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How Emotions Affect Your Stack Size
No one will argue that there is a correlation between how well you play poker and the current state of your mind, or your current mood.
Depressed players will play very differently than an excited drunk; a hungry player will make more mistakes than a player fresh off a dinner break; and an exhausted player will typically end up broke before morning.
All poker players are junkies. We live and play with the need to get high, jonseing to the point of lunacy for our next fix. We're addicts for the emotional byproduct of poker - that feeling of elation you get after a big win; the rush of running a bluff for a juicy pot.
Once we experience that, we spend the rest of our days chasing the dragon, looking for a game to deal our next fix.
The Better You Feel, the More You Win
The better the mood you're in - the more rested, energetic and jovial you are - the more money you're going to make at the poker table. Obviously, no matter how you feel or play, you're going to go down in flames when you get rocked by a cooler or a bad beat.
But as long as you're making the best choices you can make, you're earning the most money possible.
Choices you make at the table are directly influenced by the mood you're in at that moment. If you want an example of this, just take a look at a player on vicious tilt compared to how they played when they first sat down.
Watch the play of a sober player change with each drink they consume, the feeling of invulnerability overtaking their decisions to the point of excessive donation.
As a player you should only play cards when you're in a state of mind suited for making money. Poker is not a game to be played passively.
Like any competition or sport, you need to enter the game focused and ready for battle. If life events have your mind in a knot, chances are you won't have the focus necessary to make the right decision when a difficult situation approaches.
For a great article detailing how feeling good influences how lucky you get, and the money you make at the table, check out this one by PokerListings' resident psychology expert Arthur Reber.
The More You Win, the Better You Feel
What came first, the feeling or the profit?
Think back to all the winning sessions you've had in your life, especially the big wins. You will remember that a strong, warm feeling of elation was firmly situated in your chest during all of them. Did you have this feeling as a result of winning, or did you win as a result of this feeling?
The answer to this question is both. Although there are sessions where the feeling is exclusively the byproduct of a heater or sexy luck, for the most part the feeling is self-perpetuating. If you come into a session with this feeling, barring any cold decks, you're going to start churning a profit.
The profit you make enforces the feeling starting the cycle. Until this cycle is broken, you're a very dangerous player on that table.
Breaking the Cycle
To defeat a player running on this psychological high, you have to break their cycle. In turn, you have to refuse to let another player break yours.
Most poker players are fragile beings; they ride their results as if they were on a life raft lost at sea.
It's no wonder players can contract such strong addictions to gambling when playing poker can be just as powerful as the uppers and downers in H.S. Thompson's trunk. That's why breaking a player who's on a psychological high can be as simple as winning a single hand against them.
Suck out, bluff, trap or outplay them in any way for a large pot, and the mighty will crash harder than H. Dumpty.
But take note - you never want to play against other players at the top of their cycle if you don't have to. Players at the top will be making strong choices and strong plays, and playing a much trickier game than the average player.
You want to pick battles only with opponents who are anywhere from the bottom to the middle of the psychological scale. Make them yearn for the high and the stack that comes with it. When they get desperate for this feeling they will play more on hopes and gambles than reads and odds. If they hit, the cycle starts over; if they miss, they delve deeper into despair and debt.
Juicing a Table
I've talked about juicing tables a few times on this site. You might have noticed that in those articles I talk about keeping the energy on a table up, as a table having a good time is more profitable than a table full of close-lipped grumps.
What you have to understand is that a player on the high is not always an exuberant extrovert. Often these players revel in the high by delving deeper into seclusion and focus.
The idea is to take these players out of focus by forcing them to interact at a high-energy social level to take them away from their game. If you can take a player on their high off of their best game, you've broken the cycle.
If you can take a player on their low and get them trying to be the life of the party, you will expedite their gambling, often resulting in situations such as blind all-ins, among other gamble-laden actions.
Poker as an Escape
If you're on board with the idea that poker is a drug and that you should play in the best frame of mind, this next guideline should make perfect sense.
If you're down in the dumps, bored, upset and needing a pick-me-up, poker is never a good idea. Often in this emotional low we remember the poker high and yearn for that feeling.
We sit into a game in search for the high, the quick fix for a troubled soul. If we get very lucky, it can work, encouraging us to make the same mistake again in the future.
As I outlined earlier, stepping into a game in this mood is almost a sure loss. You are absolutely unable to play optimal poker, you will make mistakes, and these mistakes will cost you money.
Losing in this mood will only make things worse. You go from the pit of despair in which you started and dig yourself deeper. You're now adding a poker low - self-loathing and rage as a result of knowingly having made the mistake of entering the game in the first place.
Poker is never an escape. Poker is not your friend. It's a battlefield of strategy and stamina. If you're at a low point in your life, go fix that first. Talk to someone, make some changes or wait it out. Do whatever you have to do; only return to the game after you're back on top.
Before you can beat your opponents in psychological battle at the tables, you're going to have to have a firm grip on your own emotional state. If you don't have control over yourself, you'll just be one more player you have to figure out and control in every pot.
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