Poker 101: How to Keep Your Cool at the Table
This article is part of my series 'Poker Culture, Strategy & Commentary'.
Poker is a psychological game. Sure, there may be aspects to the game that are purely mathematical, but ultimately if you don't have the right mindset you can't succeed in the game. The psychological part of the game trumps all other considerations. The tricky thing in poker is that since there are so many ups and downs, it's hard to not get emotionally invested in your results. Most players know that losing can bring on a desolate feeling, and it's very difficult to have the competitive advantage when you're psychologically compromised in this way. Here are a few tips on how to keep a positive attitude at the table.
Remind yourself of the basic mathematical facts
When you are losing in a game and start getting a little frustrated, your first line of defense should be to remind yourself that losing is part of the game, and that there's nothing out of the ordinary. Poker is all about variance; your short-term results will constantly be going up and down. On any given day, you can't will yourself to win--you can only will yourself to play well. Reminding yourself that being behind a few bucks in a game is completely normal, is the first step to being a winner in that exact game scenario in the long run.
Where's your edge?
Think about the other players at the table. You should be able to spot a sucker or two in your game. Hone in on their mistakes and remind yourself that you have a large advantage over them. It's only a matter of time before the more unsophisticated players in your game make a few big mistakes that swing things in your favor. As you shift your focus from your own short-term bad luck to the players in your game that are making mistakes, this will reassure you that you have the advantage and that in time, you will win. That realization should hopefully translate to a feeling of relief and calm.
Take a walk, have a snack
When you are losing, the other players are more likely to be winning. Also, they can see that you have been spilling chips and that you may be psychologically vulnerable, and on the verge of making a few missteps. They are going to be more likely to attack you. Sometimes, even if only for a very short period of time, it may be best to walk away from the table. Go get some fresh air, take a walking tour of the casino grounds, have a snack, and let the game go on without you for a little while. When you return to the game, you will more easily be able to slip back into the flow of the game without the image of someone who has been losing. Also, a little break away from the table will restore your focus.
Mike Caro, a famous poker player and the founder of MCU, the world's first poker university, recommends repeating a mantra when you are playing poker. Repeat to yourself the following line: " I am a lucky player, a powerful winning force surrounds me". This purpose of this exercise is to psych yourself up and get ready to start winning, and it really works!