GTO Poker Theories: How to force good habits

We all want to do good habits like exercise, study more and follow bankroll rules, but sometimes you need a 'Commitment Device'.

homer simpson
If you don't have the willpower, make it impossible to do the bad habit

One of the real gifts poker has given me is that it has been a great jumping off point to learn things from other disciplines like economics, AI, psychology and Game Theory. So here is a series of articles where I bring some of the most interesting things I have learned from other subjects outside of poker which are applicable in this game we know and love.

I’ve just finished reading a fantastic book called Atomic Habits by James Clear which is superb if you find the literature on habit forming interesting, especially if you have previously read the excellent The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. Poker players are often very high in intelligence but tend to struggle with bad habits when it comes to things like motivation, time management, study and so on (it’s precisely why they became poker players, to avoid these things in 'real jobs').

One of the tips the book advocates which I was already familiar with is a Commitment Device. This is a term used in Game Theory and Economics to describe a technique designed to stop yourself acting against your better judgement, by making it harder to not do the desired action (or at least make it painful not to do it).

For example, I have an application on my computer called Freedom which blocks social media in the morning and poker apps in the afternoon, to stop me procrastinating when I should be working. In the past I have also forced myself to improve my diet by allowing my wife to ‘fine’ me £20 if I eat popcorn (a particular temptation for me). Eating popcorn or checking Twitter are fun in the moment and it’s only later down the line that you see the drawbacks. Joining a gym, cooking healthy meals and freezing them in advance, leaving your credit card at home so you can’t overspend and even setting an alarm in the morning are all examples of Commitment Devices that take the willpower out of desirable habits.

Motivational bets and staking

Poker players have a history of some of the most outlandish Commitment Devices of all time - prop bets. Jaime Staples has perhaps the most famous of hundreds of weight loss bets, where the pain of losing money and public pressure of the bet helped him lose over 100lbs. Likewise Olivier Busquet is one of many pros who got in insane shape and learned MMA following a fighting prop bet. In that instance there not only money and public pressure, but also the fear of being beaten up, got him in fighting shape. 

There is another form of commitment device in poker which is not as harmful on the downside, and that is getting staked where there is a coaching arrangement included, like we do at SpinLegends. Poker players struggle to know what to learn or find the motivation to study, some have bankroll management issues and others have motivational issues where volume is concerned.

A good professional staking deal potentially irons out all of these problems. If the coaching side of things is included (and mandatory) then there is a very public pressure to show up and learn. Not only are you letting your fellow players down you are going to upset your backer, who is as interested in your improvement as you are. When you study on your own, nobody will look down on you when you play Xbox instead.

These staking deals usually have a volume requirement too, something you rarely are strict about on your own. Likewise there is a lot of social pressure not to play outside of your bankroll when you are backed (at SpinLegends we actually make sure the players use the ‘restrict buy-in’ feature to prevent accidental registrations but it also helps with sticking to bankroll rules).

While most people come to poker as an escape from a job or school, there is no doubt there are a lot of benefits to having a routine and structure that work or formal education provided. It sucks having a boss but sometimes you need a boss to get the best out of you. Sometimes you need the prospect of not following through on your plans to hurt a little so you stick to your gameplan. It’s not for everyone but if you are really struggling with a bad habit as a player, make it hurt to not act in your own self interest, with a Commitment Device.

Thinking about getting staked?


The most reliable way to force good poker habits into your life is by joining SpinLegends. We provide thebankroll, world class coaching, support and you also get to rail your fellow SpinLegends members.

As soon as you show promise we move you up in stakes and we even take variance out of the equation with EV Insurance.

What theories from outside of poker have helped your game? Let us know in the comments.


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Comments (1)

  • OldSchoolPapa


    Make your own schedule , use a timer , reward yourself at the end of the week when you followed it to the letter , do not reward yourself or private yourself from something you like if you deviated from your own scheduled plan and it will do it. Work in group, compare you stats with the average stats of the stake you play and with the best players of the stake you play. make a blog or write a personal diary that will keep you challenging yourself, getting scheduled habit and improving your overall behavior to see poker more professionally i think, that's it. Nice day everyone ;-)