How Poker Players Stay Calm
Poker’s not like other games. Poker is a simple game that you can only learn by losing. It is a game that, apart from learning the skills required to read the cards and know the odds, demands both an understanding of what the opposition is capable of (or not!) and a realisation that every day won’t be yours.
If you go to a game these days, you will see all sorts of ways that players try to hide their reactions to hands and calls by wearing sunglasses or hats. They know that other players will be trying to read them and so are doing their best to hide.
So how do professional players learn to cope with days where it all goes wrong? What’s the secret to riding out the bad cards and the bad players? How do they keep it cool when things are going well? Below are five ways that professional poker players relax, both around the table and in their downtime.
Being a player that has learned the minutiae of the game isn’t enough to make a winner. Learning to control their temperament during games is as important. We’re all human and, as such, it is almost impossible to be devoid of all emotion. Feeling it and showing it are different, but, while learning to hide it from others on the outside is one thing, pro players train themselves to minimize the effects of it on the inside. Looking as cool as a cucumber to the rest of the table is one thing, but when your emotions begin to affect the way you play, you’re in trouble. Applying logic sounds easy enough – it is only a game, and the math tells us what the odds are – but once a player begins to look at their hand, the opposition, and the dealer, then minds start to believe other things.
Poker professional, Paul Phua says some interesting things about controlling emotions; ‘Play without ego’, ‘Don’t lose your cool in poker games. It can cost you everything.’ Know yourself.
When the stakes are high, and you’re holding out to win, it is very difficult to prevent your heart from beating that bit harder and your breathing to speed up; it is human nature. It is the natural response to being put under pressure and is our bodies defense mechanism to allow us to escape – fight or flight. But you’re not facing mortal danger when you’re playing poker. There might well be a lot of money riding on the outcome, but you won’t need to defend yourself physically or run away. In this situation being rational does help; controlling your breathing takes a lot of willpower and, as a consequence, will help take your mind off what the other players are doing.
Get it right away from the table
Professional poker players are incredibly dedicated to the game. The time they spend away from the table is time spent ensuring they are ready for their next game. There are many factors that contribute to being a top-level poker player and to cater for them all, you need careful planning and commitment. For example, who would have thought that top pros often meditate in order to improve their concentration levels, and their music selection can have a direct impact on their thought-process before a tournament. The infographic below, via 888poker.com, perfectly illustrates the amount of pre and mid-tournament preparation that players undergo to achieve the result they want.
Recognize the bad players
Remember the great line; ‘The beautiful thing about poker is that everybody thinks they can play’ (Chris Moneymaker)? One thing’s for sure; there are more bad players than good ones. Every table, every casino is more than half full of them. They are the reason that casinos make so much money; a lot of them win, and some of them win very big – but most of them lose. The casinos know that and so should you. When the bad players have good days, lucky days, there is the chance that you might be at the table. You’ll lose. Forget the numbers, forget the science and forget trying to see their game. They’ll keep calling the wrong hands when the odds are against them and so every now and then they’ll come up winners.
There is a train of thought that says that you should always bet big against bad players because you’ll win more often than lose. Keep the odds in your mind. Stay calm and keep at it because they will make the mistakes whereas you won’t.
For some reason, we find it easier to take it personally with a bad player than with a good player; for some reason, we allow them to get under our skin. The trick here is to remember that, as a good player, you’re always going to be battling against the bad players because there are more of them.
The odds in Poker tell us that they will have the good hands and will sometimes win but, more often than not, they will not know how to play them. The odds are always on your side. That’s all that needs be said about bad players.
Mindfulness and NLP
NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) is what our brain uses to ‘process information in visual, auditory and kinesthetic (see, hear, feel) modalities. When you’re aware of this, you can hone in on a particular internal image, sound or feeling for keener awareness.’ Put simply, this means that if you’re able to focus in on the aspects and traits in a particular game which make it unique, then you’ll have a better chance of winning. Mindfulness is a form of meditation which takes time and practice to master but which will enable you to focus on the game ahead. Practiced by sportspeople and poker players alike, the combination of these two techniques will take you to a place where your subconscious is ready to play.
The suggestions above won’t work for everyone, but they give an insight into some of the methods used by professionals to win at poker. Try adopting them for yourself and see if you can improve your game!