The phrase “poker face” entered the English language in 1885. It describes quite aptly the inscrutable look of a practised Poker player, whose expressions betray not a hint of thoughts or feelings. For more than century since then, players have been trying to perfect that emotionless appearance by mastering Poker’s inner game—the Poker temperament.
The development of a Poker temperament begins long before any cards are dealt with a good night’s sleep. Being fully rested allows a player to remain alert throughout play and make better decisions. On the other hand, a player who is tired may be easily distracted and prone to judgment errors. Getting a good night’s sleep is especially important when preparing for a tournament, where many sessions of sitting at the table may be required.
Along the same lines, eating heavily prior to playing can make one drowsy, so only a light meal should be taken beforehand. It is also important to remain properly hydrated, which can be achieved by regular sipping of water or sports drinks. Alcoholic beverages, however, should be avoided. Consuming them can not only dull concentration and cloud decision-making abilities; it can also deplete the body of nourishing fluids.
Players who are physically fit find it easier to endure the long hours that winning Poker demands. Regular exercise and a healthy diet can help develop stamina. To get ready for big matches, some players actually train in the gym. To them, Poker is a sport, and they understand that the mind and body must work together to achieve optimum results.
Dressing comfortably is also important. Most Poker rooms are air-conditioned, sometimes to the point of being overly chilled. A jacket or sweater that can easily be removed or put on will come in handy if there are big swings in temperature. Other items of clothing to consider are hats and sunglasses, not just to shade one’s eyes but also to hide one’s unconscious emotional reactions during play.
Patience is a virtue essential to success in Poker. A player who rushes actions will make far more mistakes than one who is deliberate. A player who displays impatience may not take sufficient time to think situations through. A good state of mind is to pretend that one has all of the time in the world to play a hand or a session.
When feeling hurried, take a deep breath, look away and focus on something at a distance. A few seconds taken to reorganize may be all that is needed to calm down and revert to a moderate pace of play.
It can be extremely difficult not to show feelings of distress, excitement, disappointment, or joy while playing Poker. Emotions attach naturally to incidents of victory and defeat. Players who suppress these feelings may be successful in masking their reactions in the short term, but without some form of release, frustration can build and affect one’s game. There are breathing techniques, such as those taught in yoga, that can be very effective in dissipating emotional stress. Sometimes simply standing up and stretching can help, too.
In developing the Poker temperament, it may also be helpful to remember that Poker is a game or a sport. Guns are no longer brought to the table. Look for a little humor in various situations. Any activity involving a suicide King, one-eyed Jacks, painted Ladies and the Nuts has got to be fun, not too serious.
Finally, there is no shame in leaving a game when bored, distracted, distraught, or just not feeling right about the game. Good Poker requires a good frame of mind. If a short break doesn’t work to refocus, take a longer one. It is better to save one’s bankroll and play another day than continue to risk it under less than optimum conditions.