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The 5 Distractions: 5 Easy Ways to Stay Off Tilt at the Poker Table

I called him “selfish.”

To me it was just a word; one with meaning, but a word all the same.

My son didn’t see it that way. To him, that word was like a paper cut. There was a sharp intake of breath, and a loss of blood, followed by hours of irritability as the wound screamed at him.


We argued over the phone. As the parent, I controlled the flow. I felt calm considering the circumstances. My wife heard anger and a loss of control.

On the other end of the phone, I could sense frustration, defensiveness and anger. I ended the call. I was upset; he was angry. It was the first time we had argued like this for as long as I can remember.

A few minutes after the phones went dead he sent me a Facebook message. It was more like a tome. I read it. I wasn’t angry. I was disappointed. It was defensive, selfish and unbalanced.

Body as Weapon

A few hours later we hugged. I apologized. He apologized. Then I spoke to him about the response. It wasn’t a defensive delivery. It was a lesson in life.

female player 2 2015 bom
Let the anger settle.

I told him that in future, should he feel the need to respond in a moment of anger, to type out the Facebook message, e-mail or text, but not send it. I advised him to leave it alone for 24 hours.

I wasn’t going anywhere. He wasn’t going anywhere. Keep the powder dry.

At that moment the emotions of frustration, anger and despair had hijacked his mind and were using his body as a pretty efficient weapon.

That is not the time to act  — unless you are going to war. It’s always better to let things settle. To see things from the other person’s point of view.

To create empathy. To accept 100% responsibility. To consider the other person’s imperfections and seek acceptance. To search for gratitude.

Then, send the message. Although, more often than not, you will delete it. You will see it for the defensive posturing that it is and throw it in the trash.

A Lot of Room for Straw

It’s not often that my son and I fight. But we do act in ways that wind the other one up.

I try to raise him with a sense of autonomy but there are times I inadvertently use my authority to whittle him down. That can frustrate him.

Brandon Cantu2013 WSOP EuropeEV0710K NLH Main EventDay 1AGiron8JG1548
Pop. Fizzle. Blow.

We don’t live together. I am a different man than the one that raised him when I used to live with him. I have remarried. I am a straight x vegan, and that’s a different upbringing from the one my son had.

We clash. We are frustrated. We bottle in these frustrations. Then one day someone takes the top off.

Pop. Fizz. Bubble.

You’re not often faced with a monumental moment of angst or rage in life or at the poker table. Instead, what typically happens, is the anxiety and anger slowly creep up on you over a series of annoying little problems, nuances or interactions.

It’s what happened to me and my son. We both bottled up problems we had with each other’s behavior and didn’t deal with them.

In poker you make mistakes, become irritated by someone at the table; perhaps the dealer is slowly winding you up by picking his nose and flicking his mess into the muck.

It’s unusual for me to sit down at a poker table and explode. It’s gradual. There is a lot of room for straw on this humpy old camel.

Five Distractions

Here is some advice I gave my son on how to chill out and take the edge off those unwanted negative emotions. Believe me, they work equally as well in poker.

1. Meditation


Have you ever watched the movie Inside Out?

No? Man, you are missing something special. Rent it tonight.

I used to be the red dude called Anger. Things would get to me easily. My roof would explode. Flames would shoot out of my head. I would lose control. I would burn everyone around me.

Then I learned transcendental meditation (TM). I practice for 20-minutes per day, twice per day. Unless you wire up your brain, it’s difficult to measure success, but my wife reliably informs me that I am a changed man since I started meditating: calmer, wiser and holding more space.

2. Yoga


I don’t do as much yoga as I used to. I need to fix that. However, it’s one of the most meditative practices that I have in my arsenal.

It might be difficult to meditate during a poker session but it’s not that hard to break out into a few downward-facing dogs.

All you need is a little room away from the table and the confidence to not care two monkeys about what people think.

Yoga, even if you do it once a week, will chill you out.

3. Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)


When I first read The Tapping Solution by Nick Ortner, I thought it was hocus-pocus. But it works.

‘Tapping’ is the term used to describe Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), a form of self-help based on tapping various meridian points on the body.

I used to ‘tap’ in the aftermath of an argument or disagreement. My wife used to advise me to tap when I was stuck on a problem, feeling stressed, or frustrated.

Today, I tap every day. I focus on the one problem that’s blocking my energy from flowing naturally and I tap away.

Is it hodgepodge? Who the hell cares? It works, and it’s free.

Once again, I don’t suggest you tap at the table, as it shows your opponents that you are frustrated and maybe going slightly mad. But you can break away from the table and tap away until you calm down enough to get back into the game.

4. Gratitude


I am so grateful I get to see my son once a fortnight. He is grateful he gets to see me.

I am 41. He is 15. How much time do we have left with this father/son bond before he grows up and things change?

I am always grateful when I play poker; billions can’t. I am grateful for my financial situation, the ability to buy food, and to argue with my son.

I am also grateful for that reconciliatory kiss, for the feel of my hand as it moves through his hairspray matted hair, and the drubbing I give him on FIFA16 after we kiss and make up.

When you start feeling anxious, look around. What are you grateful for?

5. Agape


One of the biggest influences in my life has been Dr. Michael Beckwith. He is the guy in The Secret with hair like The Predator.

When I was in Los Angeles during the summer my wife took me to his spiritual church called Agape. I was hesitant at first. I abhor religion. But she promised me that I wouldn’t experience anything of the sort.

She was right. I felt love, peace and a sense of community. I now watch his sermons every Monday and Thursday (Sunday and Wednesday for US residents). They are free and available online.

I like to listen to the songs from the special guests but most of all I listen to Beckwith’s sermon. His wisdom is second to none.


What I have learned is spiritual practice is just that – practice. You can’t read The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and suddenly be in the now. It takes time and daily practice.

Meditate. Tap. Do yoga. Be grateful.

Regulate these things and your emotions will settle. You will be less angry, more relaxed and have greater reserves of empathy.

Before you know it you are refusing to send that angry e-mail, and you are refusing to play that bad hand.


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