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Emotional Control

Emotional Control
by Damian Moorman, Staff

One of the most underrated aspects of the game is the emotional side. Whether or not a player will fall victim to going on “tilt” can make or break him. There are only a few of the top players who do not have full control over their emotions at the poker table. Look at the control Johnny Chan, Chip Reese, Doyle Brunson and Allen Cunningham display the next time they are on television. These players have many reasons why they consistently win year after year and emotional control is one of the bigger ones.

What does it mean to have “emotional control?” Players who can control their emotions are simply ones who can play each and every hand free of negative feelings caused from past hands. Many people, including published poker authors, tell players to play each hand as if it is a brand new one. These books tell players to forget about everything in the past and try to make the best possible play each hand. While this is good advice for beginners, the authors of these books are leaving out a few very important things. The best players do not look at each hand individually, standing apart from the rest. The best players, like the ones mentioned above, carry with them important information from past hands. It is the betting patterns, non-verbal cues, and key decisions from opponents in past hands, that if stored correctly, help make the “correct play” stand out more clearly in a game of incomplete information. Bring with you only the positive from previous hands.

So how can Phil Hellmuth, Jr. always be on tilt and still win so many tournaments? He can't. The side people see of Phil Hellmuth, Jr. losing control is one blown up by the media to build a persona, and more importantly build ratings. Phil Hellmuth, Jr. does lose his control many times; providing moments of entertainment with his selfish and childish remarks, but he very rarely allows it to affect his play. Do you remember Hellmuth dropping to his knees after he was knocked out of the 2003 United States Poker Championship when Toto Leonidas’ hit a five-outer on the river or when ESPN cameras covered his tyrant backstage at the 2004 Tournament of Champions after he lost heads-up to Annie Duke? These famous outbursts, along with other “Poker Brat” tantrums, take place while he is away from the table. These moments of complete frustration would affect his play too much for him to win the amount of tournaments that he does. If a player cannot gain control of his thoughts while still in a tournament or at table, it is best to get up and walk away. A player can feel upset and angry as long as it does not affect his play.

If a player loses his temper, his focus will soon follow. Paying close attention to the players, whether you are in a hand or out of one, is very important. It is crucial to stay “in the zone” and in the flow of the game both while playing live and online. Staying in the flow of things live is a little easier than online because the players are right in front of your eyes and often wear their emotions on their sleeves. The comments they say along with the faces they make give away their emotional state. Just as it important to be in control of your emotions, knowledge of your opponents’ emotional state will help you make the best possible play later when confronted by them.

It is also important to look for changes in your opponents play and attitude. Which player is starting to loosen up? Who looks like they are on tilt? Is someone getting drunk? Sometimes it is as easy as watching a player finish beer after beer, while other times it is harder to pick up on the changes in their emotions. These are the observations from the past that players should carry over with them to new hands. A more in depth definition of emotional control then would be the ability to logically analyze the current hand while eliminating negative feelings from past hands, such as a bad beat or players’ remarks, but still recalling important information on opponents. Work on caring less about things you cannot control, such as luck, and more on making the correct play. If you continue disciplining yourself by not letting outside forces affect you negatively, your emotional control will become better and stronger.


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