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The Poker Mindset – Attitude #6

by Matthew Hilger |  Published: Jul 11, 2012

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Matthew HilgerThe Poker Mindset is a set of seven attitudes that every poker player should try to master, regardless of their game, limits, or technical skill. They are realities to be aware of and attitudes to adopt to succeed at poker over the long term.

Just like technical skills, the Poker Mindset will help you make better decisions at the table. In fact, in some situations it could be argued that defects in your Poker Mindset could lose you more money than defects in your technical game.

This is the sixth article of a series where we will examine each of the seven attitudes of the Poker Mindset. It includes excerpts from my book, coauthored with Ian Taylor, The Poker Mindset.

Attitude #6 Remove All Emotion from Decisions

A recurring theme of the seven attitudes of the Poker Mindset has been eliminating what is irrelevant or dangerous from your thinking. Attitude #5 looked at how many players wrongly consider factors such as their ego and image when making decisions. Attitude #4, Desensitize Yourself to Money, looks at how playing scared can cause you to make less-than-optimal decisions. Both of these were discussed in previous editions of Card Player. In fact, a major focus of The Poker Mindset is about concentrating on what’s important while eliminating what isn’t from your decision making. Emotion is another important factor that should be eliminated from your decision making.

Many players let emotion affect their poker decisions, yet emotions should have no impact whatsoever on the decision-making process.

In some sports, emotion can be an advantage. For example, a football coach may try to motivate his players by stirring up emotions of anger, hatred, or team spirit, which may rouse them into working a bit harder or giving a bit extra. Poker is different from football and other similar sports in that there is very little that emotion can do to help a poker player. Emotions do not understand pot odds or how to put your opponent on a hand. They do not help your starting hand selection or your ability to get away from a second-best hand. Emotions will only cloud your judgment and divert your attention to things you should not be thinking about.

The negative effects emotions can have on your game are numerous, and every player is different. As such, it would be impossible to list every possible impact that every emotion could have on your game. However, here is a brief guide to the most common emotions experienced at the poker table and their likely effect on your game.

Anger

Anger is a dangerous emotion to experience at the poker table. A player who is angry tends to want to lash out, and at a poker table he may lash out with chips, making bets and raises that he shouldn’t. He may also be prone to tipping over the edge if the slightest thing goes wrong, such as taking a bad beat or suffering a period of bad cards.

Frustration

Frustration is a frequent nemesis of the poker player, because of the huge number of frustrating incidents that occur during a poker game. Frustrated players tend to act rashly, losing the ability to think through decisions properly.

Misery

A depressed player is rarely in the right mindset to play poker. He believes the world is against him and will spot every facet of the game that reinforces this belief. He will likely assume the worst, and hence miss raises and fold winners more than he should.

Fear

Fear of losing the money in front of you has already been discussed in this chapter. A player may also fear the other players at the table, causing him to avoid confrontation and miss value bets or raises.

Happiness

An unduly happy player is not likely to have too many problems at the table, but he may be prone to making decisions without due care and to overestimating his own chances.

Pity

Feeling pity for a particular opponent may cause you to softplay them or help them to play better, neither of which will do your bottom line any good.

Pride

Generally comes before a fall! For the damage that this emotion can cause, see the section on leaving your ego at the door.

Nervousness

Some players have a tendency to get nervous, especially in large tournaments or when moving up limits. If you are nervous, you may be unable to concentrate and follow thought paths to their conclusion. You may also be subconsciously giving off tells. For example, nervous players often shake when they are holding a big hand.

Unfortunately, very few players can completely switch off their emotions. We just have to accept and adapt to this facet of our personalities. However, a poker player does have two defenses against his emotions:

1. Do not play when you are in an emotional state that may cause your play to suffer.

2. Acknowledge your emotions, but don’t allow them to affect your decisions.

The former is obviously easier to do and is often the appropriate course of action to take, especially if you are in a particularly emotional state. However, we must not forget that emotions are ever present in our psyche. No matter when we sit at the table, we will be feeling something, even though the level of emotion may be quite trivial. Even if we sit down in complete serenity, poker is a game that generates emotion in itself, so we will probably not stay serene for long.

Therefore, it is important to master the second of these defenses: accepting emotion but not letting it affect our decisions. In fact, this is the essence of avoiding and overcoming tilt. Poker is a game and games are meant to be fun, so there is a place for emotion. Just be sure to turn it off as soon as the next card is dealt.
Next month we’ll look at the 7th attitude of the Poker Mindset – Dedicate Yourself to a Continuous Cycle of Analysis and Improvement. ♠

Matthew is the owner of Dimat Enterprises, “Publishing Today’s Best Poker Books” and is a coauthor with Ian Taylor of The Poker Mindset, available at Kindle, Amazon, and pokerbooks.InternetTexasHoldem.com in both print and e-book format.