Faking positivity can work in poker

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Even faking a smile can improve your mood. Seriously, Google it. When you’re playing a game that’s constantly adversarial, sometimes it’s hard to stay positive even when you’re winning or doing well in a tournament.

During the World Series of Poker Main Event this summer, we were on the second break of Day 2. I’d lost a pot during the level and I had just paid $10 for a milkshake, so positivity wasn’t at the forefront of my mind.

As usual, when you see your friends you ask how things are going, offer words of encouragement to those who are short and talk about how nice it must be to have all those extra chips.

When I asked one of my friends how he was doing he said, “I’ve got a starting stack so I’m fine.” Starting stack actually wasn’t too far below average at this point. After a noticeable pause, he added, “from last year,” and grinned ear to ear. This year’s starting stack was 50K, last year’s was 30K. Maybe he was faking it, but remember faking it works, too. He had a much smaller stack than I did and was certainly more positive.

While playing poker, you are subjected to constant negativity. You’re not winning most hands that are dealt, players are trying to take every chip you have in front of you and someone is always telling a bad-beat story.

We’ve touched on the importance of being as neutral as possible with your emotions and this advice is part of the way to achieve that balance. With the massive amount of negativity facing you at all times, it’s an uphill battle.

Do whatever mental gymnastics you need to do to keep yourself positive while you’re playing. You can be critical of yourself afterward, but in the moment, your decisions always will be better overall with a positive outlook.

Compliment other players when you can, give compliments to the dealers and the floor staff. You want to be so positive that it’s almost annoying.

By the way, that friend that I talked to on break? Jerry Wong.

— Brent Philbin is a poker pro who lives in South Florida. You can reach him at Brent.Philbin@gmail.com.