Warning! Your Emotions Are Affecting Your Bottom Line

In the weeks leading up to the World Series of Poker (WSOP), the former WSOP National Championship champion, Ryan Eriquezzo, was disqualified from the PARX Poker Big Stax event after allegedly crumpling his cards, throwing them at the dealer, using foul and abusive language at the staff, and threatening to ‘blow torch the place.’

The incident occurred after Eriquezzo lost a 200bb pot when the pocket queens of his opponent cracked his pocket aces.

During the WSOP, Mike ‘The Mouth’ Matusow, earned a one round penalty, for excessive celebrations, after winning a critical hand that played out in Event #25: $2,500 Omaha/Seven Card Stud Hi-Low.

The Mouth was given a one-round penalty for his transgression, and after the floor allowed him to return, before his penalty had been enacted, a tearful Matusow returned to the felt and was promptly eliminated not long after.

So what went wrong in both of these examples?

Neither player had control of their emotions.

During a time where the technical side of No-Limit Hold’em (NLHE) has been studied to death, the very best professional poker players are finding their edge by working on their state of mind.

Whilst being aware that controlling emotions is a little like trying to control a pet Polar Bear, that doesn’t mean that you can’t make improvements that will (a) stop you from losing money by lessening mistakes, and (b) allowing you to take advantage of other peoples mistakes when they allow emotion to intervene.

Managing emotion is a full time job that needs a lot of work. There will be ups and downs, but over time, if you can make inroads in this area of your game, it will elevate you above your technical peers.

So where do you begin?

Learn the WHY?

Behind every big blow up, or ridiculous over celebration, will be a reason. It won’t always be easy to find, in fact your mind will do its best to make sure that you never find it, but it doesn’t stop you looking.

The best way to do this is start-keeping notes.

At the end of each day ask yourself this question:

“Did I lose emotional control today?”

If the answer is in the affirmative then make sure you note down the exact circumstances leading up to the event.

  1. Where were you at the time?
  2. What time of day was it?
  3. What was your emotional state leading up to the event?
  4. Were there other people involved, who were they and how did they affect things?
  5. What happened immediately preceding the event?

A good rule of thumb to get to the root cause of your issues is to ask the question WHY until you cannot answer it anymore. Watch how a child plays this game to great effect.

You will find that your anger, fear, frustration or extreme jubilation will be a mask for other feelings that you have. These feelings may be connected to the game of poker, relationships, money, personal health, or a myriad of other possible reasons.

If you are blowing up in front of people, and find that you blame others for your plight, then this is a sure fire hint that your actions are hiding a problem that doesn’t want to be solved.

Red Alerts

Once you start recording your triggers you can start a period of self-analysis. You will be able to identify patterns in your behavior that lead to a loss of control. These patterns will inevitably be accompanied by a series of red alerts; little acts that can be used as a barometer to gauge the timing of your eventual meltdown.

Perhaps you start sweating, your hands shake, you have butterflies in your stomach, your breathing changes, you start to experience mild headaches, your heart is pounding, your face looks visibly angry, you quiet, you start to feel tense, etc.

When you sense a red alert try to remember that it’s not the act that is creating this tension, but how you are applying your thought process to that act. Just by realizing that you have control over your thoughts, helps reduce tension. Over time, the meticulous recording of your thought patterns will enable you to gain greater control when you notice your red alerts.

Learn to Chill Out

Once you have recognized the triggers, and red alerts, that lead to a loss of control, you need to learn to chill out. There are many ways to do this, and you will find your own practical way, but here are some examples.

  1. Take a walk
  2. Do some stretching
  3. Listen to some music
  4. Play an affirmation
  5. Take a massage
  6. Carry out some breathing exercises
  7. Start smiling
  8. Laugh and go through a gratitude ritual
  9. Mindfulness

If you are prone to outbursts, when playing poker, then it’s important to incorporate ways to relax into your daily life, as this will improve your bottom line quite considerably.

Taking yoga and meditation classes is proven to reduce anger and stress. Exercising daily also helps, as does making sure that you socialize frequently and eat and drink healthily.

Never stop checking-in with yourself. If you have a partner then ask them to be accountable for you. Talk to them about your root cause issues and gain feedback on your progress.

You can possess all the technical skill in the world, and yet it only takes one blow up to eliminate you from a tournament. With this in mind I seriously advise hiring a mental game coach like Jared Tendler. If you are a member of an online poker-training site, then you should also be getting mental game coaching.

If one to one coaching is a little outside of your budget, then why not try the superlative book The Mental Game of Poker: Proven Strategies for Improving Tilt Control by Jared Tendler & Barry Carter, or perhaps read the article series about Tilt Control at PokerStrategy.com.