The Poker Shrink, Volume 5 - Responses to Fear
I want to thank several readers who wrote me about last week's article on 'Fear at the Tables'. Apparently I had played down actual fear a bit too much for some poker players. Fear or anxiety is a real occurrence will playing poker and this week I will address the primary effects those psychological states can have on your play and your presence at the table.
Its worth noting that my own reluctance to call mild anxiety during a poker game actual fear is a personal trait that I myself have cultivated when playing poker. I am not afraid at the tables, I do not experience the increased heart rate when I make a big bluff or flop a monster. But that is learned behavior. I recall how I felt the first time I shoved over 100,000 chips into a pot on a stone cold bluff; I thought my heart would jump out of my chest, hit the table and bounce over to my opponent beating out: "Bluff! Bluff! Bluff!"
Now, years later, and with a good deal of psychological training I mostly register somewhere between disinterested and asleep at the tables but that is a poker behavior that serves me well. I only have increased heart rate and agitated behavior when a certain red head walks into the card room. As a first step in managing your own table fear, you need to notice your own reactions to fear, anxiety and cocktail waitresses and learn either to control those reactions or use them to your advantage.
Let's take a look at the some of the physical and psychological reactions to fear and anxiety. Increased heart rate is most common physical reaction to stress, fear, happiness, a loud noise, watching your favorite team on TV, or meeting a loved one at the airport. Increased heart rate supplies more oxygen to the brain and other organs and prepares you for any eventuality; fight, flight or straight flush draw.
We have all heard of the "Fight or Flight" stimulus response, which supposedly links back to the days when we were cavemen/cavewomen. There is no reason to link increased heart rate just to our neanderthal days. We are just as likely to need more oxygen as Fred Flintstone was. The key at the poker table is to notice if you have this reaction only when you bluff or only when you hit a big hand. If it's one or the other then you need to do something to prevent giving off a tell. If your heart starts banging at the back of your ribs anytime you are in a big hand bluff or monster, then don't worry about it. A tell needs to mean something specific the others players can get a read on.
Heart rate registers in many physical and psychological ways. The most common readable tell are the actual veins standing out on your forehead or neck. Followed by increased in respiration, rapid eye movement and/or pupil dilation. Next, the tension produced by fear or anxiety can cause nervous movements, most often with the hands or an overall increase in what might be called fidgeting or muscle flexing. The increased circulation causes us to "wake-up" just a bit and we then want to move or talk. we have nervous hands. If you "know" you will fold your bluff to a reraise or that you will push all-in with your made hand then you may actually appear calm - even too calm, which can also be a tell.
The first step, again, is knowing what you do when under stress while playing. Pay attention to your own reactions when next at the table. Next week, we will cover more of the most common physical tells that are triggered by stress, anxiety and fear.
Ed Note: If you show your fear at the table – the solution is simple. Play online at Paradise Poker