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, speaking engagements, or ask your question to "the Poker Counselor" at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have a question for the poker counselor. My screen name is Mike_42 (42 was my football jersey number in High School). My poker buddies say that I should change the name to something that really stands out in order to get more action on my raises. I say it wouldn't really matter. I mean I hardly ever even notice the other player's names when I play online. What do you think? - Question submitted via email by Mike_42
If you are playing a tight game and would like to induce action/calls, it certainly couldn't hurt to change the screen name to something a bit more leading or wild. In live games (and in regular daily life), we primarily judge others initially by their appearance, speech, and demeanor. For instance, you may often guess a player's playing style before he ever takes his first deal just by seeing his level of confidence with his wide smile, his bold clothing, or his "serious" poker-sunglasses. The internet-version of the game naturally constrains each of these key observable points. With that, the minds of many internet poker players are desperately seeking information to judge others. This is a basic trait that we note in Social Psychology - we have a drive to initially judge others and then seek information to support that initial hunch. You can use this innate habit to your advantage by using a humorous or challenging screen name. In order to get my point across, play along with the following word association. After you read each screen name I've listed below, pause for a moment. I'll bet that your mind will automatically make a "picture" or assumption on what type of player is behind that name.
Let's start with "Playin_Drunk" ........ Did you think of a playing style behind the name? Try a few more, "Karate_Kid" .... "barbie_girl" ..... "Turtle" ...... "Scientist" ..... "golf-dad" ..... "Suck-It." If I asked you to give me a list of the players most likely to be loose maniacs from the names above, I'm sure that Suck-It and Karate_Kid would be more often mentioned than the Scientist, Barbie_girl, or Turtle. I've seen screen names such as "Playin_Drunk" and "F.U.2" which have certainly evoked emotional reactions from the opposition, as noted by the chat and play at the table. Even more subtle screen names may gather the attention or get a reaction from others, such as Fish_Bait. Go ahead and experiment with a few screen names, as it may be a gimmick that will actually work to your advantage. The psychological effects on your opponents will probably be only minimal, but any advantage at the table can pay dividends in the long run. Put simply, most players that you will encounter are on mental cruise control. Take advantage of their subconscious mistakes to maximize your winning pots.
Ok, I'm not an alcoholic or anything but I am certain that I play better after having a few beers. It almost always happens. After having a few I start reading the table better, I steal more pots, I get more callers when I push bets with big hands, etc. -Posted by MSU at an online poker forum
You are not the first person that has told me that they perform better while "buzzing" after a few beers. In fact, I wrote a magazine article entitled "I Play Better Drunk!" after having a competitor tell me this at a Limit Hold 'Em game in Las Vegas. During that session, I was initially a bit surprised that he did indeed play much better after a few drinks! In fact, he even took a few pots off of me! After putting some more thought into his drunken success, though, I began to see his internal motivations. Using the alcohol as a crutch, players can find confidence within the drink. Like a frat-brother who likes to fight while he's intoxicated, many players can conjure up an egotistical toughness due to the drinks. At the tables, this can allow for more bold bluffs, tougher calls, and overall aggressive play. Secondly, some of us can actually over-think in key situations. Sometimes we don't trust our instincts, and our minds race to find the safest way out (usually a fold.) Rather than allowing the brain to over-analyze the situation and over-value small bits of incoming information, the booze can act as a calming influence and things almost seem clearer (thus your comment that you can read the table better after a few drinks.) Another key to a drinker's success is the automatic wild/loose table image that comes with it. If you appear intoxicated, the others at the table will be clamoring to get into pots with you. They assume that they will be able to outplay you or read you, and will inevitably call more while guessing you have nothing. Just as in normal daily life, I am not a proponent of using alcohol to conceal your shortcoming or boost faltering emotions. If you can play well after drinking, you must be confident that you can play GREAT while sober! You must work to overcome the mental and emotional demons that are holding you back by using mental toughness and intelligent, rational thought (not booze.) Harness you inner power and you will be winning plenty of big pots while sipping on only water!
Ed Note: You know who needs counseling? Mike Caro, that's who. Find out why at Mike Caro's Poker U, exclusive to Doyles Room