Poker Strategy With Alan Schoonmaker: Playing With Fear –

Jason Zweig’s Your Money and Your Brain cites research that suggests that fear is much more common and has much greater effects than most poker players believe.

Poker players rarely discuss fear. It doesn’t fit our preferred image. We want to believe that we’re unemotional, rational decision-makers who objectively analyze risks and rewards, then make EV-maximizing decisions. That’s the ideal, but – because of our fears (and other emotions) – we often can’t do it.

You, me, the best pros, the tightest rocks, and the wildest maniacs are sometimes affected by our fears, even if we are unaware of them, even if the risks are trivial. The better players are less affected by fears, but nobody can completely escape their effects.

Subliminal Risks

Wikipedia defines “subliminal stimuli” as ones “below an individual’s threshold for conscious perception… functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies show that subliminal stimuli activate specific regions of the brain despite participants being unaware.”

These brain regions naturally react to powerful, conscious dangers, and the reactions to subliminal “threats” are generally the same, but less intense. You can be frightened by something and react to your fears, but not know how you feel or how you’re reacting. You think you’re being rational and analytic, but you’re reacting – at least partially – to your fears.

Because money is so important to us, “losing money can ignite the same fundamental fears you would feel if you encountered a charging tiger, got caught in a burning forest, or stood on the crumbling edge of a cliff.”

The fear of losing money is obviously less intense than the fear of dying, but all fears have the same general effects: They make us less objective, less concerned with our decisions’ long-term consequences, more concerned with escaping the pain of the fear.

Many fears are

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