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Mind, Body and Soul With Dr. Stephen Simpson

I have interviewed a lot of poker players, and invariably I am thrusting a camera into their face just after they have won something.

My most common questions are: “What are you doing differently? Where did this string of results come from?”

The generic response is: “It’s just variance.”

But is it really just variance?

When Chris Moorman finally got that 300lb Gorilla off his back by winning the World Poker Tour (WPT) LA Poker Classic, was it variance, or was it something else?

I think it was something else.

Three weeks prior to Moorman’s victory, Dr. Stephen Simpson flew out to Vancouver, Canada to start a series of sessions with the world’s most successful online tournament player in the history of the game.

Three weeks later, Moorman won a million dollars in that LA tournament.

I was fortunate enough to spend some time with Dr. Stephen Simpson, and this is what he had to say.

What’s your story?

“I am a Doctor who enjoys his work, and is very happy. I spent most of my time working in Africa. Seven of those years were spent working in the civil war in Angola, and four years in Nigeria – both hot spots in different ways.

“My job was to provide medical care of an international standard to people living in rural environments, where generally speaking, they didn’t have access to the best medical care.

“Then I suffered a personal accident and injured my neck. I was judged medically unfit for emergency response duties. I was put in an office in London. It didn’t suit me, and I started to wonder if there was more to life.

“I went to Brazil on a holiday for a few weeks and I forgot to pack my book. I went into Smiths, at the airport, and bought a book by Paul McKenna called I Can Change Your Life in 7 Days. It was the only book I had so I rationed it to a chapter a day, and when I came home I realized what it was I wanted to explore, and hopefully spend the rest of my life doing, and that was working with people with their mind skills.

“I got hold of Paul McKenna and did a lot of training with him. I now work with him as one of his trainers when he has one of his events. I work with people like Richard Bandler, the co-founder of NLP, and more recently with a couple of doctors in New York who have this psycho-sensory technique called Havening. McKenna describes it as the greatest breakthrough in psychology in one hundred years.

“What used to take months to cure can now be done in minutes in most cases: PTSD, trauma, pain, depression and many more disorders.”

“From what I have seen I’m not saying he is wrong. It’s a great way of dealing with post traumatic stress, anxiety, confidence, and a fast way into the zone and positive thinking; creating dreams and hopefully making those dreams come true.”

How did you get into poker?

“It wasn’t an ambition of mine. Four years ago, I met an Irish lad called Rory Brown, and we played golf together. He had studied psychology and was going through a psychotherapy course in Dublin. We became friends and would spend time talking together. This is when I learned about this crazy world called poker.

“The last time I saw him, some time last year, he took my card. He was playing in Amsterdam and was talking to Liv Boeree. She told him she was tempted to see this mind coach in the States. Rory gave her my card, and I got a call from her. I went to see her and we did a bit of work together, and then she had a run of very good results. Liv was speaking to Chris {Moorman} about me and then that’s how I got speaking to Chris.”

There is a slogan on your website that says, make your own luck today. How do you make your own luck?

“I am writing a book on that at the moment, so my ideas are at a fairly early stage, but there are some common themes that come through. Generally, people who have a great outlook on life tend to consider themselves to be luckier than the average person, and when the scientists study them they come to the same conclusion. That’s a way to make your own luck. If you have a more positive outlook; have more friends, have a great network, see opportunities, and the confidence to try things that take you out of your comfort zone, then you will increase your chances of being lucky.

“Another theme that runs through successful people is they have very clear ideas on what they want to achieve in life. I call it visualization. When I work with a client, for the first time, I usually ask them, ‘what is it you want?’ And the way they answer that question usually gives me an indication of how they will react to my methods. Also, to an extent, how successful they will be at achieving what they want. Then, often when you go through a coaching journey with a client, what they want changes quite dramatically.

“Gut feeling or intuition is also an important component of luck. You get lucky when you start understanding your gut feeling. It’s trusting your intuition. Very often, when I talk to poker players, they say that their first feeling often turns out to be the right approach.”

Was that slogan something you believed in before you found poker?

“It’s something that I have always believed in. I feel very privileged to work with people like Chris {Moorman}, Liv Boeree, and Igor {Kurganov}. It’s a fascinating sport. I may be the only person in the world who calls it a sport. I think the qualities you need to succeed in sport are the same you need to succeed in poker.

“I started off making a niche for myself teaching golfers. I started with friends and family because I wanted to try my new skills. My first golfing client was my wife. At that time she was struggling with a handicap of 26/27 and she now plays off a handicap of 11. The most remarkable thing is that in the first six months of working with my wife she scored three holes-in-one. She now has four or five. Is that a coincidence? Scientists would say that it is, but it certainly fired me up, and when you start exploring coincidences you find a lot of interesting outcomes.”

So you are a believer in the Law of Attraction?

“I have a professional golfer friend whose ambition was to win The Open. He could see himself on the front page of the newspapers holding this urn above his head. We spent an incredible amount of time working on this goal and we weren’t getting anywhere. Three years ago, we were both having a pretty gloomy conversation, as our careers weren’t going in the direction we wanted. I asked him, ‘what is it that you really like?’ And he said, ‘I don’t think I want to be a tour golfer anymore? I want to live in a different and exciting country; I want to be working in sports; I want to get married; I want to be able to pay my bills every month, and have a lot of money left over; and I want to mix with people who have a lot of money.’

“Within six months he had all of those things. He got a job as a Director of a big golfing club in Southern Russia. His clients are these rich oligarchs; he flies around the world in their private jets, he earns a lot of money and most importantly he is really happy. He also attributes that success to the book Think & Grow Rich, and how he visualized what it is he really wanted. So, yes, I am a believer in the Law of Attraction.”

What are the sorts of things you talk to your poker clients about?

“The players tell me that they know when they go into a tournament that they only have a 15% chance of finishing the tournament with any money in their pockets. I flew to Vancouver to meet Chris Moorman. We didn’t know each other, and I think some of the things we talked about initially were new to him. It was 2-3 weeks before he was due to play in the WPT LA Poker Classic.

“My first suggestion to him was to say, ‘look Chris, your goal is not to be thinking about making any money this week in the tournament.’ I told him that thinking about the money was applying pressure on himself. There are clearly many things in poker that Chris can’t control. What he can control is his own emotional state, and his health and fitness in terms of mind, body and soul. Then I asked him what he thought would be a more realistic goal in his next tournament. He told me that he would take every hand on its own merit, and play it to the best of his ability.

“We worked on being in the now. We spoke about forgetting hands that happened in the past, and thinking about what could potentially happen in the future. The same happens in golf. The present is where peak performance lives – not in the past or future.”

How do you teach poker players to be in the now?

“One of the things that is incredibly helpful is the power of meditation. I have been meditating every day since I was in my early twenties. That certainly helps. You learn how to control outside thoughts, what you allow through your filters and what you block out. In the past few years I have also been using a meditation technique called HeartMath. It’s used by a lot of Olympic athletes, golfers, and cricket teams.

“Chris has a scientific-enquiring mind, and he enjoyed seeing the charts that his meditation techniques were producing. Over the first few days that we worked together his results working on HeartMath excelled throughout. I know that I can’t control the cards that Chris has, but I knew he was more than capable of controlling the way he plays each hand.”

You believe that you can coach anybody to create positive results in poker?

“We are talking about some complex subjects now, and as a coach I try to simplify these things, so I will try that here. I think people produce great results when they get the perfect balance of mind, body and soul. To be a great poker player you need a brilliant mind. Having all of those statistics at your fingertips, in the moment, is incredibly important. A top poker player has a special mind – there is no question about that. But it doesn’t matter how special it is, it can always be better.

“I do a lot of work with clients on confidence. Every person thinks that everyone else around him or her is very confident, and they wish they could be as confident as them. I don’t think confidence is a normal attribute. I think it needs to be worked on like anything else. That’s the mind bucket. Then in the body bucket you have to be mentally, and physically fit. Poker players play long hours, and it’s no surprise that a lot of people bust towards the end of a long day because they lose their focus.

“Poker may not be a physical game, but you can still improve your focus by working out in the gym, and keeping fit. Watching what you eat and drink is also important – you have to look after yourself.

“Soul means different things to different people, but to me, it means you need to have inner belief, and some ethical and spiritual values so that you can respect yourself. You look in the mirror and accept who you are – imperfections and all. I talked to Chris on this also. He is a very altruistic person and knows he is on this planet to do more than just play hands of poker, important as this is. He is a very grounded person. He wants to be seen by the world as a normal grounded person who happens to be good at cards.”



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Lee Davy

Life can be viewed as the sum of the parts or the parts themselves. I believe in the holistic view of life, or the sum. When dealing with individual parts you develop whack-a-mole syndrome; each time you clobber one problem with your hammer another one just pops up.