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In my opinion the topic of this section has traditionally been a bit under emphasized in the poker literature. While it is true that fundamentally correct play is the primary ingredient in one’s poker success, I cannot overemphasize the extent to which countless competent players damage or destroy their results by acting on emotion during play.

Now, as a psychologist I would never suggest that you ignore or deny feelings. Psychotherapists expend a great deal of energy helping patients to recognize and verbalize their feelings. Nevertheless, if you act on feelings like frustration, anger, or helplessness at the poker table, you will pay for it. Here are some poker ideas to help you avoid this. For many of you, setting things straight in this area may prove to be the single most important factor in turning your results around. I do not attempt here to look as deeply as possible at the problem of emotion in poker. As suggested in some of the essays, looked at from some of the major psychological points of view, these struggles have roots deep in the unconscious, largely untouchable outside the walls of a skilled therapist ’s office. Nevertheless, for those whose problems with tilt are not too serious, the ideas provided can definitely help.


Moving Beyond Excess Focus on Fluctuations

Poker is double edged sword. If you play well you will win in the long run. During that long run however, you cannot avoid the fluctuations that come with the game. You must accept inevitable losses if you are to play and win. Ironically, one could even argue that, as a winning player, you should welcome your losses; for they reflect the balance of luck and skill which must be present to allow weaker players to win often enough for the games to thrive. As one friend of mine says, “Fluctuations are your friend, ” but few players are able to feel very welcoming of their downswings, and most make too much of their upswings. Moreover, the vast majority of players are constantly and intensely focused on how they are doing right now. This is their central concern as they play. This leads them to reach faulty conclusions about themselves, and their play. What they fail to appreciate is that when they focus on their fluctuations in assessing how they are playing, they are wasting time with the wrong data instead of with what matters.

“I’ve Been Winning. Would You Like Lessons?”

The faulty conclusions I am referring to involve a player’s responding to his short term results in isolation, as if they reflect his skill level (or even his worth as a person!). We’ve all seen the mediocre or poor player who happens to run hot for a while and takes it to mean that he’s playing exceptionally well. Perhaps he just talks about his “great play, ” boasting of some incredible hourly rate, or maybe he moves up to a higher limit. Of course either way he eventually loses back all his winnings as his results, given more time, do reflect his skill level. To make matters worse, this player’s downswing is liable to be magnified by what the upswing does to his play.

For a poker player who does not engage in running well will reinforce his existing errors. That is, his winning despite poor play serves as a reward for his errors. This is so as long as he makes the mistake of assuming that his winning means he is playing well, and that he can continue winning by playing in the same way.

  On Tilt: Part I

On Tilt: Part II – The Professional Attitude / Subtle Losses of Judgment: Part I
 Subtle Losses of Judgment: Part II / A Poker Player in Therapy

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