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The Poker Counselor's Corner (1)

The Poker Counselor's Corner (1) 0001

Editors note: In addition to being a poker enthusiast, gambling columnist, and lecturer, John is a National Certified Counselor (NCC) and practices in his home state of Pennsylvania. He has a Master of Arts degree in Counseling from West Virginia University, and a Bachelor's degree in Psychology with a minor in Sociology from Lock Haven University. You can arrange for interviews or speaking engagements with "the Poker Counselor" at

My 12-year-old son wants to learn Hold 'Em and host tournaments with his friends. Is this too young to play poker? - Tim, Hummelstown, PA

Due to the varying degrees of maturity that youngsters can possess at a given age, it is always tough to make generalizations about how to parent and guide kids and teens. Whether it is joining the local soccer team or learning about Texas Hold 'Em, there are certain demands and responsibilities that your child must accept to handle the challenges. Overall, I see this is a great opportunity. Wise parents can use their kid's interest in poker as a benefit to the parent-child relationship. In the board game aisle of most chain stores, you can probably find a father and his teenage son excitedly picking out a chip set together. In this time of innumerable distractions, and age when teens are pulling away from their parents, you should seize any opportunity that you can to forge a bond and have some memorable experiences. Take some time to personally teach your son the game of poker. You should not only cover the basic strategies of the game, but also be sure to talk about the "life lessons" within poker. Have your son work to understand how tilt and frustration can lead to poor choices and poor play. Explain and explore the decision-making process, including taking time to weigh options and predict outcomes. Stress patience, a characteristic that so many teens lack greatly. Help him to understand the unwritten expectations within the game on how to respect the game and respect any opponents. Mostly, remember to enjoy this time together.

I just started playing poker a few months ago. I have to admit that I get rather intimidated when I play against more experienced players. How can I gain more confidence? –Eli, Washington, DC

Feeling overwhelmed and intimidated when you are first starting any new endeavor is natural and somewhat expected. After some time at the tables and winning sessions, it is obvious that confidence will begin to naturally build. Your question basically implies "How can I become confident as I get playing experience?" Unfortunately, playing without confidence at the poker table is sure to quickly cost you substantial amounts of money. The keen and experienced players at the table are sure to use your insecurities against you to steal your pots. Perhaps this is why we see so many new players over-compensate by displaying heightened egos and over-inflated confidence in the card rooms and online. I find that many unconfident individuals foolishly look to others to boost them by "fishing" for compliments or asking for reassurances. External motivation is not a reliable means to success. Instead, confidence is best when it is born, fostered, and grown within you. Gaining knowledge is one of the biggest ways to combat a void of confidence. Do some preparation before you sit at the table by pouring yourself into some informative poker books and websites, and your comfort level will begin to rise. Likewise, learn everything you can about the game from talking with poker buddies, surfing online forums, and reading poker magazines. Your newfound insights will help to produce a new level of comfort within the culture of poker. Next, mentally prepare yourself by out thinking your self-doubt. Essentially, you must internally debate your negative automatic thinking to convince yourself that you are a worthy, formidable competitor. Consciously working to replace the doubt with Winning boosts confidence, but confidence is needed to win! Believe in yourself first to make it happen.

It seems that I never win a hand with Big Slick. In fact, I've been badly burned by it several times. Now every time I am dealt A-K, I play it soft and almost expect to lose. – Posted at online forum by Mikey T., Ontario, Canada

Many of us have favorite "quirky" hands that seem to bring us success, such as Doyle's 10-2. Likewise, many of us seem to have been consistently burned by strong starting hands. You have started an aversion for A-K after taking some bad beats while holding that hand. One of the main problems in this scenario is the way that the mind automatically processes our experiences. When we have poor luck with a good hand, we begin to predict that the poor outcomes will continue. You've attached several emotions to your experiences with Big Slick, and all of those emotions are negative. You know that statistically speaking, you should be winning more often with this premium starting hand. After your poor luck with the hand, you probably fee a sense of frustration, disgust, and betrayal. One of the key mistakes people often make is overvaluing correlations. This is what television commercials are based on – linking their product with a positive emotion like fun, excitement, or sexiness. When you correlate in such a manner at the poker table, you are going to make misplays that may cost dearly. The way to combat automatic correlations is to reevaluate your expectations and assumptions. You must focus on identifying true causes. There were many variables that caused your losing sessions. Placing total blame on A-K hand and poor cards on the board to follow are nice protectors of your ego, but are not very helpful in improving your game. Instead of allowing yourself to get a bad feeling for one starting hand, think through and evaluate your entire game. Critically look at if you've maximized your wins and minimized your losses. Mostly, see your tough starting hand as a challenge to overcome, not as a shortcoming. Do not allow yourself affected in changing how to play the hand. Remember that the A-K is not the cause, only a common correlation that can easily be beaten.

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