Poker Psychology – Is it a Big Deal?

Poker Psychology

Psychology permeates the majority of jobs people work and the sports they play. It’s the mental state you’re in but much more than that. It’s also the relationship between you and another. When you hear someone use the term “mental warfare”, they’re describing a psychological battle. It should come as no surprise to you that psychology is an integral part of poker. In this article, we’re going to explore several aspects of psychology and how it manifests itself in poker. I will also offer a few tips.

Psychology in Poker

Your mental state is absolutely vital in poker. A players’ mood and how they’re feeling will impact decision making whether they know it or not. It can be positive, negative or neutral. Poker is all about decisions so it’s needless to say you need your mind to be on point.

If you have negative feelings, it’s very unlikely to help your decisions. On the contrary, you’ll be more inclined to make rash decisions, execute poorly timed bluffs and chase draws with bad pot odds. A player in a psychologically weak state is prone to tilting, taking shots at higher stakes and playing for too long, risking burn out.

A good mental state is conducive to playing well. You’ll be thinking clearly, free of stress and anxiety. These feelings are common when you’re on a heater, rested and enjoying poker. These are the best times to play poker. Those days where even if you have some bad luck and experience negative variance, you’re feeling great and not affected mentally.

What Causes “Bad” Psychology in Poker?

I am not a psychologist so I can only go from my own experiences and those of friends and players coached. So, take this with a pinch of salt. Most poker players on the wrong side of psychology suffer from a trigger or few that sets them off. These triggers come in various forms for different people. These are the most common:

A Bad Beat

Taking a bad beat is hard for some people to swallow. When you’ve got the best hand and get beat by an unlucky turn or river, it can eat away at some people. Seeing the chips/money go to someone else when it should be yours can act as a trigger that causes players to tilt.

Getting Bluffed

Nobody wants to get bluffed but for some people, it’s more than a lost pot, it’s painful. Knowing you hand the best hand and was outplayed is not a great feeling. Beginners and intermediate players struggle with being bluffed. Some players would actually be big winners if they let their ego go, but they hate being bluffed and will pay off instead.

Getting bluffed out of a pot is a trigger for a lot of players. They take it as personal insult and hurts their ego. How do they react? They go after that player or the next few pots, trying to assert themselves. This is not a good idea in 6 max or full ring poker.

Life Away from Poker

Players lives away from the table can be a cause of bad poker playing. An argument, tough day, money woes or relationship problems. They’re all psychological impacts that can trigger a player to play poorly. A player may use a session as form of escapism from real life. They may play on laptops, desktops and iPhone casinos to escape real life issues.

The problem with this is that you’re not really playing poker, you’re a robot or an empty chair. Playing winning poker requires a focus and a clear mind. This is not possible when you’ve just had a fight with your partner or in a lot of debt. (See our responsible gambling page for info).

Poker Psychology Tips

It’s been pretty negative so far hasn’t it? Don’t worry, there are positive aspects to psychology too. Let’s look at some tips to help you be psychologically strong and prepared for poker.

Become Disciplined

Discipline is all about routine, prudence and self-control. Practice good bankroll management to ensure you’re not playing above your means. It will ensure you’re not as stressed if you lose a few buy-ins. Bankroll management will mean you’re not taking big risks to move up stakes. It’s about patience and thinking about the long term, qualities that will help you in life too.

Discipline can come from a healthy diet and regular exercise too. Having a healthy body has countless benefits. Just because the typical older players were fat smokers that sat in a chair all day doesn’t mean you have to be. Eating well and getting exercise will give you endurance and stamina for cash games sessions and long tournaments.

Take Accountability

Most players that come to us for poker coaching in the UK have the same trait – accountability. They realise something is wrong or they’re doing something wrong and want help. Taking accountability is a positive psychological mindset as it means you’re not blaming others for failings. When you’re not pointing fingers and blaming bad luck, you’ll be less prone to mental fatigue. You’ll also look at any issues within your own game and be inclined to solve them through hard work. If you’re someone that blames everyone else but yourself, you need to look in the mirror and start taking responsibility. It will feel like a burden has been lifted.

Learn to be Humble, Not Egotistical

Humility is an amazing trait to have in life and poker. You’re unlikely to get many adversaries and you can still attain greatness. An ego is often described as a fantastic thing to have, but is it? An ego in poker can cause you a lot of grief. By letting go of your ego and remembering poker is a game, not life or death, you will be a bit closer to playing free poker.

Many that come to the table carry some baggage. The less weight you carry, the freer you are to play great poker. Don’t read this and think I am advocating a quiet, nitty approach to poker with no ambition. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I am promoting an a pro-active, hard-working, disciplined and humble approach to poker. If you do your best to action these tips, you will become a better player. When will you start?

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Narciso Baldo is the Director and Head Coach of Texas Hold'em Questions. He has been playing poker for over 16 years. After spending many years as a professional, he now runs UK poker training site Texas Hold'em Questions. Narciso regularly writes poker articles sharing tips, strategy, news and experience with gambling enthusiasts. Narciso also writes for reputable gambling portal Casino City Times, (bio here). Contact: