Managing Emotions in poker

Managing Emotions in poker

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Poker is a difficult game. Anyone who has tried to play professionally for any period of time can certainly confirm this fact.

It is interesting that the real obstacle to lasting success in this game is not its difficulty – although when played at the highest levels, poker is certainly a complex game with numerous nuances.

In my opinion, the truly difficult aspect of poker is the mental part. Namely, it’s the ability of a player to control his emotions both in the heat of the battle and even long after, that, perhaps, is even more important.

Poker can be a grind and it can absolutely take a toll on you if you let it happen. So if you want to be a professional for a long time, you’ll need to find a way to manage the stress and emotional swings inherent to the business.

Anyone who plays poker long enough will eventually face a downswing. Sometimes, these downswings seem to have a way of lasting much longer than you might think they should. One of the reasons downswings can seem to last an eternity is that often your mental state starts to affect your ability to make a decision.

That is to say, when you’re in a rut and going through a prolonged losing streak, the fact you’re experiencing a losing streak impacts your play and makes the downswing continue.

Rise and fall, rushes and downswings are unfortunately the rule rather than the exception if you’re a professional poker player. That’s why managing stress separates the wheat from the chaff in the long run.

I think Doyle Brunson may have said it better. When asked which of young stars of the current group he thought was going to be the next great player, Doyle said something to the effect of ‘How should I know! Ask me in 30 years’.

To be successful over a long period, first you need to be in the game. This requires being able to manage your emotions (and your bankroll) over the long term. Anyone can remain positive when things are going well; it is much more difficult to follow like that when things are going poorly.

I’ve noticed the absolute majority of players are unable to exactly assess how well (or badly) they’re running. Specifically, when things are going poorly, the typical player tends to focus on bad beats.

They may even start to anticipate the beats they’re about to take. This sort of defeatist attitude can’t help but affect your play. If you think the poker gods are out to get you, you’d be amazed at how often they do just that.

Thereby, when a player goes on a good run and books a large win for the day, his first reaction is usually to say something like ‘I’ve played well today’ or ‘I’ve only suffered a couple of bad beats today.’ This way of thinking clearly illustrates the type of bias that can lead to great frustration.

In other words, people try to keep in mind only the bad things that happen to them (at least at the poker table). The good breaks (cards) are often brushed off as ‘running normally’.

The same type of bias (or inability to adequately interpret events) has another irritating, yet frustratingly common manifestation – the bad beat story. Almost everyone (with the notable exception of’s new bad beat counselor) hates to listen to bad beat stories.

It is paradoxical that almost every poker player continues to insist on telling bad beat stories.

This wouldn’t matter if the discrepancy between reality and a poker player’s perception of reality wasn’t one of the most damaging aspects of the game. It causes a great deal of unnecessary stress.

For professionals, whose living is probably stressful enough, this extra stress can have a serious negative impact. Often, when you think you’re running poorly, you’ll tend to play differently (worse) than you usually do. Normally, it means – more cautiously (passively), but sometimes it can also be more recklessly.

Now, no one likes to lose a big pot. Least of all to a bad beat. But if you intend to be a professional, you simply must learn how to become emotionally detached as to the results of a session.

You can’t get upset about the things you can’t control. In fact, the more you do, the less you’re going to focus on the things you do control – namely, your play. The closer you can come to adopting a Zen-like attitude, the better off you’ll be.

If you can suffer a horrific bad beat, one that costs you a huge pot, then simply smile and say ‘nice hand’ and actually mean it, you’re well on the way. Remember, the guy who hits the three two-outers against you during last session is (probably) not a devil; he’s your customer.

Treat him as such. If you do, you’ll find a lot more energy to devote to playing poker better and you’ll probably be less stressed as well.

For those of you who intend playing poker for a living, this will also make the office a much more enjoyable place to be.

Professional Texas Holdem poker tips.