The Poker Shrink, Vol 4 - Anxiety and Fear
Last night I heard a yelp from the kitchen, I went to discover my significant other, the cat and a tiny grey rodent in a frozen ménage a mouse scene. I dropped a dish towel on the mouse and transported Mickey outside (we do catch & release at my house).
Later, my lovely "other" said: "I can't believe I was afraid of a mouse."
Well, she wasn't. You are afraid in a war zone or when you come around a curve on a rainy dark night and there is a semi-tractor trailer in your lane. She did have some anxiety over the rodentia commonalus in the kitchen and its impending doom in the jaws of our domesticated tiger.
But how many times have you heard or said: "I was afraid of his big stack" or "I was afraid of that flush draw on the board." Now fairly obviously we do not experience "real" fear at the poker table. However, whether we are talking anxiety, trepidation, angst, apprehension, consternation, distress, doubt, faintheartedness, jitters, misgivings, suspicion, timidity, unease or worry; we are talking about thoughts feelings and emotions that can and probably should affect your poker game.
Fear is an unpleasant feeling of perceived risk or danger, whether it be a real risk or an imagined danger. Fear also can be described as a feeling of extreme dislike towards certain conditions, objects, people, or situations such as: fear of heights, fear of snakes, fear of a one-outer on the river, etc.
For those who are ready to say: "I am never afraid at the poker table." Let me ask you to imagine this situation. After the flop you make a sizeable bet on a semi-bluff. You haven't got a made hand but you clearly have outs, lots of outs and outs to a big hand. Just as your raise hits the table, the player to your left says: "All-in!"
Feel that? Come on…..Feel that?
Whatever you want to call that feeling that is what we are talking about here. Call it fear. Call it unease or dis-ease. Call it what you like, it happens at the table and you should know how to deal with it because that feeling can help your game or cost you all your chips. Call anything you like, just don't be afraid of using it to win.
Fearing objects or contexts can be learned; in animals we call this fear conditioning. Humans are animals and we learn fear, we learn to be anxious in certain situations when confronted with certain stimuli or events. We can also unlearn fears that we have been conditioned in our life to have. You are holding pocket Kings, on the flop an Ace hits. What do you fear? Well the Ace, of course. But if you don't lead out with a bet holding Kings then won't the other player bet to confirm your worst fears? And won't a good player always bet into an Ace flop when they see you check-fold to that bet? Replace that fear of the Ace with a better more profitable fear: I fear that no one will call my pre-flop raise and I will only win the blinds with my Pocket Kings.
Fear of success and fear of failure also come into play at the poker table. Fear of failure, includes doubts about your own worthiness for success and/or fears of what success will bring. Want evidence that everyone doesn't really want to win.
Jamie Gold, 2006 World Series of Poker No Limit Hold 'em Champ said during the final days of the Series that he was terrified of winning--not because of the twelve million dollar prize but because he fears the fame that a victory will bring. In an interview with ESPN.com, Gold explained the idea of instant celebrity was so overwhelming that he considered dumping his chips to finish second.
"I don't want it,'' Gold said, "I've seen what it's done to other people."
Say what you will about Mr. Gold. Fear of success and fear of failure and just outright fear haunt every table in every poker room on the planet. Trust me; I am really afraid it's true.
I'll have more on fear and anxiety in my next article, when we deal with how your fears can give off costly tells at the table.
Ed note: Act like you have no fear when you play at Hollywood Poker