Learning how to deal with stress

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Stress is anxiety, tension or pressure that a person often experiences. It is how we respond emotionally, mentally and physically to the demands and changes in our lives.

Examples: While driving to work, this man suffers a heart attack and has to be rushed into the emergency room at the nearest hospital. Another’s wife is about to give birth to their first baby, as he frantically drives through traffic in the dead of night.

Whether it be at the poker table, on the job, on the road, or at home, stress is all too common. While playing poker, a series of losses can quickly turn such stress into tilt. Even the poorly-skilled player realizes this situation as a fact of life at the poker table, and usually learns to deal with it.

Otherwise, he can lose all sense of making rational decisions – bet when he should have mucked his weak hand, raised out of frustration, or mistakenly folded a hand that gave him a Positive Expectation. Then he may go further into tilt when the next card on the board would have made his hand a big winner – if only he had stayed in.

Recognizing such stresses are bound to occur, the wise (highly skilled) player takes appropriate precautions. Patiently, he waits for decent starting-hands, plays at stakes he can well afford – hoping to survive the expected ups-and-downs, and overcome the cost-to-play (rake, bad-beat jackpot drop, and dealer tips) to go home a winner. Because of his acquired skills, he has self-confidence. He is relaxed.

Have you ever seen a player on tilt scream aloud at the dealer and then angrily throw his holecards at her? In low-limit games, even relatively unskilled players have learned how to deal with many stresses – to avoid going on tilt. At my local casino, I often observe one mediocre-skilled player lose hand-after-hand. But he shows no emotion while seeming to be calm, chewing away on a wad of gum, with a smile frozen on his face. I wonder how he actually feels as he goes to his wallet.

Many players take a break from the game – perhaps a walk outside of the casino. Come back 15 minutes later and start anew – or go to another table to play. Great ways to handle such situations. Keep your calm. Stay in control. And, if things don’t improve the second time around, leave for the day. Tomorrow will give you another chance to win. Meanwhile, think about any mistakes you made, and changes in how you ought to play your hands. Think positively; rebuild your self-confidence.

Other methods include deep-breathing, doing a few light physical exercises, and sitting out an orbit while observing your opponents’ playing traits and tells. This can also boost your confidence level.

Our main message here is playing poker can be a wonderful way for learning how best to manage stress in your daily life, where it really matters. Such lessons taken with you from the poker table can benefit your life in many ways.

Although we cannot always control or change what happens in life or at the poker table, we can learn how best to control or change how we deal with the inevitable stresses. And, it helps that the stresses while playing the game of poker and their consequences will be far less serious than those in life – outside of the casino. That makes playing poker a great way to learn how best to deal with even more stressful situations during the game of life.

About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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