How to Handle Stress in Poker

  Stress is one of the aspects that are part of poker and that cannot be avoided, so it is necessary to learn to live with it and to control it. You can not avoid stress, but you can learn to control it Poker players cannot avoid the stress of playing poker, indeed, they do […]


Stress is one of the aspects that are part of poker and that cannot be avoided, so it is necessary to learn to live with it and to control it. You can not avoid stress, but you can learn to control it

Poker players cannot avoid the stress of playing poker, indeed, they do not really want to do it either because a little pressure is necessary to not play with too much relaxation and make unnecessary mistakes.

The player needs to understand stress in order to learn to control it and keep his emotions at a level that does not adversely affect his game. You have to try to keep it at a comfortable level so that the concentration increases but without spoiling the game and the game.

A few years ago, Andy Beal, a Dallas billionaire challenged the best poker players in the world to head-to-head games with chilling money sums. Beal is one of the richest men on the planet and had a very particular goal, to try to force professional players to overcome the limits of stress to get them out of their comfortable zone of play.

To counter Andy Beal, the players joined financially and in the game they took turns, in this way the stress and tension of the game was shared among all. After the games played, Beal returned to Texas with several million less in the pockets since the players, especially Phil Ivey, showed their potential and won Andy Beal in the direct confrontation.

In this case we have seen that professional players are able to handle the pressure and did not lower their level of play despite playing in really high limits of money.

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What type of factors can cause stress?

Normally the money invested can be a factor that affects stress, but there is an example that draws attention and shows that there is no need to go the stress associated with the impact on the budget: Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft and one of the richest men on the planet.

Bill Gates is a regular poker player who could sit in the games with more money in bets without his pocket being hurt, but he is known in Seattle, where he usually enjoys poker, which does not usually sit at tables of more than $ 10 / 20 $ since he has acknowledged that he does not feel comfortable playing at higher levels.

Probably he has not investigated about stress, but he has found a game in which his level of stress is manageable and does not affect his game, without being due in this case to the repercussion of the gains or losses in his final budget since he could play at tables of much more money without his economy noticing it in the least.

Two key points when analysing stress

  1. Stress is not necessarily bad, but it is another emotion that, knowing how to handle it can be beneficial for the player.


  1. With the same amount of pressure you can feel completely different emotions, but not only in different players, but the same person can have different sensations in a similar context.

Both statements sound strange and it may seem impossible to handle stress situations, but it is really not that difficult to understand why there are players who are better than others, especially when it comes to stress situations.

Stress is not bad by nature

As we have indicated in point one, stress is just another emotion, so it does not necessarily have to be bad. Studies show that a too high amount of stress is bad for any human being, but the reality is not so simple, but it is a little more complicated.

Stress, when it does not exceed limits that can be tolerated by the player, can be a very important motivating factor, there are even people who, when they are in situations of stress close to these limits, can do unimaginable things from the positive point of view, without being the game of poker an exception.

There have been cases in which due to the high level of stress and adrenaline there have been parents who have taken their children out of a burning car even with a broken leg, but there are situations in which stress is not an ally, but rather It can be an enemy, as in an operation, so a surgeon needs to control his emotional stress when he is operating someone to life or death.

In poker you have to know how to handle stress in order to act as if you were in both situations since you have to know how to throw yourself into the fire in some cases, while the rest of the time you have to be calm and choose the decision that, thought Coldly, more benefits offer the player statistically speaking.

In short, this point means that sometimes you have to keep your head cool and act with absolute precision as if you were a surgeon, while in others it is necessary to act in a risky way to take advantage of the situation.

Stress depends on the task to be performed

Known in the world of psychology as Interaction, the level of stress is often influenced by the task at hand. According to the law of Yerkes-Dodson, known as such by the two psychologists who formulated it, stress is intimately related to the difficulty of the task to be performed.

As with Goldilocks with the three bears in the well-known children’s story where you need to always be at the intermediate level of both temperature (not too cold or too hot) and hardness (neither too hard nor too soft), The poker player must know how to situate himself in an intermediate point of stress.

If a person has a permanent adrenaline rush when playing poker, he will act at all times as the father who wants to save his son from the flames, being harmful to him, while if he plays passively and without motivation, his lack of aggressiveness will not help either, so it is necessary to be able to find the middle term where the player is rational but is able to risk when it is due.

Two examples of stress level limits

  1. Play with too low a level of stress.

There are many players of levels $ 5 / $ 10 that when faced in tables of $ 1 / $ 2 the players who normally operate in these tables are not able to overcome them. The explanation for this fact is usually that they play with a level of stress that is too low, that the result does not affect them enough so that their level of play is not optimal.

These players in this situation act as if the game was not with them, so they do not have the minimum level of tension and act as if the situation was not important enough for them, so they do not get to interfere in the game. necessary to be able to get the most out of it.

  1. Play with too high a level of stress.

As in the previous case, players who are used to playing at tables of $ 5 / $ 10, tend to get losers when sitting at the $ 10 / $ 25 gaming tables as their stress level rises to exceed the advisable limit.

This happens because the game matters to them too much and the pressure to win is much higher than what they usually have in the usual tables they occupy.

In this case the player has an adrenaline level similar to the father who acts to save his son in flames, saving the distances, but is in an operation where the precision must be exact. Players find that their emotions are too high and the high level of stress makes their game suffer.

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