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1: The Role of Emotions in Wagering

While making money may not be the only reason you’ve decided to become a punter, money is like a scoreboard telling you whether you’re winning or losing in this game. Obviously, you want to win more than you lose. Yet whether you're a novice punter or a seasoned pro, sometimes you find yourself losing money when you shouldn’t and leaving potential profits on the table. The question is why.

Many of you have already tightened your system or worked up a new model as a way to stop these unnecessary losses. Those are the correct first steps. But what if the bleeding continues because you find yourself making mistakes like these:

  • Launching a model that doesn’t pass all the checks
  • Increasing stake size to recover previous losses
  • Stopping a model running after a negative downturn
  • Increasing stake size on a profitable model too quickly
  • Continuing to use a losing model despite knowing that something needs to change
  • Justifying a long term losing model with short term positive performance

If that’s the case, the solution is going to come from the mental and emotional side of wagering—your mental game. When you can’t stop yourself from making mistakes like these, and others like them, your emotions are the reason. When your emotions become too intense, they have the power to force you to make mistakes.

This is critical so it bears repeating: Emotions are the reason you can’t stop these mistakes from happening. Fix your sights firmly on correcting fear, anger, overconfidence or a lack of confidence, because they are at the heart of what’s costing you.

The First Rule of Emotions

Just like any other game, if you’re going to win, you need to know the rules. Otherwise, you have no chance of reliably correcting your mistakes. While I’ve just explained that emotions are driving your mistakes, emotion is a subject that is widely misunderstood, not just within wagering. And there is one rule that you must understand: When the emotional system becomes overactive, it has the power to shut down higher brain functions.

This is why you make those mistakes. Your emotions are running too hot and they override the part of the brain responsible for thinking and processing information correctly. Both positive and negative emotions can cause this breakdown in mental functioning. That’s why you increase stakes or launch a model too quickly—excitement or overconfidence prevent you from making a well-reasoned decision. Having confidence is important to performance, but too much of it can lead you to overlook some factors or overestimate the accuracy of your opinion.

When your emotions are too intense, the following can also happen:

  • Your mind moves so fast that you miss key pieces of data
  • You know the right answer, but can’t access it
  • You’re aware that what you’re doing is wrong, but you can’t stop yourself
  • You overweight the importance of some factors and fail to consider relevant ones.
  • When emotions are at their highest level—shock, euphoria, blind rage—your mind goes completely blank and you stop thinking altogether.

When emotions are overactive, the loss of higher brain functions is something that no one can control. Why? Because emotions have the power to reduce and even shut down your decision-making process entirely. This basic mechanism in the brain is something that no one can control. It’s hardwired. Many of you know it as the fight or flight mechanism. Once your emotional system becomes overactive, you lose access to knowledge that is critical to avoiding these mistakes.

Emotions Aren’t All Bad

Now that you understand how powerful the emotional system is, it’s tempting to write emotion off as bad, especially since they surround all the mistakes you want to avoid.

Although emotions seem like the problem, you actually need it to fuel your performance, and you need them to be at your absolute best. In fact, even emotions that tend to be viewed as negative, like anger, can drive you to the highest level. Basketball legend Michael Jordan famously used anger as motivation to perform and that seems to have worked out pretty well for him!

In the same way, experienced punters use their emotions as a guide, and their intuition or gut will show up as excitement, for example, when they sense a massive opportunity, or fear when something is off with the betting lines, or with their algo and they need to update their system.

The distinction is that in order to have emotions aid your decision making like this they need to be clear, and free of flaws, biases, illusions, wishes, or personal needs that alter your perception about what’s correct. This article series, and my books, are dedicated to helping you achieve this outcome.

Emotional Control is Not the Answer

Even though you can’t control an overactive emotional system, that doesn’t mean you have no options. This is why the mental game matters—it provides you with an understanding of how your brain works so you can properly devise a strategy.

In this series of articles I’ll help you with that strategy. But what I will tell you today is that simply striving to control your emotions is not the answer.

Many punters believe that they should always be able to control their emotions. Some even expect that it should be easy to do that. But here’s the thing, the part of the brain responsible for emotional control is called the prefrontal cortex. And when your emotional system becomes overactive it takes resources away from the prefrontal cortex, and lowers your ability to control your emotions.

Which means that in order for you to have a chance at controlling your emotions, you must recognize the early signs of your emotions rising, while you still have the potential to stop the rise of emotion! The next article is available now, where I’ll show you how to look for and identify those signs.

Part II - Map Your Emotions

Jared Tendler, MS is a mental game coach for world champion poker players, PGA Tour players, sports bettors and financial traders from 45 countries. He is the author of three highly acclaimed books, The Mental Game of Poker 1 & 2 and his newest book The Mental Game of Trading. Find out more about Jared’s work at: