All you need to know to use psychology in your poker strategy

19 September

Psychology applied to poker


How does psychology influence the game of poker?

No matter if you are an online or live poker player, you certainly wonder which strategies you should follow to improve your poker game and you mental strengh during the game.

Today, we will show significant psychology elements that affect the poker game and can help in both ways: first, to be a stronger opponent; and second, to analyze the weaknesses of your rivals and to take advantage of them.


What do you need to be a good poker player?

You may be a professional player or just a regular one, but in both cases you need to have a set of features. In our post Habits to focus your poker sessions online we already spoke about routines that you can use in your game, but here we are going to focus exclusively in the psychology role played in online and live poker.

As we said before the psychology explained here can be divided in two branches

  • Psychology applied to your behavior
  • Psychology applied to your opponents


Psychology applied to your behavior

First of all you need to have a positive and relaxed attitude, if you lose control of you reactions and emotions, your game can become a nightmare. You need to take the control of the stress set up by the game and keep your concentration. The pressure can be tricky and come to light with involuntary movements and twitches of your body. Only looking to your body language your rival can deduce if you have a good hand or a bad one and debunk your strategy.

However, there are tips that you can easily apply and will mentally help you to improve your game tactics.

  • Visualize your game: this can help you to funnel the stress, you must have always a positive tune, and remember that you can always learn from analyzing your game and this from your rivals.
  • Don´t be superstitious: a large number of player try to invoke good luck or believe that they can keep it away by making some actions. All the same, this can trigger anxiety if our "rituals" don´t work as we think they should. Remember that poker is a strategy game and you ought have the control over it.
  • Be objective with your game and with the situation: analyze our game will help us to improve and to learn form our mistakes, so you can avoid them in the future. The poker requires a continuous learning process fueled with all your concentration. Being objective is an essential feature to keep going and not to loose control.
  • Learn from your defeats: A large number of players begin to get nervous when the game doesn´t fit their expectations. You must remember that your winning probabilities are not affected by your past poker games. One part of the game is unpredictable and depends totally on good luck. If you believe your decisions are right with the information you have and they match your strategy you should not fear the defeats.

In addition to these advices, a good way to improve your game and get over you is to hire a poker coach. A coach can assist you with your strategy, improving your gaming and helping you to avoid technical mistakes with your hands and to go through psychological barriers. With a coach help, you will visualize your game and boost it to the next level. Without any doubt, hire a coach is a good investment that can bring you huge benefits and you must think about the added value that a coach will transfer to your game.

Till now, we have focused on psychology applied to your own game, but psychology can also help you to analyze the game of your opponents.


Psychology applied to your opponents: How to study your poker rivals?


Historical Tip

In the 50´s, in the middle of the cold war, a new mathematical discipline was developed, it was called Game theory. This science, is used to study the interactions that may occur in a controlled situation. It´s a theory based in strategy and probability and it was used during all the cold war to anticipate an enemy attack, it makes estimations using rational decision making. Today, these mathematical models are used in different fields such biology, economy, sociology, artificial intelligence and computer science.

The decisions and the calculations made by a poker player are examples of this type of mathematics and include all the possibilities that can appear in the game. The player must analyze psychological components and rational decisions that may be used by their opponents. The game theory has a lot of variations, and they will require another post, but you can find more information in our post Brains: libratus knocks the human team down,   where you can see how and AI use the basis of the game theory to win at poker game.


In live poker, an essential element that you should pay attention to is the body language. You must control your body reactions, but it is also important to know how to interpret your rival´s body. We can not make a general guide for the body language because every situation is different, but there are several features that you can spot and can show you the anxiety of your opponent and with them you can have a better idea of their hands.

  • Shrinking shoulders: this is a symbol of tension and discomfort.
  • Touching or scratching the face or neck: this tic is very common in people with a high level of stress, the individual is not aware of what he is doing but it shows his anxiety.
  • Irregular breathing and sighing: breathing shows without any doubt the anemic state of our opponents, change in breathing indicates surprise, anxiety, stress, etc.
  • Hands position: hands indicate nervousness, nevertheless it depends on the behavior of our rivals and its not the same one movement or another: its not the same playing with the token that biting the nails. You should look for sudden changes in your rivals movements.

These tips can help you to understand the game of your opponents, and that´s why you should know them to avoid doing them. If you are interested in the body language we recommend you the book Read´em and Reap (2014) written by Joe Navarro an FBI agent that studies human behavior focused in poker game.

Not only the body but all the way your opponents play, can give you clues of their failures, each rival has his failures, you have to find them and use them in your own benefit:

  • Aggressive game, full of ego: an aggressive way to play may indicate a lack of control over the game. This aggressiveness tries to compensate and to hide the insecurity of the player. So you just have to keep in mind that aggressiveness not always is a sign of a good hand.
  • Emotional game with lack of rationality: external factors can influence the game, you can find your opponents are not concentrate in the game. On the other hand, sometimes you can see problems between some opponents, this lead them to play emotionally trying to hurt or to shame the other player letting aside their strategy plan.

The next time you play poker, remember the role of psychology in the game and in your opponents. Each game and rival are different but in Habwin we want to help you in your game. We hope this post helps you to improve your poker game, and we invite you to read our post about the main goals for a poker player to have a global vision of your game. We wait for your comments!

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