Monday, October 14, 2013

On Human (Tilt) Bondage: Emotional Control at the Poker Table


The importance of the mental and emotional control aspects of a game like poker cannot be overstated. Every single poker player—from rank beginners to the most experienced professionals—lose money that they should never have to part with. Yes, this means you! And this means me, too.

We all do this because we’re humans, and humans experience emotional mood swings that leads them, er, us, to poor play. Said simply, humans “tilt.”

That’s the bad news; we’re all human. We have emotions and feelings constantly burbling and swirling within us... and this is all going on whilst we’re simultaneously trying to master a game that essentially requires us to be devoid of emotion. We need the ability to suffer bad beats with nary a blip on our emotional register. We have to shrug off coolers like they were nothing more than a harmless gnat buzzing about our head. We have accept losing coin flip after coin flip with carefree indifference. And through all of this, we have to stay on our A-game, playing perfect, disciplined poker...

And I probably don't have to tell you this, but playing like an emotionless android while watching your Aces get cracked yet again by the likes of 7-2o by the worst player at the table is really, really, REALLY hard to do. Why? Because we’re humans, dammit!

Ah, but there’s a glimmer of good news on the horizon on this emotionally troubled sea. As part of putting together the outline of the "Emotional Control" section of my Poker Pyramid of Skills, I've been reading a handful of poker “psychology” books, trying to piece together the collective experts' thoughts on common tilt and psychology issues, along with strategies for recognizing and minimizing their effects on our play. The books I'm reading are: Jared Tendler’s truly excellent The Mental Game of Poker, Ian Taylor/Mathew Hilger's very good The Poker Mindset, Tommy Angelo's classic The Element's of Poker, and Alan Schoonmaker's somewhat disappointing Your Worst Poker Enemy. I've also got Tendler's sequel to Mental on my Amazon to-buy list, as I've heard it's a very good follow-on treatment.

Anyway, as I said, there is some good news on the poker emotion front. In the course of putting together notes and reading all these books, it now appears to me that our human poker frailties fall into just a few common, recurring categories, or themes if you will.  Better still, there seem to be definitive tips, techniques, and strategies for dealing with each of these common issues. Here are the broad Emotional Control categories as I currently see them:
  1. Plane Jane Tilt. Tilt is basically nothing more than Anger, writ poker style. Tilt can be due to running bad, feelings of injustice, feelings of entitlement, revenge, desperation, superstition, and so on, but they're all nothing more than fifty shades of anger.
  2. Lack of Patience and/or Discipline. We want to play poker, dammit. We didn't come here to fold, even though we know we should...
  3. Lack of Focus. We humans are lazy creatures. We're not easily motivated. We're not good at situational awareness. We suck at paying attention. We've mucked, and we'd rather be reading a novel on our iPad or watching the football game on the TV instead of putting the other active players on hand ranges.
  4. Confidence Issues. We've been losing hand after hand, session after session, and we begin to wonder if we're actually capable of ever beating this damn, stupid, f*cking game... 
  5. Ego Issues. This is the flip side of Confidence issues. We're better than these idiots at the table. We feel entitled to win.... i.e., we think we're better than we actually are.
  6. Heart. We play scared, without heart. We're not trusting our reads, and we're certainly not acting on them. We're so afraid of "dying" that we'll never actually live and thrive at the tables.
All poker players lose money at the tables, and they do so because they've succumbed to one or more of these six basic psychological pitfalls. Mastering control of your emotions at the poker table is paramount to mastering the game. Tilt control, discipline, focus, confidence, ego control, and heart—these are the keys to mastering the emotional side of the game.

Well, at least as I see it. I could be wrong. I'm only human, after all....

All-in for now....
-Bug

2 comments:

  1. Agree that Tendler's book is awesome. Isn't he a poker coach for some big names?

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  2. Whenever you step up to the poker table, you need to get rid of your baggage. Finding a way to cleanse yourself of all that is half the battle.

    ReplyDelete