Sometimes stress is a good thing at the poker table



Stress has gotten a bad rap. Not all stress is bad for you. In fact, some stress is necessary to compete effectively. Stress at the right level keeps you activated, focused, alert and aware, and it helps you perform better.

Distress affects us negatively. Stress exists outside the game of poker and certainly, for some, inside the game. We need to be aware of when stress becomes distress. In poker we call this tilt.

Rule 1: Leave your life stress out of the game. When you decide to play, don’t play because you’re stressed and want to relieve it. Develop coping and life skills for dealing with life stress before you play.

If you’re serious about this game then when you enter the poker room you have to enter as the poker player. You need some pregame warm-up, just like any competitor. I advise the simple “take a lap” method.

You get to the room and instead of signing up for a table walk around the room; get acclimated; let the sounds and sights take over your senses. A secondary benefit of taking a lap is seeing what today’s action is like and maybe seat selection comes into play.

If you have pregame jitters don’t panic. This could be a good thing. It could be a sign you’re ready to go; that you’re activated and ready for the action.

If you’re serious and want to bring your “A” game, you need to be focused, confident and directed.

But then you get sucked out on the river three times in eight hands and chase a straight and not notice the flush-draw possibilities. Stress rises, how do you react? It looks like you already reacted as you chased the second-best hand. You figured you were owed some luck.

When you think you’re owed luck, you start chasing gutshot straights and backdoor flushes.

You aren’t owed luck; luck is random. If you think it’s humanized, you’re wrong and you’re tilting.

Of course the obvious tilt is an emotional display: throwing cards; acting out; berating people, etc.

What other kinds of tilt have you seen? I’d be interested in hearing your take on tilt. 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