To quote Wikipedia, "an emotion
is a mental and physiological state associated with a wide variety of feelings
, and behavior
. Emotions are subjective experiences, or experienced from an individual point of view. Emotion is often associated with mood
, and disposition
." In other words, emotions are our mentality. Emotions are our psyche. They define how we come across to both ourselves and to others, and they define our reactions, as well. It's almost overwhelming, upon further thought, how important emotions are in the life of a human being.
It is no surprise, then, that because of the very existence of our own emotions, we can become our own worst enemy at the table. After all, poker players can tilt. Poker players can become scared of losing a significant sum of money in a single hand. Poker players can also become scared of those "monsters in the closet," such as a monster hand that shouldn't be in the villain's range, but is possible if the villain were to suddenly play unconventionally this one hand. Poker players can also succumb to desire in a variety of ways, such as ordering drinks after winning a big pot or continuing to play while in an inadequate state of mind (ie, they're inebriated or tired) because they're on a heater.
Not to mention that poker players can become addicted and start putting ungodly hours into the game, all while neglecting their hygiene and depriving themselves of food and sleep in the process -- examples include Dusty "Leatherass" Schmidt, who has admitted to, at one point, pissing in a bottle at his computer desk while playing online in an attempt to achieve the elusive Supernova Elite VIP status on Pokerstars.
Or Greg "CaptZeebo" Lavery, who became delirious while playing online poker full-time and had to be institutionalized. A video biography describing his poker career and personal life can be found here
I think the importance of controlling one's emotions at the poker table, whether it be online or live, can be realized by most poker players when you take a good look at "The Poker Brat," AKA Phil Hellmuth. Easily the most arrogant of the household names in the poker scene, he is notorious for several televised occasions where he went toe-to-toe with someone, and regardless of whether or not it was he who misstepped in the hand, berates his opponent when he loses a significant pot. I'm sure many poker TV junkies can recall more instances of such blow-ups than they can count on both hands, but there's one hand on Poker After Dark that I feel really illustrates how Phil's game is hindered by his emotional instability.
All Phil has to do in order to signifcantly improve his game is to get his head out of his ass and realize that he really isn't the best poker player in the world so that he can improve his game more proactively. Although he has fixed his attitude on the felt at least somewhat this past year, showing a brighter side of the Poker Brat at the latest NBC Heads-Up Championship, Phil will still be Phil once in a while -- as demonstrated when he busted in this year's WSOP $10K Omaha 8/b event and berated his opponent for their preflop holding which outflopped him. Nonetheless, Phil has shown that he's gradually realizing his greatest weakness: his own ego.
So how does one curb their emotions at the poker table, so as to minimize the role one's emotions play in their game in order to maximize one's performance? My suggestions are:
There's nothing more emotionally driving than a sentimental attachment to the money that you play poker with. Everyone knows how emotionally influential money can be, and this is exactly why you need to adopt an attitude where you're prepared to lose money. You need to acknowledge that poker is, at its core, a game of probabilities, and thus a game of luck, so that you can acknowledge that:
- A good poker player's skill comes from knowing these probabilities and the ability to exploit them with your play, as well as aspects of the games which do not rely on luck (ie, telling a story with your betting).
- The fact that poker is a game of luck is why the fish will always be plentiful, and thus the sharks will have plenty of fish to feed on.
- No matter how unlucky you are right now, the math dictates that your luck will turn around.
The most important step to adopting this attitude is to distinguish indifference from apathy. Don't just say "well, whatever, let's move on" every
time you lose a pot, or else you'll eventually miss out on leaks and holes in your game which should be worked on. Remember that, for every dollar you lose, you can win two more -- that is, provided you have more money left to play with. Speaking of which, this leads to the importance of...
2) Bankroll management.
There's nothing that causes one to miss out on profiting more than scared money. Scared money often comes from playing with way more of one's bankroll at once than one should be, and so you'll see such players playing way too tight or making folds that are way too nitty, which in turn lead to leaks that lose them money in the session. Besides, if you want to be a professional poker player, there's no worse way to put an end to that dream than by taking shots with your money and losing it. Haven't you watched the movie Rounders?
With that said, read up on bankroll management and decide what's right for you. Chris "Jesus" Ferguson suggests having no more than 5% of your bankroll on the table at once, and this is a good place to start. Some professional cash players, whose skill edges among their peers can be slight at best, are known to play with a bankroll over 100 full buy-ins (or 10,000 big blinds) in Hold 'Em -- often more than that if they're playing Omaha. A comfortable bankroll for sit-n-go's is considered to be at least 50 buy-ins. For MTT's, some say 300 to 400 buy-ins. Play satellites to what you'd consider big-money tournaments (ie, playing $10 satellites to $200+ MTT's) at your own discretion.
3) Identify standard spots in big pots where you just need to get the money in.
There's an infamous hand that was played by Joe Hachem at the WPT World Championship in 2008 in which he turned the second nut straight with rags, yet folded to a shove on the same street:
Jordan Morgan raised pre-flop and was called by three different players, one of which was Joe Hachem. Hachem called holding 5-3 offsuit.
The flop came A-7-4 and everyone checked.
The turn was a six, giving Hachem the second nut straight. That's pretty much a dream board if you are holding a trash hand like 5-3 offsuit. Anyways, Morgan beat 2,000, Hachem re-raises to 7,000, Morgan re-raises to 12,000, Hachem re-raises to 22,000 and Morgan moves in for 27,000 more.
Hachem has about 27,000 left in his stack, and starts to agonize over a seemingly easy decision.
According to various reports, Hachem eventually said "You got 8-5 kid?" and folded his 5-3 face up.
Morgan flipped over his hand, showing pocket aces, not believing that he had actually been behind in the hand holding a flopped top set.
If you're going to fold such a big hand every other time that your opponent shows strength, not only is it going to be exploitable because you're advertising yourself as being a big nit, but you're occasionally going to miss out on being on the winning side of a cooler, which means that you're going to let your opponent pick up a sizeable pot with the second-best hand much more often than they should be. This is why online poker players have often deemed themselves superior to live players -- namely, because only very rarely do they consider folding the second or third nuts in a spot where their opponent can have a plausible range of worse made hands because they know which spots are standard to get the money in. Indifference makes practicing this a lot easier.
There's nothing more destructive to a good player's game than when they are full of themselves. Magnus "fox" Olsson, one of the top players in the competitive scene for the video game series Quake, said it best when asked in an interview about being the favourite to win at an upcoming tournament: "The problem with everyone telling you that you're going to win easily is that you may start believing them, causing you to relax and lose focus, and then lose." This applies to any competitive platform, let alone poker. Your opponents at the poker table all have money that you want to win. Even if the rest of the table are all fish, do you really think that you can just sit back and watch the money pour in to your side of the table? If you do, it's inevitable that you'll occasionally misstep and lose your chance to get paid -- or, even worse, lose your stack to such bad opponents. It's okay to acknowledge edges in skill, yes, but if you're going to be obnoxious about it, I'm sure you'll just turn into another Poker Brat.
By practicing these four steps, you will become a robot at the poker table. A scary robot who is engineered to capitalize on the advantages of being indifferent towards money, fearless against those monsters in the closet, and being able to not make a big deal about getting sucked out on, and instead just buy back in and keep playing. This, my friends, is the poker player you want to become.
Next week...who knows what else I'll cover? Probably something that has nothing to do with poker. Maybe something that does relate to poker. Maybe I'll just be lazy and do a Q&A. Maybe I'll pull a rabbit out of my magic hat? Stay tuned!