Manage your anger and tilt at the poker table

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Anger is often seen as the primary reason for going on tilt. There obviously are others: losing, embarrassment, stupidity.

However, anger is the one I am dealing with in these columns lately, because it’s not only a cause of tilt, the lessons are applicable to life.

What do I know? Anger is a normal emotion that can be adaptive and sometimes necessary for survival. It’s part of personal resilience. So, what’s the problem?

So-called anger management is better thought of as anger regulation. You’ll experience anger, but you want to regulate it and, of course, you want to know what provokes anger.

Anger isn’t an external event; it’s a function of our perceptions and the way we process information and what’s going on around us.

We need to be aware of anger arousal. That’s the physiological activation that comes along with anger.
Next we need to know what overt behaviors we exhibit when we experience anger, when we mediate our perceptions and when anger is activated.

The adaptive value of anger is directly related to how you regulate anger.
Finally, one needs to know what provokes anger.

The negative behavior that’s unregulated that results from our perception and leads to anger arousal is what we call angry tilt.

You can regulate these at all levels except the normal emotion. The sequence goes something like:

• I experience anger; some villain stayed in with any two cards and flushes my straight. I experience anger.

• I perceive this as something I have to react to vs. something I could expect and let it roll off; this is different than burying it. It usually involves some direct intervention: a walk, some breathing exercises.

• I start to feel some physiological arousal; now it may getting late in the regulatory process. You need a more immediate intervention. Go to the bathroom and wash your face; get up a take a lap around the room; breathe it out.

• I start acting out; oops, too late. I missed the wave of regulation.

The more you can be aware of anger and how it’s perceived, aroused and what behavior goes with it, the more you will be able to regulate anger and the less you will experience anger tilt.

Of course, this will allow you to keep your head in the game at all times, not just in poker.

— Dr. Stephen Bloomfield is a licensed psychologist and avid poker player. Email him at editor@anteupmagazine.com.