The psychology of poker. The two causes of emotions, the spectrum of emotions, performance and emotions

Previous part of Mental Game of Poker: The psychology of poker. Emotions. Final elimination and the malfunctioning mind

Two reasons for emotions

The beginning of this chapter explains how emotions are caused by the flaws in our game, which exist in unconscious competence and are influenced by things such as bad beat, mistakes and defeats. There is another place where emotions are created that must be mentioned: the mind.

As soon as you become aware that you are experiencing anxiety, anger or low motivation, your mind can multiply these emotions. So you start worrying because you have already started worrying; you tiltinate even more, because you realise that you are angry; your motivation decreases even more, because you realise how low it already is. These additional layers add to the amount of emotions you have to deal with. This makes it even harder to control yourself.

Accumulated emotions

Usually, the emotions that build up rise and fall depending on the day. When you lose a bundle of money, the frustration that came from playing starts to fade away as soon as you finish playing, until eventually it disappears. For some players, the frustration can disappear after just a few minutes, or if it's a very bad day, it can take several hours. Either way, the next time you sit down to play, it's as if the frustration never happened.

However, sometimes emotions don't go away completely. In this case, the next game is not a fresh slate because there are lingering emotions from the last time you played. It may not sound like much, but each additional emotion (Bridge, overconfidence, doubt) means that your breaking point has moved down, and as a result, you will need to build up less emotion to reach that threshold. Hence you will start to bridge sooner, or maybe your mind will go dark after a few big pots have been played.

The emotions that build up over a few days make it harder to play well during good or bad periods. When these periods are prolonged, it becomes harder and harder for the brain to "reload" and get rid of the emotions built up during the last sessions. They build up little by little, day by day, until Bridge happens on the first hand you lose, or before you stop playing once you've won a few bribes because you're afraid of losing them.

Emotions can build up over weeks, months and even years. Take a player who thinks he is always unlucky and doesn't get the success he deserves. Over the months and years, every time he loses a coin toss or fish suckoutina against him, that anger becomes stronger and stronger. This emotional baggage becomes very oppressive and is the result of inadequate reactions to situations. Then the simple flipping of a coin is especially Insulate because it reacts not only to the most recent loss, but also to all the ones before it.

Accumulated emotions, or emotional baggage, is the most difficult area of psychological development. The reason for this is that you constantly have to deal with the emotions from today's session (defeat, mistakes, big successes), and on top of that you have to deal with the emotions from before. At the slightest spark, these emotions erupt with such intensity that it becomes impossible to control yourself and to think soberly - you start to bridging, mentally switching off while playing at the big bank, or thinking you're a poker god. The only way to control yourself and reduce the emotions that build up in these moments is to work on yourself away from the poker table. This is no different from any other attempt to improve yourself in a difficult area of poker. Let's say, equity via ICM (Independent Chip Model) calculations are an equally complex process that cannot be done at the same time as playing.

The spectrum of emotions

Emotions have a spectrum, which increases in intensity as they accumulate. The four big emotions - anger, fear, motivation and trust - also have their own spectrums:

  • Anger ranges from mild annoyance to uncontrollable
  • Fear ranges from simple insecurity to severe pathological fear.
  • Motivation ranges from laziness and hopelessness to high inspiration.
  • Trust ranges from complete distrust to feeling like a poker god

Emotions that exist on the same spectrum tend to be separate and random. By structuring emotions on the right spectrum, it becomes easier to identify a particular emotion that is accumulating. The more efficiently you can identify the accumulating emotion, the quicker you can take action to prevent it from crossing the boundaries. Here's an example of how emotions accumulate on a spectrum: a player may feel a certain insecurity after a bad day of losing, questioning whether it was a bad variation or a bad game. After a few more unsuccessful days, he or she starts to question his or her decisions, to distrust his or her hunches and to make mistakes. Then, when playing for bigger pots, anxiety starts to set in as the fear of making mistakes sets in. Ultimately, those mistakes are due to the mind not functioning properly. When a bad game with a bad variation is played, anxiety starts to set in even before you get to the table. Just thinking about the game starts to cause anxiety. Over time, the initial insecurity turned into a strong fear of losing. The player reduces his playing time and instead spends hours looking for ways to play well and avoid losing.

Doubt, anxiety and phobia are emotions built up over time as a result of insecurity

Performance and emotions

Emotions are essential for performance. The problem is when there are too many or too few of them. This applies to both good and bad emotions. Overconfidence is a problem because it shuts down your thinking. Fatigue is a problem because there is no energy for thinking.

Understanding the relationship between emotion and performance, as outlined below, facilitates the development of psychological play. The Yerkes-Dodson Law describes the relationship between arousal (a psychological term describing energy, emotion, concentration or stress) and player performance. This law states that as your emotions rise, your performance improves, but only up to a certain point.

When emotions rise to the breaking point (the top of the curve), then performance starts to decline as the emotional system shuts down thinking. You can't maintain a high level of performance because you can't think normally, and if you can't think normally, you can't use the skills you've just learned (deliberate competence).

On the left side of the curve, the opposite happens. When you don't have enough emotion (tired, unmotivated) to think, you have to summon the energy to make the thinking part of your brain work, otherwise you'll be playing just as badly as you would be playing very bridging.

The general strategy in the following section is designed to help maintain the emotional level at the highest point on the performance curve. This will allow you to play your best poker much more often and solve the problems that are wreaking havoc with your game.

This series of articles is based on Jered Tendler's book on the psychology of poker, The Mental Game of Poker. If you would like to purchase the original, which is available in English, you can do so at

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