Ben Oliva

Making Good Decisions in Poker

In sport psychology, emotions can be understood as different forms of energy. Learning to regulate and channel that energy effectively is one of the five core mental skills of high performance. Mental performance is optimized within an ideal energy zone, unique to each person. Too little energy, and performance will suffer due to boredom and carelessness. Too much energy, and performance will suffer due to anxiety and frustration. Either way, the inability to balance your energy and emotion results in a decrease in performance.

I had the opportunity to speak with Jared Tendler, author of The Mental Game of Poker 1 and 2 and one of our expert consultants at SportStrata, about how mental performance coaching is applied to poker. He emphasized that remaining within the ideal energy zone is especially important in poker. In fact, poker players have a special term for a player who is no longer in that zone; they call it tilt." A player experiencing tilt is no longer able to make smart decisions because excess emotion causes him/her to fall off the backside of the curve. The emotional part of the brain reacts faster than the rational part so once the emotional brain takes over, it is near impossible to regain your rational thinking without stepping away from the table. So, how do you avoid tilting?" (Read about Tendlers 7 Types of Tilt").

The key in energy regulation is maintaining awareness of your current energy level. Tendler says that if you can maintain awareness you can begin to recognize patterns of behaviors, thoughts, and feelings. The patterns are associated with events that happen while youre playing. This is true in any performance space, including the poker table. Events that lead to strong emotions are called triggers, and if you become aware of your triggers, you can then create a plan to change patterns that results in tilting." The more you can pay attention to your patterns and triggers, the easier it will become to recognize when you are starting to tilt." Once you recognize it, you can use mental skills like diaphragmatic breathing and self-talk to regain focus and composure.

Posted by Ben Oliva