Keep your self-talk on the positive side at the poker table



Self-talk can be positive or negative. But it is private. Positive self-talk is an important tool at the poker table. The process is to develop positive self-talk that keeps you calm and focused instead of tilting.

You can learn thought stoppage; you can practice away from the table by keeping some pennies or coins and transferring from your left pocket to your right when you engage in negative self-talk.

I once advised a poker player to keep a rubber band around his wrist. Snap the rubber band every time he was thinking negatively. It literally snapped him off of tilt. This technique is a proven way of changing thought process and used extensively in psychology. Given all the riffling of chips and other things we all do at the table no one would notice.

A must in poker is to be able to let go of negative thoughts, shake mistakes, forget about bad beat, or the idiot who played cards he should not have and beat you. If you brood about this you are doomed.
A successful poker player has to let go and refocus, particularly during critical times.

A variety of techniques work. Changing your frame by taking a walk or a lap around the room; order something to eat or to drink; take a bathroom break to wash your face. Anything that changes the frame. Don’t feel like you’re chained to the table. You’re allowed to get up and if you have to then do it.

Another effective technique is to develop a statement that will help you. This statement is something designed away from the table; maybe even with a coach. It’s personal, positive and short.

Once you’ve developed the statement, away from the table, use it:
• Inhale through your nose lasting a count of three or four
• Hold the breath
• Exhale through your mouth for a count of three or four and say your statement to yourself

You should practice this simple breathing technique with statement before you do it at the table. If you are self-conscious do it away from the table. Take a break.

The statement has to fit you. It can be as simple as “focused;” it can be a self-affirmation, “I know how to play this game,” but it shouldn’t be much longer than a short sentence. It has to be personal and meaningful to you and it must be positive. Positive thinking is the key. It doesn’t change the odds or the cards, but it changes you.
The only thing you really have control over at the table is use. Learn how to harness positive thoughts and use them to enhance peak performance.

Think positively, stay focused, concentrate and keep your head in the game.

— Dr. Stephen Bloomfield is a licensed psychologist and avid poker player. His column will give insight on how to achieve peak performance using poker psychology. Email questions for him at

Ante Up Magazine

Ante Up Magazine