What Can You Learn About Human Psychology From a Poker Game?

Having played poker competitively for the last few years, I have developed an understanding of how a variety of different poker players think and act at a poker table. No two opponents are exactly the same, but many poker players share very similar traits, especially the long-term losing players. A lot of long-term losing poker players are prone to being effected by their emotional state. At the poker table, one of your biggest weapons to becoming a long-term profitable player is understanding how the value of money affects certain players. When losing, a lot of weaker opponents tend to “chase their losses” hoping to break-even, but in the process, most of these players ultimately lose more money because they fail to regain the focus needed to win in the long-run.

poker psychology

The game of poker is mental warfare, if you are not properly prepared, you will lose.

How Can I Win at Poker in The Long-Run?

A large percentage of poker players (around 90%) are long-term losers, and many players aren’t even aware of it. The reason why poker is profitable to play in the long-run is because on any given day, anyone can win regardless of skill. You can get lucky, win a little money, feel good about yourself, but ultimately never develop into a stronger player. Human beings are habitual creatures, we like structure and we tend to have trouble adjusting structure because that would require a stretching of one’s “comfort zone.” Most long-term losing players never make the effort to improve, or study and evaluate their game to correct mistakes. A lot of players are just playing for the chance to get lucky, maybe win some money, but most importantly be entertained  and have fun.

While I consider myself to be a profitable long-term poker player, I realize I have only achieved this because I have put in an absurd amount of time into improving my ability. I have always been extremely competitive, and since a young age I have been involved in a variety of different sports and athletics. While I still enjoy playing these sports competitively, none of them net me a profit in the long-run. When I started playing poker about 10 years ago, I would never have thought I would take up the game as another competitive hobby.

Because the game of poker is seen as “gambling” by a majority of the outside community, I was hesitant to risk a lot of money. I deposited $100 into an online site and told myself if I ever lost that money, I would never play again. With that mindset, I adapted keen bankroll managements skills so I gave myself virtually zero chance of going broke on my investment. Most long-term losing players have no bankroll management skills, and therefore, often times go broke. Sad to see, but it is their own fault because they know what they are getting into when they join a poker game. They do however have the ability to learn and improve if they choose to do so. There are a variety of resources all over the internet on how to improve your poker game, it is simply up to them to seek the advice.

parx casino poker room

The Poker Room at Parx Casino, PA.

A few days ago, I got to play in a $2/5 cash game at Parx Casino and got to witness (and also profit) off of some of the worst poker players I have seen to date. The first table I started at had a gentlemen who lost his entire stack 5 times in a little under 4 hours. Did he get unlucky? No, in fact he thought he was getting unlucky which made him chase his losses until he had no money left in his pocket.

Out of the 9 players seated at the table, 7 were very solid players (common these days at any stakes), and 2 were sub-par to say the least with the one mega fish that seemed to not care that he was blowing through money left and right.I identified this player as a wealthy businessman (I heard him discussing various business ventures with other opponents) who was simply playing poker for fun and enjoyment. These are the types of players (fish) that make the game of poker profitable for the experienced sharks.

Our fish was more interested in his iPad, checking the sports scores, and reading about Game of Thrones than he was about poker. I say “our” because the entire table was in essence playing the game to extract easy chips from him while we would rarely get involved in hands against one another. We all got to take advantage of him because he would play virtually almost every hand and would not know how to fold when he had top pair or better. It was easy to sit back and extract value (money) from this weaker opponent because he never made any adjustments along the way, we could read him like a wide open book. He will continue to lose in the long-run if he continues to play and not ever make any adjustments to his game. His approach to the game is the exact opposite of what any successful long-term winner strives for.

(note: once the fish left the poker room, the entire table got up and left without playing another hand. 8 of us racked our chips and went to other tables to find more weak opponents to pry on.)

What does a long-term successful poker player have that losing players don’t?

I use the term “long-term” often in this article because I want to stress the fact that in the short-term, anyone can experience a profit. To maintain that profit and build upon it requires a disgusting amount of discipline, focus, patience, creativity, awareness, observation, attention, endurance, logic, math skills, balance, comfort, confidence, desire, positive thinking, relaxation and most importantly, brutal honesty.

You need to be honest with yourself about your current skill level and how it compares with the rest of your opponents at the table. You need to be honest with your bankroll situation and remember to never risk more than you are willing to lose. You have to recognize that in order to become a profitable poker player, you will have to put in a lot of time away from the tables studying and evaluating your game and play. You have to be honest with yourself that when you first start playing, you are going to lose more than you win, guaranteed. It is how you react to these losses that will define the level of progress you experience.

Another important aspect of becoming a winning player is understanding that poker is played with chips, not money. If you are in a poker game and the chips feel like money, you will not be playing the most efficient poker possible. You will tend to be timid and passive, traits that good experienced players pry on without you even becoming aware of what they are doing. You have to be willing to lose everything in front of you and not even flinch if you want to become one of the best in the world. You have to play each hand like a completely new session and not be prone to emotions affecting your judgement. Tilt is the biggest bankroll killer, not “bad luck.”

Poker & Human Psychology

Since I began to play poker competitively, I have done extensive research on human psychology, and how the brain operates when under heavy amounts of pressure, stress and anxiety. I make sure I am never in a position to experience stress or anxiety at the table because I play at a relatively low stakes in comparison to my entire bankroll. I figure in the long-term, it makes sense to slowly grind lower stakes games, and eliminate as much risk as possible, quite like a business might do with their investments. A lot of players are noticeably stressed, anxious, and nervous when playing in a poker game. After all, their hard-earned money is on the line and they don’t want to lose it. It is hard to maximize your profit in the long-run when you are playing “scared poker”, instead of solid aggressive. Competent solid aggressive players will continue to put the weaker more timid players in tough spots because they know they will only play big made hands, which don’t come around as often as you think.

parx poker room chips

The fish were abundant at Parx Casino.

All of the required traits of becoming a winning poker player are necessary in any field of “work” to succeed in the long-run. Managing a poker bankroll is essentially the same as operating your own business, and many successful businessman and investors possess the traits of winning poker players. A lot of professional poker players succeed in business ventures outside of poker because they have developed an extremely focused and disciplined mindset needed to recognize a profit in the long-run.

Developing your poker mindset will have a direct effect on the rest of your life outside poker. It will become increasingly easier to recognize opportunities for growth and development, and your relationships will improve because you will be better able to understand how certain people think, act, and react in different situations that occur in everyday life. You will notice character flaws in many individuals, and learn to only trust genuine people without worrying about being deceived in the process. It will be easier to help friends and family in need of positive reinforcement in their lives. Your intelligence level will rub off on people in a positive way and help you gain respect in this dog-eat-dog society we live in.

You must remember that poker isn’t a game for everyone, some people won’t be interested, and others simply don’t like to “gamble”, and that is perfectly fine. What I am trying to relay through this article is that when treated seriously, the game of poker can improve your life along with your finances if you put in the required amount of time and work. If you are interested in developing your poker mindset, feel free to browse through our extensive poker strategy category on this site for tips and advice. We are always open for any questions you may have along the way, so don’t feel shy about using our contact form to reach out for help on specific topics.

Good luck at the tables! 🙂


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