Controlling Your Emotions – Keep Cool at the Poker Table

The poker game is evolving so fast that it includes so many aspects that you should be good at. It is never enough to only know the game rules, strategies and tactics. The professional poker players know this. It is even more important how you communicate non-verbally with your body and face, because when your cards are good, everyone can read them from your face and when they are bad too. You need to learn how to put on a poker face mask before you sit on the poker table. Controlling your emotions in poker is also a determinator of how much money you can spend, how long you will last on the table, how you interact with the rest of the players and so on.  After reading this article, you will better understand the role of emotions in poker.

Why Control Your Emotions in Poker?

Poker player emotions can be intense. As they are playing under the pressure of losing lots of money, many brain processes occur, many hormones are raging inside their head, and the result could be devastating. Many professional poker players claim that if they could eliminate human emotions in poker, they would save so much money.

Controlling your emotions while playing poker, and overall is hard and not everyone can do it. After all, no matter if you are a professional player or just playing for fun, poker games include large amounts of money to win or lose, so there probably is a reason for the player to get upset at some point. Many players claim that if you know math, or if your hand is good enough, you are good to go. But even if all odds are in your hands, you might not really know whether the opponents can read your cards through your face. It is easy, especially if you know that emotions drive us into action and make us act irrationally.  The key to becoming a great poker player is not to eliminate emotions but to learn how to control emotions in poker and find the right balance between emotional thinking and logical thinking.

There are several reasons why you should make every effort to keep your emotions in check at the gaming table. For starters, the more worried and enraged you become, the less you can concentrate on the game and the more mistakes you’ll make. This creates a negative feedback cycle in which you feel annoyed, lose attention, and so on. It’s also not only about negative emotions. Allowing your excitement to get the best of you might cause you to lose focus on what’s going on at the table and lead to key errors. Furthermore, no matter how effective your poker face appears to be, someone will always be able to read you. They’ll always be able to tell if you’re furious, thrilled, or nervous. By attempting to gain poker emotional control and remove as much emotion from the game as possible, you will make yourself more difficult to read.

To the other players, projecting a “don’t care” attitude is unexpectedly frightening. Others at the table will feel anxious if you don’t appear to be taking the game seriously, if you cancel your poker game emotions you might throw the other players off the stride. You don’t have to be a professional poker player to portray this mindset. You only need to restrict the impact of the hand on your emotions.

If you think there is no connection between feeling stressed and making rash decisions, you are wrong. When we play poker, there is always an adrenaline rush that leads us to fight or flight mode. The decisions made with such a high dose of adrenaline are always exaggerated and fatal. Our brain is busy thinking about how to “save us” and not whether to go “all in” or ”fold”, and in such a state, our bank account will burn easily. The logic is turned off, we are thinking about how to replace the loss.

Managing emotions in poker is quite hard since they are triggered mainly by our hormones. Adrenaline especially is the hormone that might be guilty of addiction to this game, and the adrenaline rush strongly attached to making poor decisions. The adrenaline rush affects our blood pressure and heart rate. It can cause anxiety and focus problems. When playing poker repetitively, we can actually lose touch with reality and just want to increase our dopamine levels by playing even more.

What Emotions are Involved in Poker?


There are several concepts to master and become a successful poker player. You are not a machine, it is crucial to have a proper mindset and emotional state. However, the most important and critical thing is to learn to control your tilt, which always lurks in the background, just waiting for a bad set of cards to come flying out.

If you ever played pinball as a kid, maybe you are familiar with the word tilt. In that game, tilt is when you hit the machine too furiously in an attempt to guide your ball into the desired slot or to keep it in play and avoid being eaten by the machine’s feared gap between the flippers at the bottom. When the tilt indicator lit up, it signified the game was finished, and you’d have to put more money in to continue.

When talking about emotions in poker the tilt is the most feared one. It is a complex state of being, which ranges from optimism to anger, frustration, anxiety, or a mix of other vigorous emotions. However, it is not far from what tilt is in pinball, commonly used to describe taking a bad beat or losing a big pot. Tilt can be a cocktail of uncontrolled emotions that can make you vulnerable in the opponent’s eyes and make you lose much more cash than you’ve imagined.

It is something that occurs gradually. A vast spectrum of intensive emotions usually in a short amount of time. What triggers these emotions can differ from player to player. However, the major one is a losing streak that follows bad beats, noisy opponents, and other factors that are messing with your perception such as drugs, alcohol, lack of sleep, and so on. 

In order to avoid tilts, the player should first know the symptoms and admit that (s)he has a problem. If one can’t admit their problem, they cannot overcome the tilt. First of all, you need to know yourself well and know that the duration of playing poker is long. Understand yourself when you are not at your best emotionally and if possible don’t play that day, as you may make more mistakes and they can cost you money. You need to be disciplined and grasp your emotions. If, however, playing is impossible to stop, then stand up or take a break. If this is not possible since you are playing let’s say a tournament, there is a possibility to click the button “Sit out next hand“ and walk away for a few minutes. Maybe this doesn’t seem promising, but satisfying your needs such as taking something to eat or drink or just breathing cold air can clarify your mind and ease your tilt.


Every emotion that appears on the table while playing poker is a result of many other antagonist emotions that are “cooking” inside of us. Every time that anger pops up, there is fear of losing something, the frustration of not winning, and so on. If you know how to manage this emotion it could be a good thing, as it can give you a way to express your negative feelings. But if you are thinking that if you throw a fake smile or poker face this can go terribly wrong as in the long run can cause excessive anger problems, increased blood pressures, and difficulty thinking straight. Furthermore, this can cost you your physical and mental health, but also money. 

Playing “angry poker” is a common thing as it has its own term. Many people lose their senses, and on the other hand, many professional poker players want to “give” you this state so they can control you easily. Anger is sometimes a part of tilt, and as you rode in this article, that can’t be good. 

The tactics to manage your anger are quite as when you manage a tilt. You should sit back for a few hands, or “fold” as many times as you can. Do whatever calms you down like closing your eyes, breathing, drinking, eating or everything that you know is working with you to feel relaxed afterwards. 

The most important thing when it comes to anger is to accept it. To examine it. You should always try to observe yourself and draw some conclusions as to what anger makes you feel, do, say or even if there is a difference in your playing. This is the way to overpower your anger. You must be aware that this is not so easy as it seems, and many poker players can’t do it at first. But if you learn this technique and observe yourself even at your best, you will learn so many things about yourself. This is crucial because playing poker can be a long and seat-heating activity and with that in mind you certainly need to manage your emotions well, or they will manage you. By you, we also think about your wallet!


In time-consuming games like poker, patience is the number one needed virtue. Especially if you are one of the players who consistently play poker. Now, patience could be regarded as being a passive player but this puts you in a position of power. And if poker needs certain skills that you need to be good at, you must assume that it is gained hard and with practice. As you practice being patient while playing poker, you should learn to resist the urge to play every pot and to have full control over the game. 

In some poker tournaments, what is needed is trying to survive while the others lose their cash, just so you end up with the last poker players where the real money is. In such tournaments, one can benefit from being patient. 

If you prefer fast buck then don’t even consider playing poker, as it is not a game where you can “hit and run” and even if you try this technique you will possibly “crash and burn” instead. However, this doesn’t mean that you need to wait whenever your cards are not good, since many players will bluff even if they don’t have the “ace” in their hands. 

Patience in poker means waiting for a key moment to get your money under the best circumstances. This could also mean to bluff if you are sure that your opponents have worse cards than yours and even wait for the right “company” to join before your playing gets aggressive. 

Knowing the chances to win are 50/50, being patient could or couldn’t work, but you should consider this in the long run, as patience combined with other skills can win you decent cash.

Other Notable Emotions in Poker

Many people believe that poker players are not so smart. There is a stereotype that they just play to lose their cash, and in most cases, the house wins it all. This is proven wrong. Poker players possess exceptionally high emotional intelligence besides other skills needed for this game.  They are masters for control and discipline. 

The poker game itself is a rollercoaster of a vast pallet of emotions. Imagine yourself sitting in front of thousands of chips which can eventually be doubled or lost.  Poker is unpredictable and that’s why a firework of emotions is exploding in the poker player’s brain every minute. 

There are other notable emotions in poker such as excitement, surprise, fear, aggression and rage. Many players are not so good at hiding excitement when they have good cards, others can’t hide the surprise of knowing that someone is bluffing.

 As you see, poker is a complex puzzle of humans who are best at many fields such as psychology, non – verbal communication and emotional intelligence for hiding all their filling. No matter what emotion will overwhelm you if you want to last at the poker table leave your emotion at the door, or just leave from the table.

Controlling Your Emotions – Practical Tips

  • Understand the Math

Some of the best poker players who have very good intuition don’t need math to beat the game. But that’s why the very best players use math on a regular basis. You need to have some understanding of math and learn poker odds in order to make good decisions. However, you should not be afraid if you are not good enough in maths, as the math in poker is often quite simple. 

All you need is probability and basic gambling math which is applicable in all games, not just poker. You should know how to implement pot odds, implied odds, combinatorics and expected values. If you happen to know so gamble strategies that would be a plus.

  • Practice Calming Yourself Down

When it comes to calming yourself, you should know that it is a practice and that what can work for one player, doesn’t necessarily work for another. It is important to know yourself and what triggers you so you know how to fully control your emotions. There are many ways to calm down like listening to music while you`re playing, taking a walking break, meditating or calming your mind with 2-3 deep and controlled breaths. Some play around with their poker chips to calm themselves down. It’s up to you because no one knows you better than you.

Poker tournaments are something that lasts many hours, here you should also take steps for your calm state. You need to get good quality sleep before the tournament, make sure that you are taking your breaks and that you are hydrating well. Here you need your calmness from the start till the end.

  • Take a Deep Breath

Your opponents are your biggest spectators at the table, sometimes so good that they can read your hand from your breathing. Heavy breaths are signs of stress, also shallow breathing is significant that you are fearful, anxious etc. Controlled breathing and the controlled game go together. Deeps breaths are the most efficient method to allow your body to fully exchange oxygen with carbon dioxide which makes your heartbeat slower and also lower your blood pressure.

Breathing can ease your stress symptoms and oxygen can help you think better and make your brain sharp. The negative emotions from a poker game and deprived oxygen as a plus can make your heart skip a beat and your blood pressure go up. In that kind of state, you might not make the best decisions.

  • Commit Fully

If you want to be the best at something you need to fully commit yourself. And when we are talking about poker you need many things to be the best. First of all, consider winning your money on ranges, not just hands. You will need a consistent strategy and wisdom of knowing when to play or not play your favourite hand. 

Commitment in poker can cost you money. So choose not to play in bad games, not to use your aces every time there’s an opportunity, and always have a reason to play. Learn every day, because poker is not something that you learn by playing but also by accessing new possibilities and strategies every now and then.

  • Professional Help

Poker is a card game, but also it is called a mental game. Hence, so many players are so good in non-verbal communication, emotional intelligence and much more that poker has become a mental game nowadays. Many players are great orators and they would mess your mind in any given way: making noises, listening to loud music, making you feel like a loser, reminding you of your bad hands or just by knowing how to keep a poker face.

On the other hand, poker is also a stressful activity, as you may lose so much money and burn out your bank account. This is all-natural, you should know it and get used to it. There is no shame in wanting professional help to deal with this kind of stress. The worst thing to do is to neglect your mental health or to pretend that you don’t have a problem.

In games like poker, a clear head and a strong mindset are precursors of a successful game ahead. Make sure to walk out from the losses with professional help. When your body is coping with stress your health and mindset can suffer, and you need to deal with that pain as soon as possible.

  • Take a Break

If it’s been a long period that you are losing hands, and if none of the above doesn’t work for you anymore, maybe it’s time to quit playing or just take a break. Many people can`t sit at the same table where they have lost a great amount of money, breathing, eating, smoking or drinking can’t seem to help. Some even want to literally walk off the anger. Others are angry and frustrated for weeks or even months. This has nothing to do with poker as it has to do with your personality and how you cope with negative emotions and stressful situations.

If you read all the tips and didn’t find yourself in any, maybe it’s time to just take a break. Appreciate how you feel, embrace your negative emotions so they can fade away easily. Behaving yourself is the basis of proper poker etiquette. 

Final Thoughts

The best way of controlling your emotions in poker is to leave them out of the game. Try to look professional, keep your hand hidden and win the respect of your opponents. By this we mean no matter the outcome you should be polite. If you lose, regardless of how much, be a gracious loser instead of swearing and teasing other players on the table or online chatroom if you play poker online. This also includes being a gracious winner too. When you receive your prize try to do it with a smile instead of ugly and humiliating words told to your opponents.

Knowing how to always control your emotions means not allowing extraneous pressures to impact how much you wager, the risks you take or how you interact with other players in the gaming room.



  • How do you stay calm in poker?

First and foremost, you need to concentrate on your breathing throughout the game. Then, as important as breathing is to leave the emotions at your home. You need to know – yourself best, know what makes you tilt and how to deal with it. It is not always playing poker, it is whether you enjoy it or you stress about it. This is a game where you need to “hurt” others in a way for you to win. Knowing this, if you are the emotional type but you don’t have the emotional intelligence to cope with it, it is better not to play at all.

  • How do you handle emotions in poker?

Playing poker even for free could trigger many emotions, it is essential to know yourself and to know that you are in control. Gambling is a game of probability and you need to be aware of the 50/50 chances to win or lose. Make sure you always handle your emotions, and even if you are tilted you have the power to stand up, go and walk off the frustration or if this is not possible just take a break and stop playing until you get on track.

  • How to play without emotion?

Every player has their way. One of them is to just laugh and use humour to toss a fit. Even if technically laughing is an emotion of happiness it can help you to get through the hand with much ease. Another way is to play music and not hear the rest of the players. This can cheer you up also. But many players who are faking happiness might end up losing more because they are numbing their cautious thinking.


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