Raise or Fold:  A Year of Risky Business

Writing and playing poker as if they were activities worth doing well.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Be Not Afraid (part 1)

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
—Frank Herbert, Dune, 1965
Unmanaged fear is probably the single most dangerous psychological obstacle to winning at poker. And a life governed by fear is deeply destructive to an individual and—if widespread in a culture—to civil society as a whole. If you let it, fear will destroy your game and maybe even you as well. Learning how to recognize, experience, and yet move beyond your fear is essential if you are to be a successful player.

The impulse of fear is useful when it helps us accurately identify dangers and prepares us to respond in constructive ways. But decisions made under the sway of fear are far less likely to be good ones. Our biological fight-or-flight reflexes are often wildly inappropriate for the contexts in which they are triggered in modern life, and this is especially evident at the poker table. When adrenalin pumps through your bloodstream, when your heart races and your hands shake and your bowels liquefy, when you have the vital urge to flip the table in rage or curl up in a fetal position underneath it, you are unlikely to be considering, say, the choice between leading out with a value-bet or check-raising as coolly and deliberately as the situation warrants.

Fear comes in many guises and manifests itself in many ways, some considerably more subtle and insidious than the basic glandular reaction to an obvious external threat. What are you really afraid of?

Are you afraid of losing (and there are so many kinds of loss to consider)? Are you afraid of looking stupid? Does the demeanor or the playing style of someone at the table scare you? Are you fearful that you will lose control? Are you frightened that your time at the table will cause others to judge you immoral or actively dislike you? Are you terrified that, when all is said and done, you might actually be a winner? (Then what?!?)

I'll be addressing each of these questions.

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Anonymous joxum said...

Good post, but what's up with the "bok" label?



3/26/09 5:04 PM  
Blogger Mike Wilson said...

Fear of losing (which may or may not be married deeply to the need to be right) is in the end, why I had to close the charts and walk away from the trading world.

Succeeding (face it, "winning") 60% of the time just wasn't enough. The other 40% was crippling.

And I do wonder if my longer term success wasn't more frightening yet.

3/27/09 12:02 AM  
Blogger Mike Wilson said...

OH! One more thing.

"Courageous" people aren't those who lack fear. I think we spend far too much time and energy trying to be free of fear.

No, the brave simply can act through it.

3/27/09 12:04 AM  
Anonymous Adam Sanders said...

I agree strongly with MW's comment, ""Courageous" people aren't those who lack fear." Fear is the mind's healthy response to perceived danger. Courageous people respond to the situations that precipitate fear with caution and good sense.

I also believe that those who admit to having felt fear at the poker table have never faced real tragedy or danger in their lives. Believe me when I tell you, there is no action you can make with your chips over the green baize that could make me feel fear. This gives me an edge over those who do experience true fear at the table, and think that others will respond to the situations they create as they would.

4/9/09 2:22 PM  

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