Editor's 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
I took a really, really bad beat during an online tournament. I was just two spots away from winning a trip to Aruba. I just can't seem to get over it. It has been several days and I still think about it. I think about it at work, in bed at night, and at the dinner table. Help me!! - Jacob D., submitted via email
You are describing the symptoms of what poker veterans describe as "Bad Beat Syndrome." Everyone who has played this game seriously for any substantial amount of time knows exactly where you are coming from, as everyone has a terrible beat story of their own. Your beat has probably affected you to an even greater level because you were already dreaming about soaking up the sun on a beautiful Arubian beach before the cards fell against you. Like mini-Post Traumatic Stress symptoms, Bad Beat Syndrome has its roots within our basic human emotionality and cognitions (thought processes). Safety and security are questioned, and a continual state of uneasiness arises to the surface. The set-up begins before the flop is even shown. Our mind holds certain expectations about poker and statistics. Basically, you "knew" or expected that your hand will win the pot because the statistical chances told you that it would. Perhaps the flop only solidifies that thinking, as it improved your hand. When the turn or river violently snapped your dreams of the soft sands of Aruba, an emotional and mental storm raged within you. The emotionality driving these feelings includes disbelief, disgust, and a sense of betrayal. The betrayal may be the most difficult of these to process and accept, as you assume that such bad suck-outs are not "supposed to" happen. With that, "they are not supposed to happen TO ME," you may have thought! An odd personal state arises with confusion and discontent due to the discord between the expectations of the hand (the supposed to's) versus the reality. You now have nightmares about that fateful hand at work and in bed because of the cognitive dissonance that accompanies this mental battle. Basically, your poker mind is questioning what you thought was a basic truth - I SHOULD HAVE won that. The "Why Me's" will then start to overtake the mind, and a dangerous cycle has begun. Fighting cognitive dissonance is best done by thinking about your thinking. Take some time to evaluate the basic thinking that is causing your emotional funk. It is senseless to continually rehash the loss in your mind. Move past the unlucky cards, and instead focus on the thoughts and emotions that have you stuck in the moment. Once you have thought through those thoughts and checked your emotions, you will find that the flashbacks will start to decrease and your game will come back. Work to regain your confidence and get back to the table.
My wife complains that I spend too much time playing poker. I'm pulling in big profits which help us out financially, so I can't understand what she's complaining about. What do you think? - Shawn H., PA
Although you may be meeting success at the poker tables, you may be falling short with your relationship skills. It seems like your wife is probably less interested in your poker financial profits than things such as your time, attention, and love. You must work, together, to find a way to fill your needs and hers. Situations such as these actually involve a lot more focus and work than many people envision. This is because your thinking is so very divergent from hers. To find a workable medium ground can be a chore, but this does not mean it should be avoided. First, start to work to identify and understand what your wife needs and expects from you. One of her primary needs is probably your focus, concern, and attention. For instance, she'll want you to spend some time away from the online poker room while showing genuine interest in her day. Her primary fear is having you become cold and distant as you invest in the game, thus shutting her out. Make a conscious effort to combat this by working to keep her involved, keep your relationship energized, and staying emotionally in touch. You should encourage her to see your needs as well, which involve playing and improving at your chosen game of poker. She must understand that it is important to you, not a foolish hobby that is easily dismissed. Once she better understands your poker needs, and you are more able to fill her emotional needs, you will need to work on setting some sort of outline and agreement for your time play and study. You certainly have the time and ability to meet her needs and yours. Think it through and talk it out in a non-defensive and non-argumentative setting, and things should work out better for both of you.
So, what's with the crazy get-ups many players are wearing? Goofy sunglass, weird hats, those t-shirts with stupid slogans. I don't get it. - Mike B., a frequent player at the Mirage
Most times the motivations behind those crazy poker outfits are two-fold --- an advertisement for opponents and for the benefit of self-confidence. The first of these (the advertisement) is probably the most straightforward and obvious. Wild attire or a t-shirt that reads "I'm Bluffing" is meant to invoke a reaction from others at the table, presenting a loose playing style. Players that intentionally appear in such a wild manner are often not as loose as they'd like others to believe, and benefit from many suspicious callers when they raise a pot. Many others use an opposite tactic, wearing conservative clothes and holding a quiet demeanor as they play a loose and wild game. The second motivator behind the more wild clothing is less obvious, as it is a hidden internal motivator. Like a pro boxer putting on his psychological "game face" with the aids of a wild robe and pumping music to enter the ring, poker players with some sort of goofy glasses may be employing the same principal. Players who display even an ounce of insecurity at the poker table are sure to be targeted by the strongest players. With that in mind, many new players mask their own insecurities by fooling themselves with such outlets. The next time that you see a player wearing crazy garb at the table, push the flow of play at them to test their psychological strength. You may find a weak, insecure, and uncertain player beneath the bold exterior.