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 email@example.com.
What is the single most important characteristic that it takes to be a great poker player? -emailed by Michael from London, England
Choosing just one personality characteristic or poker skill that is most important is an extremely difficult endeavor. There are many that immediately come to mind for veteran poker players, such as patience, intelligence, "instincts", ability to mask emotions, ability to prevent tilt, ability to calculate pot odds, etc. When thinking this question through, I was able to pinpoint successful poker players who did not fit some of the characteristics. In other words, I know guys who make consistent profits at the table despite being unable to calculate pot odds and poker statistics. I know major poker tournament champions who still cannot prevent themselves from tilting. I've interacted with many poker professionals who will admit that they have poor poker "instincts" in terms of reading others. Many good players are rarely patient.
One characteristic that I find in nearly universal with successful poker players is confidence. I am not sure that placing a label of MOST important on confidence is a good idea, though. It is not as if being confident will assure wins. In fact, being overly confident may hurt a player's progression in learning the game. Instead, I think of confidence as the "icing on the cake." It is the final key ingredient to a great player. I see some of the other characteristics that I mentioned as building blocks. A great player will need a solid combination of most of those blocks (not necessarily all of them) to make the foundation. One player may rely upon their patience, instincts, and ability to control their emotions as the base and cap it with confidence. Another player may utilize sharp poker math and keen intelligence at the base with a confidence topper.
So, if you find your poker confidence to be waning, be sure to make a solid psychological effort to rectify that problem immediately. Work to convince yourself that you are indeed worthy, skilled, and capable. Looking for others to boost your confidence for you is dangerous, and often fruitless. Instead, recall the time and work you've invested in poker play, poker book/magazine study, poker observation, and poker discussion. Think through some of your biggest accomplishments at the table - not just tournament wins or winning cash sessions, but also single hands such as the time you had the discipline to lay down pocket King's when you hunched you were beaten. Know that you deserve to win. Expect to win.
Is it just me, or does winning in live casinos seem like more of an accomplishment than winning online? -posted in a poker forum by VickFan
At the onset of online poker, many websites were overfilled with inexperienced players. In short, it was relatively easy to win online by playing tight, smart poker. The gap has steadily narrowed between online and live games. Nowadays it seems that most players are hitting live felt and online sites. One of the factors in processing and experiencing wins differently in live casinos is rooted in psychology. It involves the human nature to desire a tactile reinforcement for one's efforts. In other words, there is an inherent positive satisfaction in gathering the chips and cashing them out for actual bills. Transferring money from an online poker account into neteller or a bank account is impersonal and unfulfilling, in comparison. This principle is what leads many workers to request getting paychecks from their employers rather than getting direct deposit - the action of cashing the check reinforces and psychologically rewards. If you are finding your online wins to be a bit more blasé than you feel it should be, work to get that emotional investment back into the success. I've heard of players who actually use real poker chips next to their computers to help replicate the feeling of the poker table and provide that sensory experience (I'm not sure if they wear sunglasses while playing online, though). If you need the sensation of the cash out to heighten your reaction, give yourself a cash advance from the ATM to represent your win. Even if you spend none of it and only redeposit it to the bank a day or two later, the action will still envoke the positive reinforcement that your may subconsciously crave. Soon you will not be yawning at your wins online. Instead, your emotions will be the same from winning in any venue.
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