Money affects emotions, and emotions control most players. Poker involves the winning and losing of money. Common emotions of anger, excitement, greed, masochism, sadism, and self-pity often take control of players during the action. Most players fail to recognize or are unable to suppress those emotional influences that decrease their objectivity and poker ability. The good player recognizes his own emotions and prevents them from influencing his actions He avoids acting on his whims and feelings.

Players respond emotionally to various experiences during the game. The good player uses those emotional reactions to his financial advantage. Some typical reactions and their causes are listed in Table 2.


Emotional Reactions

Causes of Reactions

Playing loose to recover losses Playing tight to minimize losses

A losing streak

Playing loose to push good luck Playing tight to protect winnings

A winning streak

Extending a "rush" or "streak o/good luck" by playing recklessly

Winning a big hand or several consecutive hands . . . or having a "hot streak."

Playing poorly to avenge a loss or to retaliate for injured feelings

Losing a big hand or having feelings or pride hurt

Acting comical or silly

Fear, nervousness, lack of confidence, or desire for diversion

Becoming prone to impulsive actions and mistakes

Fear, nervousness, or desperation

Losing concentration and decreasing awareness of situation

Fear, laziness, fatigue, other problems

Losing assertiveness or aggressiveness

Fearing opponents, high stakes, or loss of too much money

Recognition and control of one's own emotions are difficult and require thinking effort. That is one reason why good poker players are rare.

The good player directs his actions to produce desirable emotions (e.g., pleasure and self-esteem); the poor player lets his emotions produce undesirable actions (e.g., poor concentration and carelessness).

Poker is a unique medium for studying people. Where else can one stare at and intensely observe another person for hours every week?

Poker offers opportunities to study people, often in highly emotional situations. Such opportunities that are probably better than those most psychoanalysts get to study their patients. The observant, good player will soon understand his opponents better than their own families do.

Poker players are often fatigued and under emotional stresses that expose their characters. On another page in John's notebook, he summarizes the emotional characteristics of his opponents as shown on the chart below:


Prototype Player

Emotional Characteristics

Quintin Merck


Fairly stable and objective. Can be upset when insulted or humiliated. His play then disintegrates. Becomes less objective during late hours as he fatigues.

Scotty Nichols


Has inferiority complex and lack of confidence. Plays extremely tight if winning. Loosens up and plays recklessly after suffering a heavy loss or after losing several consecutive hands.

Sid Bennett


Hides lack of confidence with silly behavior. Humor him and keep atmosphere relaxed to bring out his worst. Be careful not to hurt his feelings, or he will sulk and play tight. Goes wild when winning.

Ted Fehr


A compulsive gambler. Lacks self esteem. Wants to punish himself. Wants to lose. Deteriorates easily into a desperate condition. Insensitive to insults. No pride.

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