Poker Emotion. Focus and Control for Real Money Poker

What’s the most important trait an online poker pro must have? Ask most grinders — and all winning high-stakes regulars — and the answer you’ll get is psychological strength.

Now, psychological strength is a pretty broad term. Indeed, it can cover everything from one’s ability to focus, to one’s resistance to tilt, to one’s bankroll management. But what I’m thinking of in this context are two traits in particular; two traits that form the foundation of any solid psychological game: focus and emotional control.

Let’s take a look at why focus and emotional control are such important traits for an online player to have; and let’s examine how we can improve our aptitude for poker emotion along the way.

Psychological Factor 1: Power of Focus

The ability to consistently focus one’s attention on a certain task for an extended period of time is incredibly important, not just in poker, but in any skilled endeavour one undertakes. There is an entire genre of self-help books dedicated to this concept; it really is that important. The power of focus truly can’t be understated. Especially for the online poker player emotion.

Playing online poker can be monotonous. We call it a grind for a reason — it’s a slow process of building a bankroll over which we have to completely ignore the tangible fruits of our labor. We have to stay focused on making often minutely +EV decisions, all while ignoring the actual results of our play. To say that this requires focus is kind of like saying jumping Niagara Falls takes guts — it’s pretty much self-evident.

Thus if you’re looking to build a bankroll, you’ll want to find ways to increase your ability to focus. Some things I find that help me build focus and right poker emotion are:

• Logic puzzles. You can find these all over the net. Do a few every morning, at lunch every day, and in the evening after work. Stick with each puzzle until you’ve figured out the answer. Your mental dexterity will improve overall after as short a time as a week, and you’ll find focusing on the tables to be much easier.

• Meditation. I like to think of this as the art of thinking about nothing. That’s probably entirely incorrect, from a theoretical standpoint, but it’s a helpful way to get started. Focus on thinking absolutely nothing for at least 20 minutes per day. Sit cross-legged on the floor and watch your thoughts — detach yourself from the thoughts dancing in the darkness before you. Each time you notice a thought pass through your mind, push it out of the way. You’ll get better at this as time goes on, and you’ll certainly find it to be a massive focus-booster.

Psychological Factor 2: Emotional Control in Poker

Emotional control plays a huge factor in determining whether or not a player can consistently win. There are brilliant poker minds out there who simply can’t keep their anger, rage, or greed in check long enough to churn out a profit; likewise there are mediocre players who grind out a healthy profit simply by keeping their emotions in check.

A lack of emotional control in poker leads to tilt, which leads to bleeding money in often spectacular ways. You can find unfortunate stories of talented players blowing their entire bankrolls in emotionally-charged spats of action all over the net; the popular poker forums are great sources for stories like these. There are no shortage of players who ground up a bankroll to the nosebleeds, only to lose the shirt off their backs in a moment of tilt-induced weakness.

A wise man once said “know thyself,” and these words certainly ring true as far as online poker strategy goes. If you’re going to turn poker into a long-haul career, you need to seriously evaluate your personality before you even sit down at the felt.

What are your emotional strengths? How about your weaknesses? What makes you tick? Do you get angry easily? If so, why? What are the irrational beliefs you hold?

Be honest in answering all these questions, and ask more along the same lines. Then, figure out how you can get rid of harmful poker emotion and control any undesirable traits you may have.

An angry personality doesn’t fly with success at poker, unless the anger can be controlled. Same with a jealous personality, or a greedy personality, or an impulsive personality. If you see any of these traits in yourself, eradicate them immediately.

It’s easier said than done to eliminate undesirable traits from your personality. But it’s possible with some work, and it’s certainly worth it.

I can’t overstate the degree to which emotional control will determine how much you win or lose at online poker. So take the process of self-improvement seriously. Your bankroll will be the better for it.

Great poker rooms to practice your skills: Full Tilt Poker, PokerStars.

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