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Understand Your Emotions, Don’t Ignore Them

It’s no secret that the best players rarely tilt, they know how to play their best, or at least close to it nearly all the time. The mistake that many make when observing the elite of the poker world is thinking that the best players simply shut down their emotions. This short post will hopefully help you shift your paradigm of the role of emotions in poker to a more successful one.

The Consequences of Shutting Down Emotions at the Table

The misunderstanding comes from viewing good players as robots, and robots as we know them have no emotions. There’s one huge problem with shutting down your emotions, which is that you can’t selectively turn off anger or frustration. When you turn off your emotions, or perhaps putting them on mute temporarily is more appropriate, you also turn off the passion and enjoyment that is driving your play.

The consequence of muting your emotions tend to be that you lose interest at the table, lose focus, put less thought into decisions and care less. People are motivated by emotions at a deep level, and it’s not something that’s going to change.

The Solution: Understanding

poker psychology understanding emotions

Image via Flickr by deltaMike

The goal of eliminating anger and frustration is still desirable, but it’s clear that simply becoming ‘dead’ at the table isn’t the answer because we simply need our emotions too much. Logic dictates that we must find ways to control certain emotions or selectively eliminate them.

Psychologists have long known the benefits of understanding your thinking and the resulting emotions, in fact there is a whole field of psychology dedicated to it called cognitive therapy. Many top players have personal psychologists to help them delve into the thoughts they have at the table.

While you may not be able to afford your own personal psychologist, you can apply many basic techniques and get great results at the table. Start by making note of your thoughts leading up to an episode of anger or frustration. After a while you’ll start seeing patterns and will be able to walk away from the game before you do any serious damage.

Secondly, you can start to change how you think so that you don’t get angry. For example, if you suffer a bad beat and think something along the lines of “they hit their card EVERY SINGLE TIME!”, you need to spend time thinking about the long term results and maybe even learning about statistics. For this specific example you could grab a deck and set up this situation and play it out several dozen times. Even though sometimes the villain will hit their outs a few times in a row, over time it will even out. The more you accept and understand these things, the less you will find yourself getting frustrated during a game.

Understanding and controlling your emotions in a positive way is one of the most difficult things to do in poker. Don’t expect to become Gandhi over night, just make continuous improvements that result in better play in the long term.


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