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.
Help me. I'm tired of being pushed around. If I didn't honestly believe I had a gift for poker I would have already given it up. I realize I have a lot to learn. I am a humble student of the game. Can or will you help me fix my leak? Sincerely, David
I can try to help you fix the leak in your game, but only you can actually do it. You've identified the problem: getting pushed around. That is exactly how savvy, experienced players are able to pull in consistent profits. It isn't that they get better cards than everybody else, it is that they can push others out of the pot when they don't have premium hands.
I think of poker as a hunt --- the lions searching for the prey. If you are tired of playing the role of the prey, darting around the attacking lions, then make go make it happen! I'm betting that one of your serious shortcomings is your fear of losing your money. It you are playing scared, you might as well not be playing. Playing scared is a giant target that any experienced player will certainly use against you. You have to be comfortable with the financial risk. If that means dropping down to a cheaper buy-in level, then do it. You should never put yourself in a place where you often have to say, "I think I've got him, but I just can't call THAT amount." You should be driven for the kill, the lion on the attack.
You should be salivating at the prospect of the sizable win, not
contemplating the after-effects of a possible loss. After finding your comfortable buy-in, play with absolute confidence. Trust your instincts and reads. Listen to the "gut" that you call the "gift for poker." This is really the next level of poker. If you put a guy on Ace-King and the flop comes with three rags, push the pot and see what happens. Once you get that first taste of success, your faltering confidence will start to slowly grow.
Once you believe in yourself and your ability, you'll find that your leak will be pretty effectively fixed.
I'm just starting to play live poker. I have played online for many months. Live games are different. Any tips on common tells I can look for? - Mike
The biggest "tells" online are betting amounts. You speak volumes about your style, hand, and confidence through the amount of money that you are willing to put on the line. The same is true for live games. Watch what they bet and when they bet, first and foremost. That information is probably more reliable than any physical tell that you will uncover. I do find that shaky hands seem to be one of the most reliable indicators of a big hand. The autonomic nervous system kicks into high gear with high adrenaline and an increased heart rate, causing many inexperienced players to have their hands quake. Poker veterans no longer get such an excitable high from pocket Aces or a flopped full house, so they will probably not exude this tell. It is also good to watch for any pronounced change in behavior. In cash games at the WSOP recently, I sat with a player who was riffling his chips out of boredom through 2 rounds of play. When he peeked at his hole cards and instantly stopped riffling, I knew to stay the heck away from his raise. In another casino I saw one guy engrossed in the game playing on the big screen in the nearby sports book. When he saw the flop with 3 diamonds, his attention snapped back to the game. I figured him for a made flush, which was an accurate guess. Watch for these beginning, basic tells as you start to log live game experience. With time, you should start to almost naturally "see" some more tendencies arise to the surface. I find that many players who are desperately searching for tells are the most likely to be giving off tells. I suggest that you find a more seasoned player who is willing to watch over and mentor you. He/she will help you find tells in opponents. More importantly, perhaps, the mentor can help you identify your own habits and tells.
Ed Note: Noble Poker have a One Million Dollar Sit N Go Challenge. Read all about it.