The psychology of poker is a complex and multifaceted subject. It involves not only understanding one’s own mental and emotional states, but also the states of your opponents. In order to be a successful poker player, it’s important to have a strong understanding of the psychological factors that can influence, and how they influence, the game and how people play.

One of the key psychological aspects of poker is the concept of ‘tells’. A tell is a subtle physical or verbal clue that a player can emit during play which can provide insight into their hand strength or intentions. Some common tells include fidgeting, avoiding eye contact, the size of the bet, or how the bet is added to the pot.

Another important psychological aspect of poker is ‘tilt’, or ‘being on tilt’. Tilt is a state of emotional distress that can, and usually will, cause a player to make poor decisions. Tilt can be triggered by a variety of factors, such as losing a big pot, being on the receiving end of a bad beat, or having to handle external personal problems that have nothing to do with the game. It’s important for poker players to be aware of their own tilt triggers and to learn how to manage their emotions at the poker table in order to avoid making an easily avoidable mistake that can cost them a big pot or their tournament life.

As important as it is to understand your own psychology, it’s equally important to be able to understand and interpret the psychology and moods of your opponents. This involves paying attention to tells – are they fidgety and nervous, observing betting patterns – was the bet oversized and slammed onto the table, and trying to get a sense of an opponent’s emotional state – do they appear distraught. By spending a portion of your time observing your opponents, you can gain an edge by being able to predict your opponent’s actions and make more informed decisions.

A third psychological aspect that a player needs to consider when playing poker is the concept of “mindfulness.” In this situation, we are not referring to how we treat the other players but ensuring that we stay present in the moment and fully aware of our surroundings and actions. By paying attention to our own mindfulness, we can help stay focused on the game and hand – the less we are distracted, the less we will be caught off guard by our opponents. Additionally, the more we understand the concept of mindfulness, the easier it will be to see the distracted behavior in others, allowing us to take advantage of their mistakes.

The fourth major psychological factor in poker is the concept of ‘confidence’. Having confidence will have a huge effect on the way you play and how you are perceived at the table. Being confident can allow you to bluff more successfully which means winning more pots. Confidence also allows you to stay calm under pressure which has the benefit of keeping your opponents unsure if they are making the correct decision. Of course, a lack of confidence can lead to uncertainty, poor decision-making, and giving an easier way for your opponents to read you.

The last aspect of the psychology of poker also involves understanding the role luck plays in the game of poker. While skill is the major factor in poker when playing, luck does have a significant role in the outcome of a hand. Luck, or variance, as many poker players prefer to call it, is itself not a psychological factor; however, running badly during any extended period of time will have an effect on a player’s mental state. It is vitally important for players, particularly new poker players, to understand that no matter how good they play, they can’t control the cards that are dealt. Every poker player needs to learn how to manage their expectations and emotions when luck, or variance, is not working in their favor.

The psychology of poker is very complex. Involving the mental and emotional states of everyone at the table. Being aware of your own tells, your mental state, your emotional state and even, to some extent, your physical state. And if that is not enough, you have to make sure that you are also aware of the same things about each of your opponents. Keeping track of how the mood of each player is changing hand-to-hand and adapting your strategy and style to match. Keeping an eye on their tells, being tuned in on how variance has been affecting them and how they have responded to it. Did that last bad beat shake their confidence? What are you thinking after seeing the board run out perfectly for you had you called?

There are many psychological factors that you have to remember when playing poker, how they are intertwined and how you and your opponents are affected by them. By understanding these factors, it will become easier for you to manage them and, like the pros, become successful in the long run.

About the Author: Jinwoonon graduated from Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok in 2014 with a bachelor of science degree in Chemical Technology. Currently working as an assistant teacher specializing in Mathematics, Jinwoonon enjoys spending time using mathematics to contribute to the advancement of poker strategy.