could see the actual hole cards of all our opponents and mind-read what they will do with them, we are an underdog to get this right all the time.
To adapt to new players and tables, to deal perfectly with bad luck and bad cards is a tall order.
To manage to move between our ordinary lives and become a fierce competitor when we play is extraordinarily difficult.
To attempt all of the above while keeping our spirits up and refusing to play fearfully is fucking difficult and frequently impossible even for the best in the world. Although few admit it and tend to hide behind the safe warm pseudo-security of mathematics.
Having an underdog mentality for me has characterised most of my best performances and it usually takes the form of three very simple aspects.
Firstly I have an attitude of respect for each opponent’s ability to have, at minimum, some qualities as a player that are better than mine.
Secondly, I regard each hand as a riddle worthy of my utmost attention to give me the best chance of defeating my dangerous opponents.
Thirdly, to achieve this I need to be present and work hard all the time as much as possible.
This results in there being no time for even a moment of not having an underdog mentality because I am always struggling.
There is the added bonus of it making the game more enjoyable as one is more fully engaged in what is happening now which is at the heart of both high performance and happiness in life.