There are many guides with great advice for beginner poker players out there, but many of them focus on the technical side of the game, such as hand rankings, pre- and post-flop play and the importance of position in a Texas hold’em poker game. All this is vital information, true, but there’s also an emotional side to poker that many players tend to underestimate. It doesn’t matter how good your analysis is if you are liable to give way to anger or buckle under stress. Conversely, sound anger and stress management can help you avoid tilt when you play online poker. We take a look at what makes poker players tilt and ways to deal with your emotions so you can become better at playing poker and maybe even the game of life.
Stress, anger and tilt
Tilt is what happens when you’re overcome by emotion to the point that you start playing badly, heightening the chance that you will lose. If you lose and keep losing, this can cause you to tilt even further, trapping you in a spiral of negative emotion and bad play.
Tilt comes in three main flavors. The first kind is the anger that can erupt when you have a few bad beats. This is when your cards make you the favorite to win, but your opponent sucks out – they hit a card on the turn or river and beat you by sheer luck. Consecutive bad beats can cause players to lose their self-control. The desire to get their own back or show who’s boss clouds their judgment and they lose big.
The second kind of tilt is when things get personal between you and a specific player. Maybe you’ve been riled by another player’s comment or you’re mad at an opponent who keeps 3-betting you. If you lose your cool, you may find yourself playing too loosely or bluffing unwisely in a desperate attempt to get even.
The third typical tilt-inducing situation is when a bad run gets you down. If you miss the flop every time, your kings lose to aces and you never hit the draw by the river, you may become resigned to losing and play passively, to the detriment of your bankroll.
Manage your emotions
As you can probably tell, you’re more likely to experience disruptive emotions if you take things personally. The key here is to realize that poker is a long-term game. Rather than getting angry when you make a good bet and lose or someone makes a bad call and wins, remind yourself that the important thing is whether you made the right play in the long term. Remember that the right move isn’t determined by the specific cards you and your opponent are holding, but by your respective ranges. To play the long game, you need to have a good understanding of how range works.
Also, remember that bad beats are going to happen, whether you like it or not. Poker is a highly skill-based game, but the element of chance also means that sometimes a lousy player can luck out and take down a world-class professional. This isn’t a bad thing. In fact, the chance that a rank outsider will win big is part of the broad-based appeal of the game. Think of how Chris Moneymaker came from nowhere to take the WSOP in 2003.
The point is that sometimes sheer luck will trump the right decision. If this happens to you, remind yourself that in the long run, it’s the right decision that counts. The same insight applies to when you have a long bad streak. Keep making the right moves and the pattern will shift, eventually.
Above all, make sure that your mind is always clear when you play live poker online. You must always pay attention and make sensible decisions with your money at stake. If you’re angry, stressed or depressed about something else in your life, stay away from the poker table until you’ve got the issue sorted out. Otherwise, you’re likely to lose at the table and worsen the problem.
Mastering online poker through mindfulness
So, how can you achieve a clear state of mind when you play poker online? Some of the world’s best online poker players, such as Daniel Negreanu, Faraz Jaka and Andrew “LuckyChewy” Lichtenberger, recommend mindfulness meditation to play better poker and improve your lifestyle overall. It’s a simple technique that anyone can learn and apply in a short period of time. Here’s how to go about it:
- Find a comfortable place to sit.
- Focus on your breathing, counting “one” as you breathe in and “two” as you breathe out. Breathe slowly and deeply so that your diaphragm pushes out.
- If your mind wanders, briefly notice the content of your thoughts, then return your focus to your breathing.
And that’s it. Five minutes of mindfulness meditation daily will help you relax and stay in the moment, so you can really focus on what you’re doing. This technique is especially helpful when it comes to online poker tournaments. One of the main differences between online and offline poker tournaments is that the online grind is even more demanding in terms of stamina and focus. It’s just you and your screen for long hours at a stretch, so it’s easy for your attention to wander. Refreshing your attention with mindfulness meditation is a great poker tournament tip.
Becoming a better poker player
Don’t be too concerned if you do occasionally flip out and tilt. We’re all human beings and sometimes situations and people can disrupt our balance. The important thing, in poker and in life, is to convert negative experiences into lessons learned. If something causes you to flip out at the table, ask yourself why it happened and see if you can learn something about yourself.
A great idea is to talk about such experiences with another poker player. This will also enable you to focus on decisions made during the game. Did you really have a bad beat or was your decision not as good as you thought it was? Use the opportunity to study your and your opponent’s relative hand ranges at the time. By treating everything that happens at the table, both positive and negative, as a teachable moment, you’ll get better results and enjoy the game more.
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