During the first level of a $300 buy-in tournament, a guy wins an all-in and celebrates like he just doubled up with four people left in the WSOP Main Event. It seems all too common in poker, and many other competitive activities, for massive overreaction to events that don’t warrant that sort of emotion.
During an episode of PokerRoad Radio a few years back, Gavin Smith made the point that in poker, one person’s good luck is always someone else’s bad luck. Everyone should keep that in mind and be a little bit considerate of their opponents.
He was correct, and the point goes even deeper to doing things that can make you a better player. If your emotions run high on every little swing, how can you ever expect to consistently make well thought-out decisions from a calm and collected state of mind? I was always taught to handle situations like I had been there before, meaning to carry myself with a level of calm and dignity and not act like I had no experience in all-in the situation I found myself in.
From shooting free throws late in big games to walking out to the pitcher’s mound with a one-run lead in the bottom of the last inning to sitting down to take the SAT exam to my first job interview, the ability to calm myself and not be overwhelmed by emotions has allowed me to perform at a higher level than I would have been able to otherwise.
If my emotions ran as wild as many of the other players I see around the tables, I would have no chance of being successful as a player. How can you focus when you are lambasting your opponent for calling when you thought he should have folded? How can you focus when you are high-fiving strangers and yelling like you just won the lottery when you hit a jack on the river to double through a guy’s aces in the first level of a tournament?
Around poker rooms, it has become all too common for excessive and ridiculous celebrations at inappropriate times. You’ll also see the ever-too-standard willingness to act like Phil Hellmuth and berate opponents at every turn of a card that doesn’t go your way. For some, it is simply a cry for attention. For others, it is a copycat effect of seeing it so often that they come to feel like it is how they are supposed to act in certain situations.
Not only should you act like you have been in a situation before even if you haven’t, in most instances in poker, you have been in a very similar situation many times over. A-K against Q-Q is nothing uncommon. K-K losing to A-K happens all the time.
Controlling your emotions, not crying out for attention at every chance, and handling yourself like an experienced pro will allow you to focus on making good decisions and staying off tilt. In contrast, many of your opponents will do the opposite and set themselves up to go from playing their A-game to spewing chips by letting their emotions run rampant.
If you are at or near the final table of a major buy-in tournament where life-changing money is at stake, some level of emotion is warranted. If you are just starting a $20 home game with 15 of your buddies, jumping out of your chair and running around the couch when you double your starting stack is excessive and unnecessary.
Act like you have been there before and you can get to the high-profile, high-pressure situations more often. At the same time, you will not be overwhelmed by emotion when you get into those not-so-common situations.
Court Harrington has worked on the business side of the poker industry in roles including tournament reporting for PocketFives, radio hosting for PokerRoad Radio, coaching for the WSOP Academy, and a variety of behind-the-scenes responsibilities. He also plays in cash games and tournaments. Harrington is currently doing consulting work and exploring business opportunities outside of the poker industry. You can contact him at PokerRoadCourt@gmail.com.