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Protecting Your Psyche

An important aspect of the game of poker

by Roy Cooke |  Published: Aug 01, 2010

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It had been a very tough week for me personally. Our loving dog, Angel, had been diagnosed with inoperable cancer, and I’d had a serious issue with a longtime friend. Mentally and emotionally, I was totally drained. Being in that state of mind is bound to affect your poker game. One of the toughest things about playing poker professionally as a daily grinder is that you must consistently perform well. The game’s demanding aspects don’t go away simply because you are going through a distressed period in your life. And your opponents won’t be sympathetic to your plight. In fact, when they sense weakness in you, they will probably try to shove it where the sun don’t shine!

I took the early part of that week off, feeling that I wouldn’t be playing my A-game. And not playing your best will definitely cost you in terms of your expectation. By the time the weekend came, I wanted to get back into the swing of things, make something positive happen in my life, uplift my spirits, and get myself back on the road to normalcy — or at least what passes for normalcy with me!

I moseyed down to Bellagio just in time to get into a fired-up $30-$60 limit hold’em game. It was also a must-move game, meaning that its players had to move when a seat became available in the main game. I played for about an hour in the game, in which every pot was more than $500, and caught some big hands in some key situations. When it was my turn to move into the main game, I was up almost two grand, which is a big win for an hour of $30-$60.

The game I moved into was not nearly as good, but it had all of the ingredients to get better when the weaker players were moved into our game. I played a couple of laps before two seats opened directly in front of me and two of the weakest players in the must-move game were moved into them. I was back in heaven, in a great seat in a great game once again. This is what I live for!

But, things went south. I played a hand badly when I took one off with overcards in a spot in which, even at the time, I felt that I shouldn’t have done so. I don’t often make such a mental error. Of course, compounding that error, I hit a card that caused me to pay off an overpair. The woman who took the pot smiled sweetly at me as she stacked my chips. I was disgusted with myself. A couple of hands later, I flopped aces and queens with A-Q against an A-K, turned the nut-flush draw, and lost on the river to a two-outer. I’d blown $700 back. No big deal, that’s poker; it happens all the time. After 35 years of playing the game, I’m used to it. But, when the big blind got to me, I picked up my chips and left.

Even though blowing back a big win is the worst feeling I can have, I don’t often leave when I’m in a great seat in a great game, no matter what my chip position is or how I’m running. For that reason, my poker history contains some massive blow-backs as well as some monster wins. But taken as a whole, I’ve been a big winner by staying and playing in those spots. But in this particular instance, because of my weakened mental state, things were different. I needed something positive to happen in my life to rejuvenate my spirits, and I didn’t want anything negative to happen to dishearten me any more.

This situation speaks to framing your decisions to maintain a positive psyche. Poker is an art, not a science, and it requires constant clear thinking to adjust to constantly changing conditions. Having a fresh, rested, and clear-thinking mind is a must for consistently maintaining your edge and poker longevity. Players who fail to do this spiral out of control at some point in their poker careers. Their downward spiral feeds on itself and their negative internal energy weakens their game, often to the point of no recovery.

The mental game within yourself is key to maintaining a consistently high level of play. My decision to leave a game in which I held a large edge was mathematically incorrect, looking at it from just the perspective of play, and many poker experts would disagree with my decision to leave. But over the long haul, it prevented me from becoming more drained mentally and emotionally, which, naturally, would affect my future ability to play well. It therefore reduced the danger of going into a long slump, which more than made up for the expectation that I lost by leaving.

Different things affect different people in different ways. What affects you mentally and emotionally? Is it blowing back a big win? Are you tired and not the type of person who performs well when fatigued? Will playing a long session burn you out for playing tomorrow? When you’re not at your best and are thinking of leaving, consider how leaving will affect you mentally for your next session. Maintaining a positive mental state will facilitate consistency in your poker game. Know your strengths and your limitations, and factor them into your decisions. Your game will be much stronger for it. Spade Suit

Roy Cooke played poker professionally for 16 years prior to becoming a successful Las Vegas real-estate broker/salesman in 1989. Should you wish to get any information about real-estate matters — including purchase, sale, or mortgage — his office number is (702) 396-6575, and his e-mail address is RealtyAce@aol.com. His website is www.roycooke.com. You also may find him on Facebook.