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Poker Emotions (The Bad Ones)

By Gary Steele

I have been waiting a while to write this particular article. I wanted to make sure I was in the right mood. You see, I have pretty good instincts and lots of experience, but, like any poker player, I still catch a really crummy run of cards on occasion. Last night was one of the worst poker nights I can remember. I wish I would have listened to my inner voice telling me early on to leave the table and write an article. Instead, I stayed in the game determined to catch a good hand.

I played for hours. I received two playable hands, both Ace/King. I lost a large pot with one of them and won a small pot with the other. I threw blinds onto the pot over and over for hours until I had to reload just to stay in the game. Finally, on the last hand of the night, I received two Queens and was able to build a nice pot before the flop. The flop was perfect; three nice low cards, all different suits. I could not ask for more. I scared all but one other player out of the pot. I had been watching the table for hours and I knew this guy would call and play anything. Strategically he was no threat. The turn is another low card; I raise, he calls. The river is a Jack. I have top pair Queens and a very nice pot to win with it. I figure the fish left in the pot has top pair or missed a draw so I bet into him.

And he goes all-in.

My heart sunk. I knew I was beat, but there was a lot of money in the pot. I should have folded and saved the last of my sanity, but I convinced myself I had to stay in with Queens. He turns over two Aces and rakes the pot.

All night I was an emotional mess. I could not sleep. I kept replaying the hand over and over in my head. I convinced myself I would just cash out and quit playing at that site; blaming them for my misfortune. It took a long time, but eventually I realized I just had a very bad night. It took me a while to convince myself I was still playing within my overall strategy.

My first mistake was being on tilt. If you have read what I have written before you know my first rule for poker players is “play your game 100% of the time.” My game does not involve calling all-in bets with one pair of Queens. I just rationalized my call be telling myself it could not happen. I had to win a hand. This was my first, and last, chance. This one pot would have made up for the rest of the night’s losses. The fact is, it can and does happen. Technically it can happen for a lot longer than one session.

Poker is not about one bad night or even one bad week. You must think of poker as one long game you play over your entire lifetime. Your object over the course of the entire game is to win as much money as possible. To do this you need experience, patience, and persistence. A winning poker player cannot let emotion affect his or her game strategy.

I finally recovered from my distress by telling myself that this is gambling and the money I am using is not more than I can afford to lose. Gamblers should never be playing with money they need to survive; there is no guarantee that anyone will win. Of course, if you are playing poker, you have chosen a game which has positive economic expectations in the long run for those with skill, so keep practicing; just don’t practice with your rent money.

As a poker player you have to understand you will have bad nights and prepare yourself emotionally for them. Being sad or angry does not help you to become a better poker player, but there is a lot you can learn from your mistakes. Do not discard these experiences as bad luck or blame them on the site; use them to improve yourself and your game. Always remember to revisit your blunders to see what you can learn from them.

Failure is simply a part of the never-ending learning process.

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