Building a solid poker strategy is great, but if you get all worked up in the heat of battle, you’re going to end up doing the wrong thing. A lot. Here are some useful tips for staying level-headed at the poker table.
Capt. Kirk: “Not chess, Mr. Spock. Poker! Do you know the game?”
– from Star Trek, “The Corbomite Maneuver" (1966)
As it turns out, Spock is unfamiliar with poker. But you can imagine he’d be pretty damned good at it. He’s outstanding at three-dimensional chess, although he occasionally has trouble dealing with Kirk’s more unpredictable tactics. Trouble from a gameplay perspective, that is. Spock doesn’t let these awkward moments throw him off. He coolly adjusts, moves on, and wins.
That doesn’t mean Spock is a machine. Heaven forbid you ever get on his bad side – especially during pon farr. Oh yes, Vulcans have feelings, too. If you try to deny them their sweet, sweet lovin’, they’ll throw logic out the window. Then they’ll throw the biggest hissy fit this side of Bajor. You’ll be picking your teeth up off the floor, if your arms are still attached to your torso.
A Petulant Frenzy
Let’s travel back in time to our allegedly real home planet. Chess is definitely an easier game on the emotions than poker. It takes a really sore loser to get all worked up, make an illogical choice or two, and fling the chessboard across the room. But poker almost invites this behavior. So much of what’s happening is unknown to the players, and even if you make the “correct” decision in a hand, the cards don’t always run your way. You’re going to lose those 60/40 flips about 40 percent of the time. It’s out of your control.
Confusion and emotion do not mix well together. Even in small amounts, this explosive combination can take us way off-course in our decision-making process. We call this tilt at the poker table, but it’s something we’ve been learning to deal with all our lives in everything we do – some of us more than others. There are serious consequences for flying off the handle. In poker, you might lose your shirt. Away from the table, you might lose your life.
Poker Is Life
This is what makes poker such a fascinating game in the end. The analogy between the game of poker and the Game of Life is right there in our language; we talk all the time about bluffing and raising the stakes and playing our cards right. If you’ve been doing the poker thing for a while, and you’ve been getting better at it, you’ve probably seen that training pay dividends with the other decisions you make in life. Maybe you’re better at financial stuff now. Maybe you’re better at reading people.
Tilt control is easily the most important benefit you can derive from poker – yes, even more so than the money. You can’t really separate these two things anyway. The more you go on tilt, the more money you will lose at the table. The more you keep your cool, the better you’ll be at making level-headed decisions, applying your poker strategy, and winning.
Let’s Get Physical
So how’s your tilt strategy coming along? What are you doing to improve the flow of ice water in your veins? Thinking about poker as logically and accurately as possible is important, of course. If you believe the poker gods are against you, or that you deserve to win, you’re not going to make good decisions. There’s a boatload of mental coaching available out there, including for free on the Interwebs. Like anything else, some of it is good, some of it is rubbish. You decide.
But if you’re truly, truly serious about poker/life, you’ll be applying yourself at the physical level. Your brain is a physical thing, and it responds to diet, exercise, and the conditions of your environment. Stuffing your face with Ho Hos is minus-EV. So is spending all day in front of your monitor. Work on these things. At the very least, you need to go outside and get some fresh air before each of your poker sessions. Once every seven years is not enough.