How To Achieve Emotional Balance at The Poker Table

Poker is primarily a game of mental ability, focus, and discipline.

The game of poker is in essence a mental competition that requires little to no physical ability to participate in.

The results one achieves in poker is derived primarily from one’s mental skill, and ability to exercise that skill consistently over the long-term.

Physical health, while beneficial in many ways to one’s overall game, doesn’t play as big of a role as it does in any other athletic competition or sport. The game of poker is a true test of one’s ability to maintain emotional balance if they wish to become successful at the game.

How to Maintain Emotional Balance at The Poker Table

phil hellmuth poker tilt

Phil Hellmuth has struggled with emotional balance throughout his poker career.

Maintaining emotional balance throughout the duration of a poker session can be quite difficult for many inexperienced, amateur players.

The difficulty of maintaining emotional balance stems from the fact that no matter how smart you play, you are never guaranteed to win in the short-run.

Short-run results can affect an amateur player’s mental state in both positive and negative ways, depending on if they are losing or winning money during a session.

When you are winning, you tend to feel happy and content.

On the contrary, when you are losing, you will tend to feel frustrated and upset.

When a player is losing during a session, they have a tendency to compound those losses with even more losses.

I see many players try to “chase” their losses by getting involved in many pots they have no business being in, and subsequently losing even more money in the process.

This process can sometimes go on and on until a player is broke, and out of chips to play with.

This phenomenon is what many poker players label as “Tilt.”, and it is without question the biggest bankroll killer for many inexperienced players.

What is Tilt?

At its core, tilt can be defined as “a state of mental or emotional confusion or frustration in which a player adopts a less than optimal strategy”

Tilt comes in many shapes and sizes.

Ultimately, tilt is the result of the absence of emotional detachment and balance. In order to be truly successful at the game of poker, you must detach yourself mentally from the short-term results you may experience.

You must play each and every hand from a perspective of making the most optimal decision that will net you the most profit, in the long run.

An emotionally balanced poker player isn’t short-term results oriented, rather they understand and accept to the fact that “variance” plays a large role in short-term results.

Tilt tends to manifest itself when one is having a bad streak of luck, and losing money, even when they are making good decisions that will, more often than not, net them a profit.

To gain a better understanding of what “Tilt” is, lets take a look at a highlight video of the godfather of tilt, Phil Hellmuth:

While Phil may seem to be emotionally affected at times while playing poker, we must acknowledge that he is one of the best tournament poker players in the world.

Hellmuth currently holds the record for most World Series of Poker bracelets won (14), and he has over $10,000,000 in total cashes to his name throughout his career.

Phil may appear to get upset at players, but a lot of his antics are simply to garner attention, and subsequently media recognition. This media recognition has made him the face of poker, due to his entertaining emotional outbursts that is great entertainment for any viewer.

Phil Hellmuth has effectively marketed himself as the most desirable player to be on camera, and this has netted him a large some of money from sponsorship and sales of merchandise. Hellmuth is a master at honing his abilities at the tables, while also making himself a valuable asset for any televised poker show.

In all honesty, I don’t think Phil loses as much emotional balance as he portrays for the cameras in the room.

Because of his tirades, a lot of opponents want to try to “bust” him, and this creates a lot of action in his favor.

Hellmuth understands that many opponents are targeting him at the table, and he uses this to his advantage to accumulate chips, more often than not in big tournaments.

Phil Hellmuth is the master of deception, a quality any aspiring poker player must possess to experience positive, profitable results in the long-run.

How to Combat Tilt & Achieve Emotional Balance

poker mental focus

Achieving a state of mindfulness is crucial for maintaining emotional balance.

There are a few different things poker players can do to combat tilt.

One of the strongest ways to build emotional discipline is to meditate.

There are many different forms of meditation that you can practice, but the ultimate goal of any meditation is to achieve mindfulness. 

Mindfulness is a state of being that forces you to focus your awareness on achieving a state of relaxation in the present moment. The present moment is essentially all that matters as a poker player.

An habitual practice of meditation will allow you to disregard the concept of the past and future, in order to achieve maximum mental efficiency in the “now”, and the task at hand.

If you find yourself letting prior results get in the way of you achieving a constant state of mental balance at the poker tables, meditation will enable you to detach from the negative thoughts that affect your ability to make consistent, optimal decisions.

Personally, I employ a mindfulness practice that enables me to constantly be in a zen like state when I am playing poker.

This zen like state is the results of experiencing first-hand what it feels like to tilt, and perform at a sub-optimal level as a result of this tilt.

When I was new to the game of poker, I would get upset over every hand I lost, and by becoming upset, I eliminated the possibility of playing the future hands of my session optimally.

Over time, I knew that if I wanted to be successful, I would have to achieve a state of emotional balance and discipline that would never slip. If I felt myself slipping, it was up to me to regain a state of balance by focusing on my breathing, and detaching from the game for as long as it took to regain equilibrium.

In my current state, I purposely play at monetary stakes where I can completely lose everything in front of me, and not feel any hint of negative emotion as a result. Because I will never risk a large portion of my entire bankroll in a single cash-game or tournament, I know that I never run the risk of having my poker business completely fail.

johnny chan mental poker

Achieve a state of mental peace to achieve positive results.

If I have 100 buy-ins for a level of tournament I want to play, losing one tournament is not the end of the world.

When the chips “feel like money”, I know that I am playing over my head, and my results will ultimately deteriorate from continuing to play at an uncomfortable level.

If I am not willing to risk every chip in front of me because I am afraid to lose, I will be essentially playing the game sub-optimally, and my results in the long-run will suffer as a result.

I have the courage to pull off massive bluffs that have a high frequency of succeeding because I am not worried about the small percentage of times I will be called, and lose.

If I determine that a bluff is the most optimal decision to make in a situation, given the unique circumstances, I simply cannot be afraid to execute the decision because the chips feel like they have monetary value.

This concept has a lot to do with bankroll management, a topic I have discussed frequently, due to the fact that I feel it is one of the most vital concepts to fully understand if you want to be a successful poker player.

If you are not managing your business efficiently and effectively, there is no hope for experiencing long-term positive results.

For additional strategy on the mental game of poker, feel free to visit our extensive poker strategy section for more helpful advice to help you fine tune your game.

Good luck at the tables! 🙂


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Live Consciously, Expand Your Awareness!

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